Charles Oliveira claimed the vacant lightweight title in the main event of UFC 262 on Saturday, surviving a first-round scare against Michael Chandler before knocking out the American early in the second round.
That result saw Oliveira extend his win streak to nine straight fights, the Brazilian filling the hole left by the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov at the top of the 155lbs division in the process. It was a sobering evening for former three-time Bellator lightweight champion Chandler, who nearly finished Oliveira in the first frame but fell short of winning UFC gold in just his second bout in the promotion, following his first-round knockout of Dan Hooker in January.
While Oliveira is on a searing run, he looked vulnerable enough in moments at UFC 262 to reinforce the notion that there could be a period of instability as concerns the lightweight belt, with the dominant, undefeated Nurmagomedov having left behind the division and the sport of MMA.
Here are the key fights to make at lightweight in the coming months, as well as what should be next for Edson Barboza in the wake of his third-round knockout of Shane Burgos at featherweight:
No 1 contender and former interim champion Poirier (27-6) should evidently have been involved in any contest for the vacant lightweight belt following his second-round knockout of McGregor in January – a result that made it back-to-back wins for ‘The Diamond’ since his defeat by Khabib in a title unification bout in 2019.
The American, however, opted for a trilogy fight with McGregor (22-5), looking to wrap up the pair’s rivalry in July and make a significant amount of money in the process. As such, UFC newcomer Chandler was paired with the thoroughly deserving Oliveira in the main event of UFC 262.
If Poirier is to beat McGregor again at UFC 264, the Louisianan should undoubtedly be Oliveira’s first challenger. Many believe Poirier to be the best lightweight in the world right now, despite Oliveira’s new status as champion, and the 32-year-old should get the chance to prove that against the Brazilian.
But he must beat McGregor to ensure that opportunity. McGregor, meanwhile, has just one win from three bouts over the last four-and-a-half years – and that victory came at welterweight against an aged Donald Cerrone. Nevertheless, the former lightweight champion has the profile to guarantee him a title shot if he emerges victorious against Poirier – even if many fans feel the Irishman would still not be fully deserving of a match-up with Oliveira (31-8, 1 NC) in that scenario.
Michael Chandler vs Justin Gaethje
Upon signing for the UFC last September, 35-year-old Chandler (22-6) said he was here for a “good time”, not a “long one”. Having enjoyed a very successful debut against Hooker in January, the American set up a title shot and the chance for a great time, but his defeat by Oliveira highlights the reality of the situation: Chandler may only have a few bouts in the UFC over the course of around two years, which is not a lot of time to become champion.
As close as he was to winning the lightweight strap on Saturday, the former All-American wrestler likely needs two straight wins now to earn another title shot. Three such contests could well round up Chandler’s stint in the UFC. The clear match-up to make for Chandler now is a meeting with compatriot Justin Gaethje.
Like Chandler, ‘The Highlight’ (22-3) is a former NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler. Like Chandler, he has heavy, heavy hands. In his last outing, the former interim champion was submitted by Nurmagomedov in October, but the fan favourite could probably secure another title shot with a victory in his next contest – especially considering Khabib is no longer occupying the lightweight throne.
Despite the hypothetical roadmap laid out for Chandler above, a statement win against Gaethje could even grant ‘Iron Mike’ another shot at the gold – especially if Oliveira has lost the belt by then.
Beneil Dariush vs Rafael Dos Anjos
In the lightweight co-main event at UFC 262, Dariush (21-4-1) secured a comprehensive points win against former interim titleholder Tony Ferguson.
While the Iranian-born American was seen as a step down in competition for Ferguson, ‘El Cucuy’ was the latest and most impressive name added to Dariush’s victim list on a run of seven straight victories.
The result should see Dariush rise up the rankings a couple of spots from No 9, but it still feels as though he needs one more win to gain a bout with one of the elite at 155lbs.
Dariush should keep himself busy with a clash against former champion Rafael Dos Anjos (30-13), who has just two wins in his last six bouts but was successful against Paul Felder last time out. In the meantime, the top four or five lightweights can face off and then the landscape can be reviewed in six months.
Edson Barboza vs Calvin Kattar
Barboza had become somewhat of a gatekeeper at lightweight before dropping down to featherweight last year. His first contest at 145lbs was a split-decision defeat by Dan Ige, a result that most fans thought should have been awarded to the Brazilian.
Barboza (22-9) responded by outpointing Makwan Amirkhani in December, though, and made it back-to-back victories at featherweight by stopping Shane Burgos in the final round of their three-frame meeting at UFC 262.
Barboza was ranked 13th in the division ahead of Saturday night but will surely enter the top 10 given his win against ninth-ranked Burgos. Considering Barboza’s popularity with fans, however, he can probably look as high up the rankings as No 5 Calvin Kattar for his next fight.
Kattar (22-5) lost a comprehensive unanimous decision to former champion Max Holloway in January, the Hawaiian putting on a masterclass at the Boston native’s expense. Regardless, Kattar’s boxing skills are among the best in the UFC, and a clash with another talented striker in Barboza would mark a compelling match-up.
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