UFC 249: How Ferguson vs Gaethje entirely transforms the hectic lightweight division

ufc 249
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Khabib Nurmagomedov opens the door for everyone

It's been known for some time now that Khabib Nurmagomedov is out of UFC 249. The UFC lightweight champion has been unable to leave Dagestan, which means his scheduled fight with Tony Ferguson has now fallen through for an unparalleled fifth time.

Ferguson will take on Justin Gaethje, and whilst the Russian will surely tune in for the bout, his belt will be secure, for now. 'El Cucuy' and 'The Highlight' will instead fight for the interim lightweight title, which tends to blow things wide open within a division.

The lightweight scene itself is used to these dramatic changes when an interim title gets thrown into the mix. In recent times, Ferguson himself, as well as Dustin Poirier, have both held interim belts in this division which has changed the dynamic of this unique weight class in the present day and for the future.

It's been two years since Ferguson won his interim title against Kevin Lee, which resulted in another scheduled bout against Khabib. Of course, this fell through. And, in April 2019, Poirier claimed the interim belt over Max Holloway following Khabib's suspension after the post-win mayhem over Conor McGregor.

Interim belts often give those who aren't in within an immediate title shot an undeserved chance. Gaethje is fully deserving of his this one, however, and now we have two former lightweight champions and two ex-interim champs battling it out within one division, with Gaethje potentially becoming the third interim title-holder in three years.

The lightweight division is already like no other and we could have an almighty few years ahead with so many different scenarios potentially unfolding in an unprecedented manner.

What if Gaethje wins on May 9?

As mentioned, Gaethje finally gets his shot, to which, there can be little disputing. There was talk of Poirier stepping in to fight Ferguson, but 'The Diamond' got his chance at UFC gold back in September, losing to Khabib, but held the interim title prior to this.

Furthermore, McGregor is seemingly occupied at welterweight, although he will surely drop down to reclaim his title in the near future, knowing his eagerness for glory. So, it seems Gaethje became the natural selection and is well in with a shout of blowing the division wide open.

The American is coming off the back of three wins (two of which earned Performance of the Night awards) against James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone. Now, a win will not just guarantee him a fight against Khabib, it also potentially prevents Ferguson vs Khabib happening once again.

It could also mean a fight for Poirier against Ferguson for the number one contender spot, with Ferguson the number one ranked fighter right now and Poirier is currently sitting at #2, whilst Gaethje must meet Khabib, as he is the interim champ.

A Gaethje changes everything.

ICYMI: Read the odds for Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje for the lightweight interim belt and use our £20 risk free bet with Paddy Power.

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Does this prevent McGregor's rematch with Khabib?

For the time being, McGregor versus Khabib seems a long way away. As alluded to, the Irishman has moved up a weight class, mainly because of his desire to not cut weight. After beating Cerrone within 40 seconds, the UFC superstar has now teased fans with a match against arguably the Fighter of the Year, Jorge Masvidal, and a Nate Diaz trilogy.

The latter certainly makes the most sense, considering both men hold a win each within the two fights and fought within the past seven months at welterweight.

Plus, based off McGregor's history in the lightweight division, he is far from deserving of a title shot ahead of other names. His dominant display over Eddie Alvarez was one of the greatest title wins in history, but this remains his only victory in the division, losing his other UFC lightweight bout to Khabib.

In truth, it was a four-round mauling from the Russian and based on this performance alone, the Irish fighter is not deserving of a rematch. It's doubtful this fight will happen this year, with the four-year Ferguson v Khabib saga still waiting to conclude, whilst a third Diaz bout looks more promising right now.

However, eventually, McGregor and Khabib will meet again. Simply put, too much money for the UFC and legacy is there to be had with this one.

Where does this leave Dustin Poirier?

Poirier is a man that has slightly gone under the radar in all of this buildup to UFC 249. Whilst he, like McGregor, was on the opposite end of a Khabib beating, 'The Diamond' has been one of the very best since losing to the Irishman in 2014.

The 31-year-old is clearly in the best stages of his career, despite the loss to the champion in September. Prior to his world title defeat last year, Poirier had lost just once in 10 fights, which came against Michael Johnson in 2016.

After this, the American went on probably the best four-fight win streak in recent lightweight times, but this seems to be easily forgotten. From 2017-2019, Poirier beat Anthony Pettis by submission, Gaethje by TKO, Alvarez by TKO and Max Holloway for the interim belt after an excellent five-round display.

Whilst, yes, Khabib has remained untouched, you cannot forget Poirier's record from this time and how he dismantled four legendary fighters back-to-back. Whenever we talk about the lightweight scenario, Poirier must never be overlooked.

For now, 'The Diamond' will sit back and watch Ferguson v Gaethje unfold, and a win for the latter favours him more for his own career. With a win over 'The Highlight' already, Poirier will be thrown right back into contention if Gaethje wins, and perhaps earn a number one contender bout against Ferguson, when Gaethje potentially meets Khabib.

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Will Ferguson v Khabib ever happen?

Now, after being scheduled and broken down for the fifth time, further scheduling of this bout is entirely dependent on Gaethje. If 'The Highlight' can beat Ferguson, he becomes the interim champion and naturally must face Khabib to decide the official champion of the division.

Should Ferguson win, as he is expected to by the bookies, the battle with Khabib will roll onto a sixth attempt. It's important to remember that this bout hasn't been cancelled because of injury or health reasons as they were previously, rather due to the lockdowns imposed in Russia.

So, this could mean, should Ferguson pass the test of Gaethje, a fight between Khabib and 'El Cucuy' could happen within the next few months, perhaps towards the end of summer.

For now, we must dream once more about this legendary, evasive matchup. But, this will happen eventually. It has to. However, Gaethje has the chance to blow this division wide open and throw a spanner in the works.

ICYMI: Read the odds for Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje for the lightweight interim belt and use our £20 risk free bet with Paddy Power.

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