UFC 219: Will Khabib or Barboza emerge as the next UFC lightweight title contender?

The end of the calendar year is always a special time for MMA fans and 2017 is no different. Premier MMA promotions KSW and Rizin Fighting Federation have already put on shows to cap off an interesting year in combat sports and December 30th is the UFC’s turn with UFC 219.

UFC 219 is headlined by a dream fight between UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris ‘Cyborg’ and former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm. Meanwhile, there are numerous fascinating fights littered across UFC 219’s main card such as Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magney and Dan Hooker vs. Marc Diakese – two fights which are very fun on paper and could have a wider impact on the rankings in their respective weight classes.

However, it’s the co-main event between lightweights Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza which threatens to steal the spotlight.

 

Khabib v Barboza

The MMA world breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing Russia’s Nurmagomedov successfully made weight ahead of his latest fight. Thankfully, Nurmagomedov weighed in at 155.5 lbs, leaving internet spoilsports disappointed as they lay in wait with their tiramisu-related memes. This is welcome news given Nurmagomedov’s recent weight-cutting issues. The Dagestani has not fought in over year and troubles with a weight cut saw him forced from fighting interim UFC lightweight champion Tony Ferguson for said belt at UFC 209.

Having only fought once since July 2016, Barboza has been similarly inactive as he awaited an opponent which would get him closer to a title shot and rematch against Ferguson, who bested the Brazilian in a back-and-forth war at the tail end of 2015. Since that defeat, Barboza has strung together impressive wins against former UFC and WEC champion Anthony Pettis and ex-Strikeforce titleholder Gilbert Melendez, before finishing his three-fight win streak with a flourish against Beneil Dariush, knocking him out with a crushing flying knee.

The UFC lightweight division title picture has been complicated by Conor McGregor’s moonlighting as a boxer. With McGregor still crowned the de facto champion and Ferguson the interim titleholder, it’s unclear whether a win for Nurmagomedov or Barboza will earn them a fight against either champion. As a result, both men appear frustrated when McGregor’s name is brought up in their pre-fight interviews.

“In my mind, the division is more clear than it’s been before,” Barboza told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “We have a champion in Ferguson. He’s the true champion in my opinion. People keep talking about this guy [McGregor], but he’s been out for more than a year. He’s fought in another sport. In my opinion, he’s out. I don’t think about him.”

 

A Classic Clash of Styles

With the wider rankings permutations set aside, this is one fascinating fight. What made the UFC so great to begin with was the stark contrasts between different fighting codes and varied fighting backgrounds. Nurmagomedov vs. Barboza is a fight which harks back to those days as closely as possible in this modern era of MMA.

Nurmagomedov is unbeaten as an MMA fighter and has a spotless record of 24-0. In addition, the Dagestani boasts multiple combat sambo titles – including gold medals at the 2009 and 2010 World Championships while representing Russia – and has an impeccable wrestling repertoire.

Meanwhile, Barboza has an impressive MMA record of 19-4 and was a Muay Thai champion of Brazil before solely devoting his time to MMA. Barboza has an official kickboxing record of 25-3, with 22 of his wins coming by knockout.

Barboza has long been accused of coming up short when it matters most, losing to opponents which would cement his position as title contender. However, the Brazilian has looked totally reinvigorated since his aforementioned loss to Ferguson and subsequent move to train at Ricardo Almeida BJJ in New Jersey. On the other hand, MMA fans have long wanted to see how Nurmagomedov would fare against a truly world class striker since effectively smothering a Rafael dos Anjos who hadn’t quite reached the peak of his powers in early 2014.

UFC 219 will see both men address any questions surrounding their in-cage abilities and statuses as title contenders. Strap in, it’s going to be fun.

 

 

Jake Hughes

Jake Hughes

Jake Hughes is an MMA writer who has covered the sport since 2013 for publications such as Vice Sports, Fightland, Sherdog and now Fighters Only, where he serves as freelance digital editor.