Pound-for-pound lists are subjective. There’s never been an official No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world — although UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has probably been the closest thing for awhile. Perhaps not anymore.
Undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov turned in another spectacular performance on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, submitting interim champ Dustin Poirier via rear-naked choke in the third round of their title unification bout at UFC 242.
After the victory, Nurmagomedov said he believes he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. And while there’s no definitive answer as to whether he’s right, it’s hard to argue against him.
So what’s next for (maybe) the best fighter on the planet, as well as the other top names from UFC 242? Here’s ESPN’s take.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, lightweight champion
Result: defeated Dustin Poirier via third-round submission
Next: Tony Ferguson
If Nurmagomedov does not fight Ferguson next, what was this all for, guys? What have we been doing? This is the fight: a 28-0 record vs. a 12-fight win streak in the UFC. Nurmagomedov takes a sick pleasure in making his opponents tired and breaking their will. Ferguson takes a sick pleasure in strapping weights to his back and sprinting up mountains in Big Bear, California.
This has been the No. 1 fight I have wanted to see for what feels like three years now. Not only do I believe it’s marketable if the UFC puts its effort behind it, I think it’s downright important. If this fight doesn’t happen, we’re turning our collective backs on the legitimacy of rankings, titles, competition — all of it. This fight demands to be made.
Khabib Nurmagomedov controls Dustin Poirier with grappling and hits him with some ground-and-pound late in Round 1. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Dustin Poirier, lightweight
Result: lost to Nurmagomedov via third-round submission
Next: Paul Felder
Poirier was heartbroken on Saturday — and considering the type of competitor he is, that feeling probably won’t subside anytime soon — but there are a lot of positives to take away from his UFC 242 experience. For one, as much as Saturday’s fight was relatively one-sided, Poirier did create two huge opportunities against Nurmagomedov (a hard punch to the chin in the second round, and a guillotine in the third). That’s not much of a consolation prize for him, I’m sure, but it’s better than what most have done against Nurmagomedov.
Poirier’s stock went up amid all of this. He’s still highly ranked. He’s still five months removed from beating Max Holloway, a top pound-for-pound champ himself. I’d actually love to suggest Poirier fight Conor McGregor a second time, but I’m never sure whether to count McGregor as an active fighter or not. Felder is coming off a win and looking for a top-five opponent. The boxing styles of these two would make for a very fun fight.
Paul Felder, lightweight
Result: defeated Edson Barboza via split decision
Next: Dustin Poirier
See above. The UFC doesn’t love booking someone coming off a win against someone coming off a loss, but I think it can make an exception here.
Edson Barboza slips out of a submission from Paul Felder and the two exchange strikes on the feet in the co-main event of UFC 242. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Result: defeated Shamil Abdurakhimov via second-round TKO
Next: winner of Junior dos Santos vs. Alexander Volkov on Nov. 9
Blaydes is a tough one to book right now. He has more or less dominated UFC competition. He’s 7-2 with four finishes, and he has the type of offensive wrestling that will make an opponent look very, very bad if his defense is not up to par. Blaydes says he wants to be the heavyweight Khabib Nurmagomedov, and while I wouldn’t say he is quite there yet, it’s an ambitious, understandable goal.
He’s already ranked in the top five, and the names above him are a little in flux. He’s not getting a title shot at Stipe Miocic. Daniel Cormier may or may not retire, but either way, he’s not fighting Blaydes. Francis Ngannou has already beaten him twice. And then there’s dos Santos, who’s right below Blaydes in ESPN’s heavyweight rankings. Blaydes said Saturday he’s at a point in his career where he’d be willing to wait rather than simply take a fight just to fight. If that’s the case, go home. Relax. Spend time with your daughter. And wait to see what happens on Nov. 9 between JDS and Volkov.
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