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Fightweets: Where does the UFC lightweight division go from here?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC gets back into gear this week, with a UFC Fortaleza event whose main card starts at the glorious hour of 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific (might those random Fight Nights going past 1 a.m ET during the FOX era finally be a thing of the past?). But this week’s main event wasn’t held in a cage, but rather a Las Vegas boardroom, where we finally got resolution on the post-fight brawl following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s victory over Conor McGregor at UFC 229.

And that’s mostly what you wanted to talk about this week (Y’all seem to be tired of Jon Jones PED talk, and I don’t blame you one bit), so let’s get right into another edition of Fightweets.

Strip Khabib of the belt?

@JoeRutledge92: Given his desire to not fight until November (6 months after his suspension is over), should Khabib be stripped? Why or why not?

Ya know, this is one of no less than four different versions of “Should Khabib be stripped of the UFC lightweight championship?” tweets that I received following the Nevada Athletic Commission’s official sanctioning of both Nurmagomedov and McGregor at Tuesday’s meeting in Las Vegas.

I was shocked by this level of response, because the idea of stripping Nurmagomedov of the belt was an idea that never crossed my mind at any point in these proceedings, but it’s apparently an idea taking hold in some places.

So let’s say this from the top: No, Khabib Nurmagomedov should not be stripped of the UFC lightweight title. That’s silly talk. You’re talking about someone who is 27-0, and someone who mauled the first champ-champ in UFC history.

The UFC has stretched the credibility of some of its championships over the past few years with its decisions to strip some fighters and invent and discard interim belts whenever based on whatever is promotionally expedient, but pulling the belt off Nurmagomedov at this stage of the game, simply because they disagree on when he should return, would simply be a bridge too far.

Even if Nurmagomedov does hold out to fight on a presumed November date at Madison Square Garden (Side note: If Khabib makes good on his threat to never fight in Las Vegas again, over time eventually he’s going to lose more money in taxes fighting in places like New York than he would have if he returned to fighting in state-tax-free Nevada), I mean, it’s not exactly unprecedented for a UFC champion to go a bit longer than a year without defending his or her championship.

But it’s also not unprecedented for the UFC to create interim championships in these situations when it suits their purposes, either. Which brings us to ...

Interim lightweight belt?

@JoeRutledge92: Should @DustinPoirier get @TonyFergusonXT for an interim title instead?

The idea of an interim lightweight title was the second-most popular topic among Fightweets tweeters this week. Which makes me wonder what exactly people think of interim belts these days. Should I take this to mean that MMA fans now believe that creating an interim belt out of thin air any time a champion isn’t able to defend the belt over a certain amount of time, whatever the reason, is actually a good thing? Or is this just another aspect of following this sport which fans have grudgingly come to accept as part of the business: Fans don’t like interim belts, per se, but know that this is what the UFC does, so we should start speculating if an interim belt should get made, because that’s usually what the UFC does here?

Regardless of intent, I can understand where this one is coming from, because in this case, we’re talking about the UFC’s 155ers, the deepest weight class in any company on the mixed martial arts scene. And Poirier vs. Ferguson is on the short list of the very best fights you can make at any weight class.

Poirier? Not only has he run like a buzzsaw through his last three opponents, but those finish victories over Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, and Anthony Pettis represent a combined five UFC/WEC/Bellator/WSOF title reigns. Ferguson? Eleven straight victories, and he would have fought Nurmagomedov last April had he not tripped over a cable at the FOX lot (and really, does any incident better define the FOX era?)

Dustin Poirier’s last three victories are stoppages of guys who held a combined five world titles.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Ferguson, of course, also held an interim belt the UFC wiped out of existence, so a toy trinket might not be an inducement to get Ferguson to fight. On the other hand, if Ferguson waits until Novemeber for a potential Nurmagomedov fight which might or not appear, then we’re talking, he will have fought just once in a two-year span during his prime. And if Poirier decides to sit out in hopes of a Khabib matchup he might not get, then that would sideline him for more than a year when he’s at his hottest.

