Johny Hendricks. Kelvin Gastelum. Khabib Nurmagomedov.
What do these fighters have in common? Well, they certainly don’t like the scales.
The weight-cutting struggles of Hendricks and Gastelum are well publicized. Nurmagomedov’s frustrations are not quite common knowledge. Perhaps it’s because his injury history has overshadowed any struggles on the scales. However, the lightweight is in a weird position after another fight of his fell through, marking the second time Nurmagomedov has fallen victim to a poor weight cut.
Nurmagomedov missed weight once before, four years ago at UFC 160 against Abel Trujillo. The fight went on that time, and Nurmagomedov won. However, now, after failing to make it past (or even to) the weigh-ins for his scheduled UFC 209 bout against Tony Ferguson, Nurmagomedov is left in a weird limbo.
The obvious suggestion would be for the 28-year-old to move up in weight after such a disastrous cut put him in the hospital. In many cases, this is how this turns out. Look at the aforementioned Hendricks and Gastelum. Both fighters were forced to go up in weight by the UFC. This is the typical solution to the problem.
Nurmagomedov has been a dominant lightweight, though, and a forced move to the welterweight division might not be the right call. Such a move could potentially ruin one of the best runs in the sport. Nurmagomedov is unbeaten through 24 fights and is on the cusp of a title shot. This is only his second run-in with the scales, so perhaps he should be afforded the chance to prove this will not be a regular occurrence.
It probably makes sense, from a business point of view, to force the lightweight to migrate to the 170-pound weight class. After all, this isn’t the first time he has cost the company money in promotion and hype. Yet, we’re talking about the possibility of having an undefeated champion at the head of the lightweight division. We’re talking about an undefeated fighter with strong wrestling who would have to challenge Conor McGregor for the belt. It’s a chance for Nurmagomedov to redeem himself and fill the UFC’s coffers.
Take away Nurmagomedov, and current champion McGregor could be viewed as a star shielded by the promotion. McGregor’s detractors will look at the unbeaten Nurmagomedov and point out the Irishman’s good fortune if doesn’t have to face that beast.
Furthermore, any forced move in weight would take away a Russian fighter from a potential championship run within one of the UFC’s divisions. If the UFC really wants to break into Russia, it will be on Nurmagomedov’s back.
There are two sides to this issue. On one side, there’s the concern about Nurmagomedov’s ability to consistently make weight and to do so without putting his health in peril. On the other, there’s the question of whether Nurmagomedov’s route to a championship and true UFC stardom resides solely in the lightweight division.
Nurmagomedov should be able to adjust his weight-cutting ritual. He did so for four fights after missing weight against Trujillo. With Nurmagomedov, the concern should be more in the injury department. This comes from how hard he trains for these fights. The weight cut, meanwhile, is the least of the concerns in Nurmagomedov’s preparation for fight night.
The second question can be answered if the UFC continues to pursue the fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson. The fight will bring clarity to the lightweight division’s title picture and provide McGregor with a new challenger for whenever the Irishman puts aside his flirtations with the boxing world and returns to defend the belt.
The UFC should give Nurmagomedov a chance to prove he can make weight at 155 pounds. There’s no point in denying it. The man has wrestled bears. He should be able to overcome the scales, too.