UFC matchmakers will have some tough decisions ahead when deciding who is in line for the next title shot against the newly-crowned champion in Khabib Nurmagomedov. The decision is made even more difficult with the recent performances by Dustin Poirier and Kevin Lee.
At the top of the lightweight division sits the undefeated Dagestani in Nurmagomedov, who claimed the title earlier this month with a unanimous decision victory against Al Iaquinta.
You could make an argument that any of the five guys under him in Tony Ferguson, Conor McGregor, Eddie Alvarez, Kevin Lee and Dustin Poirier are all capable of capturing the belt. Ferguson has already held the interim title and McGregor and Alvarez are former champions.
Out of the those top-ranked fighters, former lightweight champion Alvarez believes he has the best style to match Nurmagomedov.
“I know 100 percent that matchup wise -- wrestling and stylistically, I watch the champion a lot -- I am the guy to beat the champion, not Dustin Poirier, not Conor McGregor, not anyone. I understand who I won against and who I lost to, but I’m the best style matchup,” Alvarez told the media backstage at UFC Atlantic City on Saturday night (h/t MMAJunkie.com).
“The champion don’t want to fight me now, he knows. He’s going to pick off the wounded gazelles one by one. He’s going to take the good style matchups. I understand, take ’em, I’ll be waiting in the end.”
“The Underground King” underlined that he has always tried to pit himself against the toughest challenge available and that at the moment, few opponents would be more difficult than Nurmagomedov.
“My goal has always been the same since I joined the UFC — I want the baddest motherf*ckers in this sport, the most dangerous guys; the guys that everybody thinks I’m going to lose against. Right now, Khabib is that guy, so I want to fight that guy. I want to let everyone know that he’s beatable,” he said.
Alvarez has a lot of respect for the champ, but pointed out the hypocrisy of Nurmagomedov winning the title against Iaquinta (ranked 11th) instead of a top-five opponent.
“What’s funny about this whole thing is that Khabib wasn’t a champion. Now he’s a champion after beating number 11, let’s just get that out in the open. He says ‘paper champion’, ‘who is real champion’ — you beat number 11 and now you’re champion, so think on that — pray on that during Ramadan — number 11 and now you’re champion,” explained Alvarez.
“When I fought for the title, I literally fought number 5, 4, 3, 2 then 1. I fought a champion, a guy who was a champion who had a belt, that’s a real champion. I’ll continue to fight the best and I’ll wait my turn. I’ll let the UFC do their job, pick who’s next in line, I’ll be waiting there for all of them.”
For his next fight, Alvarez is just hoping to face someone that gets him excited to compete again.
“For however long I’ve been fighting, it’s very hard to get excited about a fight anymore. When people say, ‘Hey, you’re going to fight this guy’, ‘this guy’ better be someone. He needs to be dangerous, he needs to be a big name, there needs to be something in it for me to feel something. If I don’t feel something I’m probably not going to answer the call. I really want someone who will get the emotion out of me.”
It’s been rumored that Alvarez’s next opponent inside the Octagon could be Nate Diaz or Nurmagomedov, two fighters that the former champion would gladly accept.
“Nate’s a big name, everyone loves Nate, everyone thinks Nate can do this and do that. I’d love his name on my résumé when I’m done fighting. I want a win against a Diaz,” Alvarez said. “Maybe it’s meaningless, maybe fans go, ‘Why this guy, he’s not even ranked?’ -- I just want his name. Just like every other guy, I want their name. He’d be one, Khabib would be one right now. I’m sure in the next couple of weeks we’re going to figure out another name that I can get excited about.”