Dana White confirmed, via tweet, on Friday morning that Khabib Nurmagomedov had officially chosen to stay retired, sticking with his 29-0 record and officially relinquishing the UFC Lightweight Title. After dominating the UFC’s lightweight division for almost nine years, Khabib will go down in MMA history as one of the greatest lightweight fighters to ever put on a pair of gloves.
Looking forward, this is huge for the UFC and the UFC lightweight division.
Firstly, the title belt becomes vacant and a new champion will be crowned. Dana White has announced that the scheduled lightweight bout between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira for UFC 262 will now be for the vacant title. This means, for the first time since 2018, the UFC’s lightweight throne will be occupied by a new man, which is always a big deal.
Secondly, this means that the belt will be around to be defended. Since winning the belt in April of 2018, Khabib has defended the belt a total of three times, once against Mcgregor (He was given a hefty fine and suspension after this match after jumping off the cage and attacking a member of Mcgregor’s team), once against Poirier, and once in a title unification match against Justin Gaethje. For context, Kamaru Usman is defending his title for the fourth time in about a month, despite having won his title a full year after Nurmagomedov.
This gives the lightweights a prize worth fighting for. While Nurmagomedov was hiding with the title, the best things the top lightweights could hope for was a big money fight with Mcgregor, who was absent from the UFC for much of Khabib’s reign. Now, the division has a new goal, and, hopefully, a new fire, which will take passionate fighters like Poirier and Gaethje and Mcgregor and Ferguson, and light something new under them.
For the first time in three years, the division is wide open, and a new era has started for the lightweight division.
Even the vacant title fight between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira signals a huge shift. Michael Chandler was fighting in Bellator less than 12 months ago and has only ever had one fight in the UFC. Meanwhile, Charles Oliveira has been a loyal company fighter since 2010, with 28 fights with the company under him, where he has gone 18-8-1. Oliveira has had eight bouts since Khabib initially took the division title, and has gone 8-0 over that same span. Either man is a completely different champion than Khabib and divides better.
On top of all these stars at the top, there is still that nightmare of a man Islam Makhachev making his way up the division. Khabib’s protégé, Islam has destroyed any and every opponent across from him and is looking at the old names at the top of the division no fear, just hunger. With Khabib retired (and in his corner), Islam can make a legitimate push for the title and potentially carve a bigger legacy than Khabib ever even thought of.
This is an exciting time for what was one of the UFC’s most exciting divisions, and an opportunity for them to return to popularity.