An ominous new champion emerges: Where does this leave the UFC Lightweight division?
Charles Oliveira (31-8, 1 NC) epitomises the adage: ‘winners never quit’. The UFC veteran – still only 31 years of age – completed his 28th bout inside the Octagon as he challenged the powerful Michael Chandler (22-6) for the UFC Lightweight Championship.
The Brazilian competitor prevailed after sustaining significant damage in the first round, pulling off a monumental comeback victory as he landed a brutal left hook to flip the fight on its head, derailing any sense of fortitude or control Chandler thought he had merely moments before.
Oliveira’s newfound guile and tenacity has allowed him to reach the pinnacle of the UFC against all the odds and stand above a swirling shark tank of competitors, eager to devour De Bronx’s success and claim the esteemed belt currently strapped around the champions waist.
Chandler, of course, believes that the rematch is the fight to make with immediate effect, but for a fighter with only two appearances in the organisation this is an unlikely proposition, regardless of their exploits prior to entering the UFC’s berth.
Which begs the question; where does the seismic victory leave the rest of the division?
A captivating trilogy
The obvious one. Dustin Poirier (27-6, 1 NC): respected by those outside the ring, devastated by those inside it. Conor McGregor (22-5): need I say more? The Notorious’ resume speaks for itself, one of the sporting industry’s most followed and acclaimed athletes, recently landing himself at number one on Forbes' list of highest-paid athletes worldwide.
The pair have already faced off twice in the UFC, with McGregor knocking Poirier out early in the first round and adding him to a list of fallen opponent’s as he made a historic surging run to Featherweight and Lightweight gold.
The second bout? Well, a different result entirely. Poirier managed to exact his revenge in the Lightweight division over six years later in the late January of this year, utilising a beautiful usage of leg strikes in the second round after an enigmatic chess match in the first, finishing with a flurry of punches to hand McGregor his first knockout defeat in the sport.
Poirier is the divisions number one contender and, candidly, it should have been him facing off against Oliveira at UFC 262, but he opted for the trilogy bout with McGregor – set to commence at UFC 264 on July 11th – and receive a substantial payday for a second successive outing.
The winner of this devised match would undoubtedly stake a compelling claim to the next title bout, but indeed, there are variables in play: will the winner be medically fit for a quick turnaround? Will Oliveira want to wait all summer for his next fight?
Much remains to be seen but you wouldn’t bet against the winner of the UFC 264 headliner earning their chance to dethrone Oliveira before he has got comfy.
The rising stars
The UFC’s lightweight division has long been regarded as the organisation’s most prominent, boasting historic value and brimming with hungry athletes in abundance.
It feels a regular occurrence that new fighters emerge from the depths of the rankings, plucked from thin air like magician producing a rabbit from a hat. Oliveira rings a bell, obviously, but Beneil Dariush’s (21-4-1) recent exploits have thrown him into the midst of championship contention.
Only three years ago, Dariush had endured a knockout defeat to the youthful Alexander Hernandez inside a minute of the first round, condemning him to a three-fight skid without victory.
Since that loss, Dariush has compiled seven successive victories, including four finishes and a recent dominating decision win over the UFC’s long-time destructive force in Tony Ferguson (25-6).
Additionally, the likes of Islam Makhachev (19-1) and Thiago Moises (15-4), who are poised to meet in the Octagon during the summer, are potentially one emphatic finish away from catapulting themselves into contention.
An obvious, and enticing, bout?
Justin Gaethje (22-3) is number two on the contender list in the division, with his last bout seeing a devastating four-fight finishing streak and an interim belt dispersed by Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) in his first shot at the undisputed title.
Nurmagomedov finished Gaethje conclusively, strengthening his claim for pound-for-pound greatness, but for Gaethje, an opportunity to rebound from the defeat could never be greater.
With Chandler fresh from his first loss in the division, Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard are presented with a wonderful opportunity to create a recipe for mayhem by pitting the two against each other.
Despite Nurmagomedov’s departure from the division there is still much intrigue and anticipation surrounding the state of the Lightweight rankings. Many fighters will view Oliveira’s position on the throne as one of opportune taking.
Regardless, Oliveira is one fight away from extending his winning streak to 10 and the submission assassin has reached a new level as he looks to defend his title for the first time.
Either McGregor or Poirier are indeed likely to get the next shot, but with a plethora of potential title contenders awaiting, Oliveira will assess his options ahead of when his first defence will commence.