What shaped up as a tremendous lightweight scrap between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Gilbert Melendez won’t be happening at UFC 170 after all. UFC President Dana White says the fight is off and the promotion will be looking to find Nurmagomedov a new opponent in the hopes of keeping him on the card. The bout seemed like a sure thing for February 22 in Las Vegas especially with the two fighters being featured prominently on a recently unveiled poster to promote the event.
The news is likely disappointing to most fans as the matchup was of such high quality that the winner could have emerged as a possible title challenger for whenever lightweight champion Anthony Pettis is able to return from knee surgery. Nurmagomedov is a perfect 21-0 in his career and 5-0 inside the Octagon. He’s currently ranked no.7 in the UFC’s lightweight rankings and most recently turned in an impressive decision victory over Pat Healy at UFC 165. The Russian displayed a solid striking attack and a grinding style that eventually wore Healy down as the fight progressed.
Nurmagomedov has indicated a willingness to face anyone and for good reason. The highly decorated Combat Sambo ace has seven career knockouts and seven submission victories to his credit and has elite wrestling and grappling skills. In fact, he set a record against Abel Trujillo at UFC 160 by taking down the talented striker a remarkable 21 times in posting a dominant three round decision win.
On the bright side, UFC matchmakers have plenty of talent to choose from in the 155-pound weight class to put together an enticing matchup for “The Eagle.” One name that immediately comes to mind is Nate Diaz. Diaz saw his stock rise substantially and moved into the No.5 ranking after his first round destruction of Gray Maynard at The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 finale. A Nurmagomedov-Diaz matchup would have plenty at stake for both fighters and the potential to be a fan-friendly affair.
There are several other attractive options to explore including the likes of Jim Miller or Michael Johnson. Both top-15 lightweights turned in recent impressive winning efforts at UFC 168. Nurmagomedov has shown himself to be an extremely dangerous opponent for anyone in the 155-pound weight class and will be more than ready for whoever the organization throws at him.
It will be very interesting to see what’s next for Nurmagomedov and Melendez. While they won’t meet at UFC 170 as expected, both talented fighters are key players within the lightweight landscape. Hopefully fans will one day get the opportunity to see them test each other within the confines of the Octagon.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports