At UFC 274 on Saturday night, Charles Oliveira submitted Justin Gaethje in the first round to prevent the American from winning the vacant lightweight title. In doing so, Oliveira also officially established himself as No 1 contender to the belt of which he was stripped on Friday for missing weight.
In the co-main event, Rose Namajunas lost the strawweight title to Carla Esparza, who became a two-time champion in the division with her second win against her fellow American, whom she had submitted in 2014. The pair’s rematch on Saturday was a shockingly slow contest, however, with fans booing the lack of action throughout.
In the evening’s other feature bout, Michael Chandler secured a stunning knockout of Tony Ferguson, finishing his fellow lightweight with a front kick early in Round 2 after overcoming early adversity.
Below, Indy Sport plays match-maker for the protagonists of UFC 274...
Charles Oliveira vs Islam Makhachev
Makhachev stopped Bobby Green in the first round in March as the American stepped in for Beneil Dariush on short notice. The result saw the Russian extend his winning streak to 10, with his last four victories having come via stoppage.
It could be that Makhachev vs Dariush is rescheduled for some time in the coming months; that would be a fair call but would also leave Oliveira without an opponent for some time. More likely and perhaps more sensible is the option of pairing Oliveira (33-8, 1 No Contest) with Makhachev (22-1).
Both men are in incredible form, and stylistically the match-up would be the closest fans could come to seeing Oliveira face his predecessor as lightweight champion: Khabib Nurmagomedov, a childhood friend of Makhachev who corners his compatriot.
UFC 281 is scheduled for late October and will take place in Abu Dhabi. The fanbase there was always very pro-Khabib and would surely support Makhachev in the same way. Don’t be surprised if UFC president Dana White listens to Nurmagomedov’s advice and puts the pieces together.
That leaves us with the question of what to do with Dariush, but we’ll come to that shortly...
Michael Chandler vs Dustin Poirier
Chandler followed his stunning knockout of Ferguson with an almost equally impressive promo, in which he called out the winner of the evening’s main event but also Conor McGregor. We’re very keen on Chandler vs McGregor, which we think would be a thrilling fight with a fun build-up, but rumours suggest that the Irishman will not fight again until 2023. As such, we’ll look for another opponent for Chandler (23-7).
The American has gone 2-2 in fighting Dan Hooker, Oliveira, Gaethje and Ferguson since joining the UFC in late 2020 – a who’s who of lightweights. The most obvious absentee from that list is former interim champion Poirier (28-7), who has long pursued a clash with Nate Diaz – which was scheduled in 2018 but fell through – and has teased a summer fight against an unnamed opponent.
It’s unclear to what/whom the “Diamond” was alluding, but if nothing is locked in then a meeting with Chandler makes a lot of sense – and would almost certainly be a brawl from start to finish. Both men have come up short against Oliveira with the title on the line, Chandler has begun his road back to the gold, and Poirier must now do the same; unless the Louisianan really wants to move up to welterweight...
Justin Gaethje vs Beneil Dariush
Gaethje (23-4) has now fought for the lightweight title twice and been submitted on both occasions. The American, who previously held the interim belt at 155lbs, is never in a boring fight, and his popularity with fans means he will never be too far from a shot at the gold. That said, he is now about as far away as he has been since he joined the UFC.
Still, if the “Highlight” can put together a couple of wins and achieve them in emphatic fashion – how he secures most of his victories – then he might just find himself fighting for the title once more.
We’ve already laid out how we’d book Oliveira, Chandler, Poirier and Makhachev’s next outings, which only really leaves Dariush and Gaethje. Why not pair them together?
Of course Dariush (21-4-1) could see his cancelled bout with Makhachev rearranged, and that would be a totally valid next move, but things look like going another way and we’re trying to preempt that with this choice.
Carla Esparza vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk / Zhang Weili
No one is clamouring for Namajunas to have an instant rematch with Esparza after Saturday’s strange, snail-paced co-main event.
For Esparza (19-6), the next challenger is likely to emerge from UFC 275, when former strawweight champions Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk go up against each other. The pair’s first meeting was the greatest women’s fight in UFC history and one of the greatest the promotion has ever seen – regardless of the participants’ genders.
Zhang (21-3) was arguably unlucky not to have been given the nod on the judges’ scorecards in her last contest, a rematch with Namajunas. Meanwhile, Jedrzejczyk (16-4) has been out of action for two years and has a patchy recent record, but fans respect her greatly and would welcome her back into the title picture with open arms.
Esparza might not feel the same, having been dominated by the Pole in 2015, but that history works in Jedrzejczyk’s favour in terms of her viability as a contender.
Rose Namajunas vs Marina Rodriguez
So, no instant rematch for Namajunas as far as Indy Sport is concerned, and we also have plans for Zhang and Jedrzejczyk – both of whom “Thug Rose” has already beaten twice.
Therefore, it’s worth looking to a fresh opponent for Namajunas (11-5) as she begins her quest to become a three-time strawweight champion.
Rodriguez (16-1-2) is ranked third, on a four-fight win streak and likely one victory away from a title shot.
A win against Namajunas would leave no doubt that the Brazilian is deserving of a crack at the gold next.
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