Khabib Nurmagomedov and 4 Injured Fighters Who Will Make Impact Upon Return
Mixed martial arts is one of the most grueling sports in the world.
At its worst, it forces the best fighters on the planet to train for a potentially unpredictable 25-minute war. Planning against both a fighter and the unknown, competitors must push themselves beyond the cusp of comfort in all aspects of the game.
Wrestlers must learn to strike. Strikers must learn to wrestle.
Accomplishing such tough tasks won't come without peril—injuries plague this sport far too often. However, for every unfortunate injury any fighter faces in their professional career lies a proverbial silver lining.
Keep reading to see which injured fighters are poised to make immediate impacts upon their return to the cage. Don't expect Anderson Silva, Anthony Pettis, Dominick Cruz or Cat Zingano to make this list—only fighters who are still on the mend without a scheduled fight on their horizon will be considered.
If he didn't compete in a division that yields a remarkable amount of triumphant challengers, Khabib Nurmagomedov's injury as the UFC's third-ranked lightweight could have caused more problems than it already did.
Authoring an undefeated 22-0 record—with six of those victories coming in an Octagon-shaped cage—Nurmagomedov is just three months removed from his most recent victory against Rafael dos Anjos, the division's No. 6 fighter.
He was scheduled to try to improve his record to 23-0 against Donald Cerrone at UFC 178. Thankfully, the Russian fighter blew out his knee 20 minutes after signing on to fight Cerrone—effectively saving us from watching our heads explode from the electrifying fight card that could have been.
All jokes aside, Nurmagomedov is obviously one of the better fighters at 155. His return to the cage could mean bad things for just about anybody in his division—even bear cubs can't outwrestle this guy.
After dominating just about everybody in her path to becoming the first female winner of The Ultimate Fighter, Julianna Pena was poised to join Sara McMann, Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate as part of the ever-shallow women's bantamweight division.
She was scheduled to face off against Jessica Andrade at UFC 171 in what would have been her first bout outside the TUF tournament. A tear to her ACL, MCL, LCL and meniscus prevented her from doing so.
With the likes of Zingano, Holly Holm, Gina Carano and Cris "Cyborg" Justino able to keep Ronda Rousey busy for the duration of Pena's recovery, there's little reason the Venezuelan Vixen should rush the process.
In all likelihood, Rousey will maintain her undefeated record, leaving Pena as one of the few competitors left to challenge for the champion's crown.
Rashad Evans and Daniel Cormier were scheduled to put their friendship aside in what could have been one of the better fights that 2014 had to offer.
A torn ACL suffered just days before his UFC 170 bout with the former Olympian was more than enough to axe the bout—Evans would be out for at least eight months.
His original opponent is now poised to meet his former training partner and current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Meanwhile, current training partner Anthony Johnson is just a few wins away from being the next man to step inside the cage to challenge for the throne.
As a result, Evans finds himself as the odd man out.
Fortunately for him, he still stands as one of the better fighters at 205 pounds. Once his knee is fully healed, Evans will return to a typically top-heavy light heavyweight division only needing to string a few more wins before he can attempt to return to his former championship glory.
Plagued by suspect takedown defense when pitted against above-average wrestlers, Carlos Condit's most glaring weakness stands as the crux to his current absence.
Looking to pick up his second win in four fights, Condit stepped into the cage against Tyron Woodley to prove he'd worked on filling the gaps that prevented him from seeing his hand raised against Johny Hendricks and Georges St-Pierre.
Not only did Condit give up the takedown to the superior wrestler, but he managed to tear his ACL and partially tear his meniscus in the process. Condit was just 1-3 in his last four fights.
All records aside, the 30-year-old is still one of the most impressive fighters in the UFC's welterweight division, justifying his No. 3 ranking—behind only Hendricks, Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald.
It's difficult to tell who's waist will be wearing the welterweight strap upon Condit's return. Regardless, the Natural Born Killer and his surgically repaired knee will hopefully be ready enough to offer the same sort of action-packed performances his fans have grown to know.
Another knee, another lost contender.
Prior to UFC 165, pound-for-pound king Jon Jones was as untouchable as any fighter before him. He was the best on the planet, and nobody was capable of taking his crown.
In stepped Alexander Gustafsson to change popular opinion.
The Swede wasn't capable of convincing the judges he was worthy of wearing the belt, but he did enough to convince everybody that the champion's forces were susceptible to at least one fighter on the planet.
His performance left fans wanting more, and up until Gustafsson's knee injury prior to his scheduled UFC 178 rematch with Jones, they were going to get it.
Luckily for him, Gustafsson won't be out for too long. The Swede would be wise to keep his fingers crossed, though—a Jones loss to Cormier could potentially lead to an immediate rematch, prolonging the Mauler's journey back to the Octagon.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.