Dubai: With his annihilation of Tony Ferguson in the showpiece event at UFC 249 on Saturday night in Florida, Justin Gaethje has not just breathed new life into MMA amid the coronavirus crisis but has thrown wide open one of the promotion’s most talent-rich divisions.
With lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov the next logical opponent for the hard-hitting Pennsylvania native, the UFC’s think tank have been left mulling a myriad of scenarios for the rest of the 155 pound division’s arsenal of fighters.
With the world’s attention on the UFC after it defied the odds and brought sport back into the limelight, it’s dynamic, of controversial boss Dana White needs to work fast to put fights in place.
Gaethje may have established himself as the rightful number contender to challenge Nurmagomedov, a fight that is scheduled to take place later this year, but he is still a relative newcomer to the UFC ranks - having only fought seven times since he made a winning debut by defeating Michael Johnson in 2017.
He lost his subsequent fights against Eddy Alvarez at UFC 218 in December 2017 and suffered another loss in the division when losing to Dustin Poirier in April 2018. Geathje, however, turned around his career with a brutal 1:27 stoppage victory over James Vick at a Fight Night event the same year.
Since then, there has been no looking back for the man whose heritage dates back to when he was a kid working in Arizona copper mines.
His reputation as an explosive fighter will be put to the test when he faces submission specialist Nurmagomedov in a fight that promises to be a battle of technique and not brawn.
Meanwhile, what happens elsewhere in the UFC’s flagship, lightweight division?
A division that boats some of the sport’s most talented fighters, led by Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor and Nate Diaz, one of the few met to have beat the fearless Irishman.
And then there is Dustin Poirier, who has not fought since he lost to Khabib at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi and Jorge Masvidal, one of the stars of 2019 as he racked up victories over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz.
Ferguson and Khabib had been scheduled to fight each other five times, with each bout cancelled for reasons ranging from injuries to a the pandemic most recently.
On Saturday, White categorically confirmed that the UFC did not visualize matching them a sixth time.
Meanwhile, McGregor, who been out of action since his 40-second win over Donald Cerrone in January was being touted as a potential opponent for Gaethje this summer but with Khabib being ruled out, Gaethje instead faced Ferguson.
The Irishman is now left with no option but to accept the third fight against Diaz, who first choked him out before losing six months later via a point’s decision verdict.
This could now be the perfect time for the UFC to make it happen and hope that something big comes out of it.