How Kevin Lee could emerge as the surprise No. 1 lightweight contender

Kevin Lee

There is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time, as former UFC champion Michael Bisping once proved when he stepped in for an injured Chris Weidman to compete for a world title. A similar opportunity could come knocking for lightweight phenom Kevin Lee in a division riddled with injuries and chaos the likes of which has never been seen.

Stranger things have happened.

Lee is coming off the biggest win of his career over Edson Barboza in April, and newly-crowned lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov is adamant on finding a dance partner sooner rather than later.

The whimsical sound of opportunity is playing for the Motown Phenom, who might end up being the UFC’s best available option as a top contender.

Former champion Conor McGregor, who would no doubt be the company’s most lucrative option, has ongoing legal drama after being arrested and charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief in April for smashing out the windows of a bus carrying a bunch of fighters, including Nurmagomedov.

There is no certainty McGregor will even be able to compete this year, and even if he is available, Nurmagomedov’s camp isn’t keen on the idea of him getting an immediate title shot after being away for nearly two years.

“We believe the fight to make is the Georges St-Pierre fight at 155 pounds,” Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz told “Khabib wants to fight for legacy and not for a soap opera drama show, and we think Conor doesn’t deserve this opportunity. The guy hasn’t fought in almost two years. Why does he deserve to fight for the title? He should get his ass back in the line and work his way up.”

St-Pierre, a former welterweight and middleweight champion, has hinted at completing the trifecta of UFC title wins by dropping to 155 pounds and competing for the lightweight belt. However, it could be a long wait for Nurmagomedov if he truly intends on getting a deal done with arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history.

Getting St-Pierre to commit one way or the other has been like pulling teeth for the UFC, which is pretty much expected from any fighter fortunate enough to be in his position. Would a fight against Nurmagomedov pique his interest to the point where he’d be willing to cut all the way down to 155 pounds at 37 years old?

It’s a long shot at best.

Aside from McGregor and St-Pierre, Tony Ferguson is unquestionably the most deserving contender in the division. He is currently riding a 10-fight win streak, including a submission over Lee last October to win the interim title.

A freak knee injury robbed fans of a highly-anticipated showdown with Nurmagomedov, leaving some to ponder if the bout will ever take place. The UFC has unsuccessfully attempted to book the fight four times.

“I’m never making that fight ever again—ever,” White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto in April.

Go ahead and cross out Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier as well, especially if Nurmagomedov is seeking a fight in September. Both lightweight contenders are already set to headline UFC on Fox 30 at the end of July, leaving them with little time to prepare for a title fight.

No McGregor, St-Pierre, Ferguson, Alvarez and Poirier would instantly make Lee the favorite to land the golden ticket in the Nurmagomedov sweepstakes.

The bout might meet some early resistance from fans hoping to see the undefeated champion defend against McGregor and Ferguson, but that would quickly subside once the promotional work is underway.

Lee, who could sell a fight with a heavy bag, would have no problem convincing the masses to tune into his bout with Nurmagomedov. Aside from the obvious pre-fight banter that would ensue between the two fighters, there could be some real danger for the champ in the cage.

Lee’s only loss in nearly three years came at the hands of Ferguson, who some still believe to be the best lightweight in the world. His strong grappling base and one-punch knockout power would certainly make things interesting against a fighter that has at times looked unbeatable.

Whether he’d actually be able to pull off the upset remains to be seen.

Khabib Nurmagomedov has virtually left everyone else in the dust, going from a frightening contender to the gold standard of the lightweight division. And Kevin Lee, a frightening contender in his own right, could be the one fighter on the planet with more than a puncher’s chance to set a new standard.

This article first appeared on on 6/4/2018.

This article appeared first on BJPENN.COM