Who Will Be the UFC Lightweight World Champion at the End of 2021?

Lightweight Champion Khabib And McGregor

This is the division right here! Everyone’s favorite, right? Okay, I guess the Lightweights aren’t everyone’s cup of Monster Energy but they are certainly the most popular fighters in the world.

Khabib Nurmagomedov is still technically the world champion at 155 pounds in the UFC and he has become the #2 pay per view fighter as far as how many buys his shows get and you already know who holds the #1 spot.

The Notorious Conor McGregor holds the record for the 5th highest selling pay per view of all time as well as 4th through 1st and the top spot he shares with the aforementioned bear hugger, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Up until the second half of 2020, Tony Ferguson was a hardcore fan favorite and riding a 10-fight win streak. Justin Gaethje derailed that train but, of course, had his BJJ or lack thereof exposed by The Eagle.

Khabib Triangle Justin Gaethje

There are so many interesting matchups to make in the UFC’s Lightweight Division in 2021 and a couple are already made for us and coming up very soon. On January 23rd at UFC 257, we know that Conor McGregor will be rematching Dustin The Diamond Poirier at 155 pounds this time.

What has just been released, though, is the news that Dan The Hangman Hooker will welcome former Bellator World Champion Michael Chandler to the Octagon in the co-main event of the evening on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

That is a stellar matchup and happy to see an even brighter spotlight put on the UFC’s Lightweight Division right away in 2021.

So, Khabib has “retired” but keep in mind that he has one of the most aggressive managers in the game in Ali Abdelaziz. Floyd Mayweather wrote the playbook on pumping up your payday by coming “out of retirement” and Ali is well aware of this strategy.

Oh, but he promised his mother he would never fight again. I wish I could find betting odds on whether Khabib Nurmagomedov will fight again because if I do, I am hammering that yes line hard.

Please Note:
I don’t think he wants to come back to fight Conor McGregor, though. Charles Oliveira has popped his head out now with a dominant win over Tony Ferguson recently and let’s pretend Michael Chandler tears through the division. Those are a couple of potential opponents.

I think the Eagle, like Bones Jones, is headed north. Can you imagine Khabib vs Kamaru Usman? How about Khab versus Georges St Pierre?

And the reported 190 pounder wouldn’t have to cut so much weight and we would no doubt see the best version of him we ever have. I think it is the move but he is protecting that 0 with his life.

So, who is the champ at the end of the year? Maybe we should wait until after UFC 257? Then we will have a better idea.

We can’t, though. The betting odds can be found over at BetOnline.AG and they won’t be around that long so we need to jump on them right now! Let’s take a look at several fighters’ chances of holding the UFC’s Lightweight World Title belt at year’s end.

Islam Makhachev: +2000

Okay, we have a legit shot with Makhachev. Hear me out.

This guy was just a (-400) favorite over Rafael dos Anjos before he got a case of the Khabibs and had to pull out of the Fight Night bout in November. Islam isn’t quite Khabib but I think his striking is better and the guy is 18-1.

islam-makhachev-lightweight

In his only defeat, he wasn’t dominated in any way. He was just caught early on with a punch by Adriano Martins.

Islam is slated to fight Drew Dober at UFC 259 in a couple of months and the Dagestani star opened as a 4 to 1 favorite in this bout as well. Drew is live considering we have seen Islam clipped in the past and that’s what the Colorado native does best.

I think Makhachev will wrestle him, though, just like he can out wrestle most of the division. That’s when I start to think, hey this is possible. He could be the champ at the end of the year. Guys are having to pull out for this or that or COVID. Maybe Islam gets a shot that he normally wouldn’t and we already know he is virtually a bad matchup for the entire UFC Lightweight Division.

He is only ranked 13th right now but the guy he was just a 4 to 1 favorite against, Rafy dos Anjos, is ranked 7th. The guy Rafy dominated recently, Paul Felder, is ranked 8th still.

Now, I say these are the updated UFC rankings but I might be wrong. They are on the UFC website but that means absolutely nothing as this billion dollar company barely keeps it up.

