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Khabib-Poirier: Regardless of the outcome, who should the winner face next?

Cover photo courtesy of Boss Logic

UFC 242 features the potentially biggest main event of 2019 thus far, as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier will square up to unify the lightweight title, arguably the most contested championship in all of mixed martial arts. But the real question will come at the conclusion of this fight; Who is next for the winner? Both men have said that they find Tony Ferguson to be the next contender, regardless of how this fight plays out, but we’ve seen Tony get shafted for a title before, we’ve seen injustices occur, and we also know just how powerful the name Conor McGregor truly is. There have also been rumblings from Khabib about wanting to face Georges St-Pierre if he were to successfully hold the title in Abu Dhabi. So many questions, plenty of potential, so let’s analyze what might just happen after the UFC 242 main event concludes on Saturday evening.

A post shared by Dustin Poirier (@dustinpoirier) on Aug 2, 2019 at 9:02am PDT

If Khabib wins:

A post shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov (@khabib_nurmagomedov) on Jul 7, 2019 at 8:48am PDT

The ideal scenario – If Khabib is able to turn away the challenge of Dustin Poirier like many believe he will, the fairest and most reasonable scenario would of course be to matchmake the Tony Ferguson fight for the fifth time. Ferguson is on a 12-fight winning streak and MMA fans have been pining for this fight ever since the first one got cancelled all the way back in 2014. The appeal from this fight stems from Khabib’s undefeated record, and Ferguson’s long and dominant winning streak, as well as each being a perceived stylistic weakness of the other. Will Khabib finally be tested by Ferguson? Will Ferguson’s winning streak end at the hands of the dominant and presumably unbeatable Khabib? Who knows, and that’s why that fight is so gripping and enticing for fans. If Khabib gets past Poirier, the Ferguson fight is the only ideal matchup that makes sense, and the fight that MMA fans have desired at long last finally takes place.

The business scenario – You all should know where I’m going with this one. Khabib wins, calls out Tony on the mic, and then backstage, Dana White walks up to him and tells him that one Mr. Conor McGregor has signed a contract for a matchup December in Las Vegas at UFC 245. Khabib, with his hands tied, takes the fight and the rematch that no one wants, save for Dana White, Ari Emmanuel and MMABaller, happens. I won’t predict what I believe would happen in a rematch, but I will say that there’s nothing that convinces me that the fight would play out any differently than the first time. The UFC is in the money-making business, and while the matchup will be hounded and panned by real MMA fans, the casual fan base would eat it up, equaling a nice payday for the promotion.

The wild card scenario – After winning, Khabib gets on the mic, and instead of calling out Tony Ferguson or Conor McGregor, he does what he’s been doing second-handedly for the last year and a half: he calls out Georges St-Pierre. Dana White is asked about it at the post fight press conference and denies it vehemently, like he’s been doing for the last year, giving fans hope that we won’t get something truly asinine and far-fetched like a GSP lightweight title shot. But as time wears on, and Khabib keeps doing interviews with prominent outlets where he continues to ask for GSP, Dana White begins to actually consider it, so much so to the point that GSP begins to post videos on Instagram of him training and slimming down, giving fans the thought of, “Hold on, is this really happening?” Then before you know it, the UFC announces Khabib-St-Pierre as the headliner for UFC 252 on July 5, 2020, to close out International Fight Week, and all of us will stand there flabbergasted, thinking that Conor, of all people, would’ve been a better option.

If Poirier wins:

A post shared by Dustin Poirier (@dustinpoirier) on Aug 5, 2019 at 9:03am PDT

The ideal scenario – I’ll toss two out for this one. If Dustin Poirier manages to shock the world in Abu Dhabi, the first ideal scenario is the same one as above, Tony Ferguson gets the next shot at the undisputed lightweight championship, only against Dustin Poirier instead of his longtime presumed opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov. The fight happens, it’s a great fight between two all-action, high level lightweights, whoever wins wins, and everything is all hunky dory. The second ideal scenario would be a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov. It would be hard to argue the rationale behind it, as well. Khabib is currently undefeated, and Poirier would be the first one to deal him defeat in his 28-fight career, so why not give Poirier the chance to prove it wasn’t a fluke, while also giving Khabib a chance to get back his lone loss. All the while, Tony Ferguson could get his money fight with Conor McGregor, serving as a de facto title eliminator. Either option, Ferguson or the rematch with Khabib, would be a reasonable, or ideal, sell.

The business scenario – Literally, the exact same thing as above. Poirier gets on the mic, calls out Tony, and Dana meets him backstage to offer him a shot to get back his loss against Conor McGregor. Poirier takes the fight in a heartbeat, setting up Poirier-McGregor 2 for early 2020 at UFC 246. The fight, of course, is massive but not as big as the rematch between McGregor and Khabib would be. Nonetheless, it makes little to no sense and the rational businessman in me would be more concerned with rebuilding Conor’s name, and then giving him a shot at the title, as opposed to just throwing him to Poirier, resulting in a rematch that carries almost no luster and, again, no one really wants to see.

The wild card scenario – Poirier wins in Abu Dhabi, but calls out no one on the mic. Dana says at the post fight press conference that Tony is next, and the media and the masses run with that assertion. An hour or so passes before a breaking news banner from ESPN comes across our smartphone screens, that reads, “Nate Diaz takes to Twitter, calls out ‘pussy’ Dustin Poirier.” As the headline begins to sweep the masses, the idea of the fight begins to gain serious heat in the MMA community. Diaz fans rise in full force, putting their wishes of a Diaz fight with Jorge Masvidal on the back burner temporarily. Dana White does an exclusive interview with Brett Okamoto, telling him that Poirier wants the fight, but Diaz is complaining, so it isn’t happening. Exactly one week later, Okamoto breaks the news that Poirier-Diaz is a done deal, and the fight that was originally scheduled as a three-round co-main event at UFC 230 in November 2018 will be the main event of UFC 251 in June in Chicago for the undisputed lightweight title. Hardcore MMA fans hate, or at least are very critical of, the fight, but casual fans fall in love with the matchup, resulting in a hefty pay-per-view buy rate for the promotion.

This is why UFC 242 is such an important card, and why the main event is so important. This fight between Nurmagomedov and Poirier can very well dictate the landscape of UFC profit and superstardom for the next couple of years. Khabib became a big star after defeating McGregor, Will Poirier become one if he beats Khabib? And just how big of a star is Khabib, how much will this fight sell, now that McGregor won’t be standing on the other side of the Octagon? And just how crazy will post-fight matchmaking be, regardless of who wins? This main event will be an awesome battle between quite arguably the two best lightweights on planet Earth, but the real drama will take place in the weeks following. Get ready for it. Regardless of who wins, the craziness imminent.■

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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