At UFC 219, an undefeated lightweight will return to the UFC after a lengthy absence.
In a division where brash Conor McGregor, tough-as-nails Tony Ferguson, and many other prominent fighters are competing, adding an undefeated standout back to the mix makes for some very interesting clashes in 2018.
Khabib Nurmagomedov will make his return to the promotion before 2017 wraps up. Competing on December 30’s card, he will face Edson Barboza. The winner will likely move up the ranks and be closer to a title shot.
While his undefeated record makes him a big-time prospect in the sport, Nurmagomedov has had his troubles in the past. His biggest adversary has been himself, or more specifically, his ability to make the 155-pound limit for his division.
Nurmagomedov was last seen in the UFC back in November of 2016, when he submitted Michael Johnson with a kimura. He was scheduled to compete earlier this year at UFC 209, but never made it to the card. Instead, he was rushed to the hospital following a bad weight cut.
This time around, he claims he’s on track. Nurmagomedov said: “I change a lot of things. My weight is perfect. My shape is good. I have three more hard days and I finish all my training camp and focus on making weight. We’ll see. I am not in bad shape. I’m very excited about it. I want to show this.”
Nurmagomedov was scheduled to face Ferguson before his weight cut caused him kidney issues. That would’ve gotten him a shot at the interim title, but it was not to be on that occasion.
Ferguson ended up facing Kevin Lee for that title at UFC 216. Ferguson was victorious, but not before another problematic weight cut almost derailed the bout. Lee missed weight on his first attempt, but was authorized by on-site medical staff to reattempt the weigh-in an hour later. He was successful, and went on to compete that night. Though he came out strong in the first two rounds, he eventually slowed and was submitted with a triangle choke.
Nurmagomedov has competed at a catch weight of 160 pounds in the past, and in 2013, he missed weight by over two pounds. Despite his issues with the scale, Nurmagomedov has some impressive names on his resume. He’s defeated Gleison Tibau, Thiago Tavares, and former champ Rafael dos Anjos.
Nurmagomedov has been a mixed martial artist since 2008, winning his first four bouts in less than a month. He won three of them in a single night, and effectively mixes his wrestling, judo, and combat sambo backgrounds to keep his opponents guessing. He is currently 24-0.
Barboza is 16-4, last falling to the current champion in Ferguson. Since then, he has racked up three straight victories.
Nurmagomedov is one of the many fighters in the sport that experienced trouble cutting weight, prompting discussions about new weight classes or more oversight during the cutting process.