The UFC’S Lightweight Division is Insane

Justin Gaethje Winning UFC 249 Over Tony Ferguson Makes it Even More Complicated

Weight divisions are a strange thing in mixed martial arts. The sole fact that it involves a complicated nutritional and training regiment is self-attrition.

Weight fixing, weight cutting, weight bulking. It’s a crazy business.

You have people bulking up in weight only to lose that weight in a few weeks. You have people not drinking water leading up to the weigh-in day. You have people moving up in weight by almost 20–35 lbs a day before the fight.

As with everything we come across in life, there is a weight class ‘sweet spot’. In the UFC, it’s the lightweight division. This is the 155 lb limit.

For those who follow the UFC, the names that dominate generally attach to a weight class — this is regardless of whether the person still fights today.

When we think light heavyweight (186-205 lbs), we think of Jon Jones.

When we think welterweight (156–170), we think of George St. Pierre.

When we think middleweight (171–185), we think of Anderson Silva.

When we think featherweight (136–145), we think of Conor McGregor.

Below that, at bantamweight, we think of Dominic Cruz (who lost at UFC 249, but defended the championship title for almost 4 years).

But between 146–155, it’s anybody (currently, it’s Khabib).

And UFC 249 threw the biggest mind-fuck we have seen to date. That championship fight was supposed to be Tony Ferguson against Khabib Nurmagomedov. But Khabib had travel issues last minute due to unexpected delays with planning the UFC fight location.

So, Justin Gaethje steps in.

In the last 10 years, the belt has exchanged 10 waists.

The most fascinating thing is that most of these guys in that top 10 contention have defeated each other or other opponents who have defeated the original. With the exception of Khabib’s current grappling domination and perfect record, almost every single person on this roster have defeated one another.

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Frankie Edgar had the belt first on April 10, 2010. Benson Henderson had the belt on February 26, 2012. Anthony Pettis had the belt starting on August 31, 2013. Rafael dos Anjos held the belt starting March 14, 2015. Each of these four guys held the belt for almost 2 years. Eddie Alvarez held the belt on July 7, 2016. Conor McGregor took it away from him on Nov 12, 2016. Tony Ferguson defeated Kevin Lee for the interim belt on October 7, 2017. Khabib Nurmagomedov held the belt starting April 13, 2019. Dustin Poirier fought Max Holloway for the interim belt on April 13, 2019. And, that leaves us with Justin Gaethje, who took the interim belt from Tony Ferguson on May 9, 2020. I would even include Al Iaquinta on this list, as he was a substitute for Holloway and Ferguson. He also lasted the entire 5 rounds with Khabib, to the extent of out striking him in the fourth and fifth rounds — even though he lost the bout.

What’s more impressive is the number of times a newcomer is taking out somebody who the world deems a world champion.

Ferguson and Pettis messed each other up in a blood bath, ending with Pettis pulling out after two rounds. He was, without exaggeration, bleeding from everywhere.

Justin Gaethje has lost to both Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier within the last 3 years. Dustin Poirier has beaten Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway, but lost to Khabib. He has also beaten Anthony Pettis, too. But Poirier has lost to Conor McGregor.

Alvarez has beaten Rafael dos Anjos and Pettis within the last four years, but he lost to Donald Cerrone in 2014. Alvarez has also lost to McGregor.

Holloway has beaten Pettis and Joe Aldo (twice), but lost to Poirier in 2019. He has also lost to a rising featherweight in Alexander Volkanovski who could have the ability to come up in weight in the future for a shot at the lightweight title. Holloway has also lost to McGregor.

Aside from Khabib, the spot for number 2 is insane.

Which makes the Gaethje win over Ferguson even stranger.

This makes going forward even weirder for the explicit reason that Conor initially wanted his rematch with Khabib. Gaethje will probably want his title fight with Khabib. Conor will likely want that fight, too.

I’m not certain about the prospects of the next fight, but I would lean on a Gaethje/McGregor bout to settle who takes on Khabib.

Either way, it leaves a string of guys at the lightweight division all with championship potential.

And it leaves a string of guys just above the lightweight limit waiting to chop down in weight and the superstars just below the lightweight limit waiting to come up in weight.

Because that’s the thing with this 146–155 weight limit; it’s perfect.

There are a lot of people that can reconfigure their diets to morph their bodies into that weight limit. It leaves a lot of room for competition.

The rumors that Khabib starts his camp weighing just over 200 lbs is enough evidence that some monsters are capable of shedding about 50 lbs for the weigh-in day.

Whatever happens going forward, there is only one certainty: The UFC’s lightweight division is getting crazier.

Written by

UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries: Moumj@berkeley.edu

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