I do have Islam ahead of most of the top ten, though. Honestly, guys, I favor Islam Makhachev over every fighter on the UFC’s Lightweight roster minus Khabibby, of course, who is retired but still the champion.

Makes sense. I think he is 20 to 1 because of his ranking but that will soon change and with his skill set, he will likely be the favorite over everyone in the division who isn’t his best friend.

I would definitely throw a few bucks on Islam Makhachev to hold the UFC’s Lightweight belt at the end of 2021.

Paul Felder: +1600

Om, no. I love the Irish Dragon! This guy is a man’s man, a fighter’s fighter, and a human’s human. Paul is one of my favorite fighters and one of my favorite commentators as well.

He does say some stuff I don’t exactly agree with at times but his heart shines on the mic almost as bright as it does in the Octagon.

Paul Felder UFC Background With Mic

He isn’t going to be the Lightweight champ at the end of 2021, though, and not at the end of 2022 either.

Paul will struggle to stay inside the top ten this year and won’t sniff the top 5.

Carlos Diego Ferriera: +1400

I love this guy and the way he fights, he can wear on just about everyone. Solid striking with great pressure, outstanding cardio, and submissions to seal the deal have Carlos Diego Ferreira sniffing the top 15.

Carlos Diego Ferriera UFC

I definitely think he is a fighter who should be ranked at least in the top 12 and he will get his chance to prove it and get there when he fights Beneil Dariush in early February. As I was pondering what the betting line for this fight could possibly be, I had to look.

(-110) each! We got a pick’em, y’all. I have to go with Benny in that fight but it’s just going to be too difficult for Ferreira to get a title shot in 2021. Nobody really knows who he is. Beating Anthony Pettis helped him out but in this stacked and more importantly popular division, Diego Ferreira is going to need more time before the UFC gives him a chance at the strap.

Dan Hooker: +1000

Another favorite of mine! I love The Hangman! The best attribute that Dan has isn’t his large frame for the division or his striking skill, in my opinion. It is his gameness and chin to bang with the thicker more compact guys in their range.

That makes me a fan of him as a fighter but as a betting man, I have to turn that off for a minute and look at him objectively. He was a decent sized underdog against Dustin Poirier back in June of last year so I thought hey, why not bet on him?

I did and I told you guys to do the same and the guy came out and won the first 2 rounds. I don’t remember but he was probably at least a 2 to 1 favorite for a live bet heading into the 3rd round but that is about the time the tides began to turn.

Dan Hooker Dustin Poirier

Poirier had those championship round grinding fights in his back pocket and it showed. Hooker is a really good fighter but I feel like I should have known Poirier was probably going to win. Even though we got the first two rounds, I still felt stupid for that one.

Hooker is 20-9 somehow. I definitely think he is a better fighter than his record shows but I still don’t see him winning the belt in 2021 or probably ever. He just isn’t quite there as a top 5 guy, not in this division.

As far as his upcoming fight with Michael Chandler goes, I am going to have to do a little bit more research for that one. The betting lines aren’t out for this fight yet but I would assume Hooker might open as a (-150) favorite.

He is much taller than the 5’8” Chandler.

Tony Ferguson: +900

Really? I realize that most of these betting odds don’t really matter. The holder of the belt at the end of the year will most likely be someone in the top 5 but can we stop with the Tony Ferguson talk?

I don’t know how many memes, IG posts, references in articles and interviews and podcasts about how it is so sad that we never got to see Tony Ferguson vs Khabib Nurmagomedov. That baby needs to be put down for an eternal nap already.

Tony Ferguson was overrated going into his fight with Justin Gaethje.

Justin Gaethje Vs Tony Ferguson

The only fighter you could say was a top 5 guy that Tony beat was Rafy dos Anjos. Other than that, nothing, nada.

He beat some great guys and went on a heck of a run winning 10 straight but we picked against him twice last year and they both paid well as underdog plays. I think the UFC might throw him a bone in his next fight.

I hope so but as far as title contention in 2021 or ever again, no way, not gonna happen.