Poirier vs. Ferguson is a fight which can headline all on its own. All things considered, interim belt or no, this could very well be the fight to make while the rest sorts itself out.

Sum it up

@Woolman7242: Sum up the hearing in 5 words?

Don’t infringe on First Amendment

(Seriously, what an all-time terrible idea NAC floated Tuesday in suggesting they would potentially police fighter speech moving forward. This one is worth harping on, because there’s such a misunderstanding of what the First Amendment actually is. When an obnoxious Twitter bro who fancies himself (and it’s always a dude, usually with an eagle or flag in their bio) a free speech activist claims that his rights are being violated because he gets pushback for espousing a terrible idea, no, that is not a violation of the First Amendment. The First Amendment prohibits the government from punishing people over their words. The NAC is a government agency. If you want to see what a real violation of someone’s First Amendment rights looks like, then yes, the NAC trying to fine or suspend someone for their words would be a rare actual example of this. Which is why the first attempt to do so would end up in court immediately, and which is why, hopefully, the NAC is paying attention to the negative feedback they’re getting for this).

Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix

@TannerRuss2: If you look at the totality of Bellator’s history of tournaments, where does the heavyweight GP stack up against its predecessors and contemporaries? How about across the sport?

Well, it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, but sure, I’ll bite. Let’s put it this way: Through that giant blur of Bellator tournaments over the course of 10 seasons, is there any particular one that jumps out at you and makes you say “oh yeah, THAT tournament was awesome?” I know I can’t think of any without looking them up, and I bet you can’t either. The Bellator tournament format certainly helped in elevating several up-and-comers who went out to become champions and headliners, but “the toughest tournament in sports” was pretty much just an endless whir.

Bellator’s heavyweight Grand Prix which finished last week, on the other hand, was a success. It might not have had some of the legendary matchups of the old PRIDE tournaments, which remain the standard on which all future MMA tournaments will be judged. But that’s a lofty bar to set.

Judging Bellator’s just-completed tourney on its own merit, I mean, an entire MMA tournament saw its brackets go all the way through without a single fight fallout along the way. At heavyweight (yes I know all eight aren’t natural heavyweights), no less. That’s a minor miracle in and of itself.

It provided a memorable storyline in having the 42-year-old Fedor Emelianenenko make a run to the finals with a pair of first-round finishes. While his story over here in the U.S. was largely about his decline in Strikeforce, now he has this chapter, that of one last blaze of glory, on his legacy. The finals, at the Forum in Inglewood, simply felt like a big event, and had the feel of a classic Strikeforce card. And in the end, the best fighter in the tournament at this stage of the game won.

So no, we probably won’t look back at the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix as a classic like, say, the 2000 PRIDE Grand Prix. But that, the tourney delivered everything the company set out to accomplish.

DC the GOAT?

@SigepWesleyG: If DC finishes his career undefeated at Heavyweight, is he not hands down the GOAT? Whats your thoughts & if you dont agree, please educate us as to why you think that.. #FightTweets

Do you mean all-around GOAT, or the heavyweight GOAT? Because if you’re talking the latter, I think you can make the case he’s already there, now. The guy is 15-0 at heavyweight and came back up after going down to light heavyweight and winning the title there, and then scored a first-round knockout over the only guy in UFC history to defend the heavyweight belt three times, Stipe Miocic, to claim the heavyweight belt. That’s pretty crazy.

That’s also enough, for me at least, to give him the nod at heavyweight GOAT over Emelianenko, who undeniably had his day but in a less advanced time, and Cormier’s buddy and teammate Cain Velasquez, who had all the tools to be the HWGOAT, but had too many injuries and setbacks along the way.

Overall GOAT? That’s a different matter. As impressive as Cormier’s accomplishments have been, the Jon Jones thing still hangs over him. Maybe if Cormier was to win a third fight with Jones, and you ended up with Jones winning one, DC winning one, and the other thrown out due to Jones getting caught cheating, then you might be able to make the case. But that’s a lot of “ifs” simply to get onto the short list.