UFC 254: Khabib Decimates Gaethje, Retires on Top, and What’s Next

The last of five cards from the UFC’s second stint on Fight Island was also the final time undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov made his walk to the UFC octagon, as he unified his title by beating Justin Gaethje via second-round technical submission. Immediately after the fight was stopped, the champion was overcome with emotions as this was the first time he fought since his losing his father and lifelong coach Abdulmanap back in July to COVID-19. After improving to 29-0, he let Jon Anik and the world know that he made a promise to his mother that this was it, and he would never want to fight again without his father being around to coach him.

As we close the chapter on what we believe is Khabib’s fighting career, he has reached unprecedented heights despite only being in the promotion for a little over eight years and has won at every turn, cementing himself in the Mount Rushmore of UFC greats. Is he the greatest of all time? That is subjective, but one impressive feat that Khabib Nurmagomedov achieved was that he never saw his own blood during his 13-bout UFC run.

Khabib is now one of three former UFC champions to hang it up in 2020, joining former two-division champs Henry Cejudo and Daniel Cormier in retirement. But as they say in show business, the show must go on. Despite a huge void being left by the departure of the one they call ‘The Eagle’, the UFC has plenty of potential fights to happen in the post-Khabib era. With McGregor and Poirer due to set battle in January, the signing of former Bellator two-division champion Michael Chandler, and contenders such as Ferguson, Hooker, and Makachev waiting for a fight, the future of 155 is chaotic. No matter which direction it goes in, however, there will be much excitement to it.

In the card’s co-main event slot, we saw another pivotal fight as Robert Whittaker defeated Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision in what Dana White deemed a number one contender fight for a shot at current middleweight king Israel Adesanya. The Aussie Whittaker has been better than ever since losing his belt to Adesanya a little over a year ago, beating top contenders Till and Cannonier in two respective trips to Abu Dhabi in three months. It was a great display of striking throughout, with Cannonier almost getting finished after falling from a head kick midway through the third. However, he was resilient until the final horn. It was a valiant effort for Cannonier in defeat, as he has truly found his home in the middleweight division after stops at both light heavyweight, and heavyweight before cutting down to 185 pounds. Although not discussed at the moment, a potential bout with Paolo Costa could be an interesting way for the promotion to kick-start one of them back into the title picture.

Although White said he would be interested in booking the Whittaker vs. Adesanya rematch, one person who was not too interested in it was the champ himself. After Adesanya steamrolled Paolo Costa a month ago, he called Cannonier out and said if he was able to beat Whittaker that he would love to fight him. Now that Whittaker has Cannonier behind him, the UFC is left with a couple of options for the current champion Adesanya. If Adesanya wants to defend his middleweight crown then nothing is more deserving than the Robert Whittaker rematch. However, options such as a crack at a second belt against new light heavyweight Jan Blachowicz, or the legacy fight against former longtime champion Jon Jones. Jones has relinquished his 205-pound belt to try and climb the heavyweight mountain, but the Twitter insults between him and Adesanya have been nonstop over past weeks, and with Francis Ngannou up next for current heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic, Jones is left without a clear next opponent for the first time in a long time.

There’s a ton of motion amongst the top of the UFC in recent months, with each current champ fighting at least once this year, and with three more title fights scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020, it appears as we are entering a new era of the promotion. Between the nine-fight cards in Abu Dhabi in recent months, and the UFC only having one current American born champion, the sport of MMA is solidifying itself as a global sporting staple in front of our own eyes. With many companies facing hardships as a result of the global pandemic, the quite opposite could be said for the UFC. They were the first to return to action when they kicked off events in Jacksonville in May, and although definitely risky at the time, the risk has paid large dividends as the promotion did not miss a beat during the pandemic. With the sport being displayed on a global scale, the sport with more eyes on it than ever before, and with a fight with Conor McGregor, the sport’s biggest star looming to return in early 2021, the sport has the chance to even grow more with McGregor looking to recapture the lightweight crown.

(Cover Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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