Dustin Poirier: +550

Okay, now we are getting to the top five. Unfortunately for Dustin Poirier, his quest for another title shot is likely going to take a sharp left if you know what I mean. It was a sharp left that clipped Dustin’s brain stem the first time he fought Conor McGregor back in late 2014.

McGregor Spinning Back Kicking Poirier

Poirier, like McGregor, has moved up to Lightweight and appears to be a much better fighter at this weight class. He has only lost to Michael Johnson and Khabib at 55 when he got his shot at the belt.

You can argue that Dustin came the closest to defeating The Eagle when he caught him in a good guillotine but I don’t think the threat was as serious as people made it out to be.

I get it. If you’re commentating the fight and it is all one way traffic but all of a sudden, you get a speeder going the other way, you should definitely make a big deal about it.

Poirier Guillotine Attempt Khabib

You’re telling the fans that hey, this is still a good fight and not to forget that anything can happen at any time. Joe Rogan will do this a lot and you see the others jump on the bandwagon as well.

If a big underdog is having any kind of success at all, they will do their best to make you believe that the fight is somehow close when in reality it isn’t. They have to pour it on pretty hard whenever Khabib is fighting someone.

“Oh, I think Gaethje is starting to use his face to shield these punches again…and he’s tapping to a triangle. “JUST LIKE THAT!”

Shout out to Mike Goldberg.

If you read my stuff, then you probably already know what I think about UFC 257. I believe this Conor McGregor’s fight to lose and I don’t think he’s gonna do that.

Dustin Poirier is the best version of himself but so is Conor. I think McGregor has improved so much training for the fight with Khabib. The defensive wrestling and brutal work in the clinch we saw from his 50-second drubbing of Cowboy Cerrone a year ago was just a taste of what is to come.

That is just my opinion, though, and Poirier surely has a shot at the belt. He has beaten everyone except for Mac and Khabib but I don’t think he gets past either should the latter even happen.

Justin Gaethje: +550

Here is a name that everyone seems to be forgetting about since his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov back in October. Justin Gaethje does have some solid value here at more than 5 to 1.

This is why. He doesn’t have a fight scheduled yet and he is ranked inside the top 3. Therefore, he is going to keep his ranking for longer than the guys who are fighting ahead of him.

He will get jumped by the winner of Conor and Dustin but who knows, he may just fight the winner for the Interim title. Okay, I should have noted this from the start but Interim Titles don’t count with these betting odds.

This is only for the real champ and Justin could definitely be the world champ at the end of the year.

Justin Gaethje Lightweight

Dustin Poirier does hold a win over him but it was a back and forth fight and Dustin is likely going to get pushed back several spots if he loses convincingly to Conor McGregor at UFC 257.

Gaethje is still ranked #1 right now and even though I don’t think he will beat Conor McGregor, Khabib might do it for him again then ride back into the rising sun at 30-0 and officially retire. This would give the UFC an opportunity to make a fight for the belt before the end of the year.

Maybe McGregor goes back to boxing after Khabib beats him again and Justin Gaethje is the champ at year’s end. There are obviously a lot of possibilities but the value is there for The Highlight at more than 5 to 1. He is ranked #1 right now and won’t have to fight anyone until the Summer.

Khabib Nurmagomedov: +250

The Eagle! This bet right here might be the easiest money of 2021 or the dumbest play of the year because he is retired.

I spoke earlier about his crafty management and the “Money” blueprint it appears they could be following. Most people didn’t think Floyd Mayweather was going to come back and even fewer believed he was going to do it to fight a guy who was 0-0 in professional boxing.

But he did.

Turns out, money talks. We can’t speculate much further here and we already know he is the most dominant fighter not just in the UFC’s Lightweight Division but the most dominant combat sports athlete of all time.

There, I said it. I’m an Anderson Silva butt hugger ’til the day I die but his style wasn’t the most dominant style. Of course, Silva dominated people but at least he was kind enough to give them the illusion that they had a chance.

Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t even do that. If he hasn’t already taken your soul with his reputation alone, he snatches it up the second he gets a hold of you. Fighters’ faces when he first takes them down are priceless.

Khabib Choking Dustin Poirier

I am not strong at all so I am used to having a strength disadvantage rolling BJJ 90% of the time. I have to go with a kid and some women but it’s not like I can use it then or I’m being a jerk.

I feel like even though almost everyone is stronger, I have a pretty good gauge of how strong they are. Lloyd Irvin’s best guys would come over to my school on Fridays for open mat. My teacher was Lloyd’s teacher and many others in the DC area.

Irvin, of course, has a huge name and an even bigger tree of world champion black belts. Keenan Cornelius, JT Torres, DJ Jackson, Mike Fowler and the list goes but there was this wiry quiet guy who was probably just 165 pounds and 5’11”.

NO.

I thought, hey I’m wiry at 6’1 165 so maybe we are close in strength.

He was a Judo Olympian from Mongolia known only as Sugi and that is the strongest guy I have ever rolled with. Not even juiced up guys who were 275 or more were stronger. That is the kind of strength that Khabib has.

A kind of strength these guys, who have been grappling most of their lives, have never felt. That alone is enough to defeat most men and then he has the technique, conditioning, toughness, and ferocity to back it up.

This one is such a tough choice because you can get the current champ, most dominant ever for (+250) but I think by the end of the year, he will have retired again or taken a fight/moved up to Welterweight.

Conor McGregor: +150

Wow, kinda like Ngannou. Conor McGregor has also been beaten by the champ but is somehow the favorite to hold the belt at the end of the year.

The Irishman’s situation is a little different, though. His kryptonite is supposed to be retired. I heard Dana White say the other day to The Schmo that Conor vs Khabib is the fight to make should McGregor get past Poirier at UFC 257 in a few weeks.

Ugh. It was the highest grossing pay per view event in the history of the UFC. I said it already today. Money talks but the fans want to see highly dominant champions move up a weight class. That is one of the coolest things in fighting.

You can say what you want about boxing but they do this regularly. Roy Jones won his first world title when he beat Bernard Hopkins in 1993 for the Middleweight strap. He then went on to defeat John Ruiz for the world heavyweight title 10 years later.

It was the move back down from heavyweight that really messed Roy up. He was never the same after he cut too much weight and subsequently got knocked out early multiple times following his move back down.

We just saw Vasyl Lomachenko put his legacy on the line against a clearly bigger man at lightweight in Teofimo Lopez. MMA needs to take note! Think of the super fights we would have in 2021.

Khabib vs Kamaru! Izzy vs Jon Jones! Jon Jones vs Stipe or Francis! There are some good ones. These guys just have to make the move. We are betting, though, not just hoping.

I do see Conor as the potential champ at the end of the year but for just (+150), I can’t put much money on him. He is a flake. Imagine making this bet a few years ago when he would have definitely kept the belt but he left to box Floyd Mayweather.

Remember, money talks.

My Betting Pick: Islam Makhachev and Justin Gaethje

That was a mouthful and thank you for sticking with me. The lightweight division is just so darn interesting. I think it is because we get a higher level of fighter. More men around the globe weigh about 175 pounds than any other weight I would imagine and that’s about the size of your average UFC Lightweight.

Khabib is said to be 190+ but all the more reason for The Eagle to soar to Welterweight. GSP is his hero and he came back and won the Middleweight belt, albeit so quickly and efficiently, it was almost disappointing.

Please Note:
I do think Conor McGregor should be the favorite to be the champ but he is a flake and with all the possibilities of parody, I can’t get behind (+150).

You guys want a good (+150)? Parlay Arman Tsurulyen and Ottman Azaitar and you have your (+150).

If you want good value for this bet today, I think you have to go with Justin Gaethje at (+550). Khabib isn’t the worst play either at (+250) but I really like his best friend Islam Makhachev who is ridiculously 20 to 1.

He is probably the best fighter in the division right now!

The Bets
Islam Makhachev
+2000
Justin Gaethje
+550
Sub Categories:
Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.