There are no shortage of lightweights ready and primed to attempt wrestling Khabib Nurmagomedov’s UFC title from his grasp.
The Russian has already been called out on multiple occasions and that’s despite the fact he only won his belt earlier this month.
Dustin Poirier, Kevin Lee, and former UFC lightweight titleholder Eddie Alvarez have all put together solid cases as contenders with impressive wins while the recently-stripped champion Conor McGregor waits in the wings alongside injured ex-interim champ Tony Ferguson. In most minds, the UFC’s lightweight division is undoubtedly the promotion’s most competitive weight class and rightfully so.
After his stirring win over the granite-chinned Justin Gaethje, Poirier promptly called out Dagestan’s Nurmagomedov in his post-fight interview at UFC Glendale a week ago. Lee followed suit on Saturday night after his dominant victory against Edson Barboza – the man who Nurmagomedov defeated to earn his title shot in the first place.
Alvarez wasn’t fighting in Atlantic City on Saturday night like Lee, but he was in attendance and certainly made his presence known.
Never one to miss out on seizing upon an opportunity, Alvarez took full advantage of the press present in New Jersey, taking his turn to stake his claim as the true number one contender to challenge Nurmagomedov’s position as the UFC’s lightweight king.
“I know, 100 percent, match-up-wise, wrestling, stylistically, I watch the champion fight a lot. I am the guy to beat the champion, not Dustin Poirier, not Conor McGregor. Not anyone. I understand who I lost to, who I won (against). I’m the best style match-up,” Alvarez proclaimed to the media assembled backstage at UFC Atlantic City. [H/T MMAjunkie]
“The champion don’t want to fight me right now. He knows. He’s going to pick off the wounded gazelles one by one. He’s going to take the good style match-ups. I understand. Take them. I’ll be waiting in the end.”
While confident in his own abilities, Alvarez sees Nurmagomedov as a big challenge. But he is less impressed by the manner of which the Russian won his belt against 11th-ranked Al Iaquinta at UFC 223.
“What’s funny about this whole thing is, Khabib wasn’t a champion,” Alvarez said. “Now he’s the champion after beating no. 11. Let’s just get that out in the open. He says, ‘paper champion, who’s fake champion, who’s real champion?’ You beat no. 11, and now you’re champion. So think on that. Pray on that during Ramadan. No. 11, and now you’re champion.
“When I fought for the title, I literally fought no. 5, 4, 3, 2, then 1. I fought a champion, a guy who was a champion, who had a belt. That’s a real champion. I’ll continue to fight the best, and I’ll wait my turn. I’ll let the UFC do their job, pick who’s next in line, and I’ll be waiting there for all of them.”
Given the talking that has already begun in a matter of weeks following Nurmagomedov’s title run, expect these lightweight contenders to continue publicly vying for the next opportunity at fighting for the belt. As for Khabib, he appears to not care who is put in front of him in the cage come the end of 2018.