Kevin Lee (Dan Kuhl/Combat Press)

Dethroning the Champ: Who Is the Biggest Threat to Khabib Nurmagomedov?

As Khabib Nurmagomedov has climbed through the ranks over the years since his UFC debut in 2012, the ultimate question has always been the same: Who’s going to give this kid his first loss?

Six years later, Nurmagomedov is now the lightweight champion of the UFC, and the same question still remains relevant.

It’s incredible how consistent he has been. Nurmagomedov’s career has consisted of a pattern of domination. It’s truly remarkable that “The Eagle” has never even lost a round. Even the very one time we’ve seen him hurt inside of the Octagon against Michael Johnson, he came back to dominate the round.


There aren’t many fighters who were able to keep an undefeated streak going for this long. You can only name so many fighters with legitimate resumes that can claim more than a 26-fight winning streak. Fedor Emelianenko in his prime, of course. Anderson Silva only managed 17 straight victories. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is up to 13 straight. Yet, even all of those men lost at least once before going on their streaks. Nurmagomedov has not.

Nurmagomedov is in an era where the sport is evolving at a much faster rate than any time before. Fighters are constantly improving, gaining much more knowledge and benefiting from advanced technological services. The competition is more evenly matched than it was in decades past, but Nurmagomedov is still perfect through 26 fights.

So, back to the original question — what 155-pound fighter is capable of giving the newly crowned lightweight champion the first defeat of his career?

It’s a tough question, really. One possible response would be Tony Ferguson. Nothing speaks better than a 10-fight winning streak against the best fighters in the division. Furthermore, Ferguson really has no giant hole in his game to expose. He is the toughest match-up for anyone in the division. However, Ferguson’s recent injury that forced him out of UFC 223 may reduce his chances. Not only did he suffer a torn ligament in his knee, but the muscle was completely torn off the bone. It’s a tough injury, and Ferguson might never be the same fighter. Only time will tell.

Another possible answer is Conor McGregor. The opinions are split here, though. McGregor and Nurmagomedov couldn’t be more opposite in terms of their respective fight style, so it could go either way. We’ve seen Nurmagomedov get tagged by Johnson, and if Johnson can tag him, who’s to say McGregor can’t? Meanwhile, we’ve seen McGregor get taken down effortlessly by Chad Mendes. Who’s to say Nurmagomedov can’t do the same, or even more? There are so many questions surrounding this fight, but due to McGregor’s recent actions in Brooklyn and the subsequent legal consequences of those actions, the future is unclear for this fight.

There are a couple more contenders deserving of consideration, too. Primarily, this group consists of Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Both are coming off wins against Justin Gaethje and have looked very good in doing so. However, there’s another man that’s made his presence felt recently in the UFC’s lightweight division, and he just may hold the key to handing Nurmagomedov his first career loss.

Kevin Lee.

Yes, that’s right. The man who topped Edson Barboza at UFC Fight Night 128 is also the man most capable of defeating the current UFC lightweight champ. He is stylistically the best man to beat the undefeated Nurmagomedov.

Many things favor Lee in a match-up against the Russian. Lee is only 25 years old, and he might not have even reached his athletic prime yet. Nurmagomedov is not past his prime nor truly old yet, but it’s important to note that Lee has just as much experience as Nurmagomedov in a few years less time. Lee has fought for the title already, and he did it against Ferguson, arguably the best fighter in the division. Lee said it himself: that fight taught him a ton. He took the fight very personally, and how much it meant to him showed after the fight when we saw him on the canvas crying.

The learning experience Lee gained from his title bid against Ferguson was clearly applied to improvements in his most recent fight against Barboza. Talk about a destruction. Lee flashed his dominant grappling game by repeatedly taking down Barboza, who normally has a wicked takedown defense. Some would call it a duplicate of Nurmagomedov’s performance against Barboza just four months ago. Lee came out and proved that he was a legitimate contender in the division.

Nurmagomedov’s next opponent is completely unknown, but Lee would make for an interesting challenger. One thing’s for sure: Lee has the best chance in the division to defeat Nurmagomedov.