After two huge Lightweight battles took place at UFC 261, we found ourselves with a new contender and a new king for the division. Here, we look at how the new Lightweight picture could play out, with 5 potential matchups that would make sense for the top-ranked fighters in the division.
#1. (C) Charles Oliveira v.s Winner of (1) Dustin Poirier Vs (5) Conor McGregor
The world recently welcomed newly crowned UFC lightweight Champion, Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira, to the top of the division. After an 11 year odyssey of big wins, big losses and divisional changes from Featherweight to Lightweight, Charles Oliveira finally accomplished his dream of bringing the big gold strap back to his Favela in Brazil. After the promotion lost its Lightweight king in Khabib Nurmagomedov to retirement, many wondered who would take the mantle after the most dominant champ in history had vacated the throne. Now, after Saturday, the young boy who grew up with the UFC now sits atop of the throne, defeating Michael Chandler, and now awaits the winner of UFC 264’s marquee matchup of Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor.
Should Conor pull off the second and decisive win in this trilogy, it would be controversially assumed that, despite going 4-3 in his last 4 fights since 2015, should he beat Poirier, he would be primed to challenge the new champ for the title he once held back in 2016 after defeating Eddie Alvarez. Plus, McGregor doesn’t have the best reputation with the Brazilians after his K.O win in 13 seconds against Brazilian legend Jose Aldo in 2015 for the Featherweight title, and when he antagonized then champ, Rafael Dos Anjos, when Conor began to campaign for the Lightweight Title back in 2016.
Should Dustin Poirier come out victorious once again against his rival, Dustin Poirier would indisputably be the #1 contender for Oliveira’s title. The fight was assumed to be happening this Saturday, once Oliveira had picked up his win against Tony Ferguson back in December and Poirier knocking McGregor out the month after. Instead, Poirier opted to give McGregor the rubber fight in their rivalry, which the UFC matched up Oliveira with newcomer Michael Chandler for the strap. One could argue Dustin Poirier is truly the uncrowned champ in this division, having big wins in against the likes of Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez, Conor McGregor, Max Holloway to name a few. He even gained Khabib Nurmagomedov’s respect after their collision in 2019. Should Poirier once again shine against Conor in July, we have a massive Champion vs. Uncrowned King matchup awaiting.
#2 (2) Justin Gaethje Vs (4) Michael Chandler
What happens when you have two guys who have heavy hands and elite wrestling skills, have come off title losses and now have to find their quickest way back into the title scene? You match them up together and let them make fireworks in the octagon. This fight would be massive in terms of action as both these men bring explosive striking and strong wrestling. Justin Gaethje lost to Khabib by submission, in what would be the former champ’s last fight of his career. Michael Chandler got the opportunity for the vacant title but, as mentioned earlier, lost by TKO (strikes). Now both men need a new dance partner as both would love to get another crack at the title. It would be an interesting matchup, with their weaknesses being the key to victory.
If history teaches us anything, it’s that this would be a chess match of a collision. Chandler’s weakness has been shown to be the leg strikes, which both Dan Hooker and Oliveira made clear in their fights with the former Bellator Lightweight Champ. Gaethje boasts devastating leg kicks, however, Michael Chandler’s best strength is smothering his opponents, as he did to put Hooker away, and was maybe a punch or two away from doing it to Oliveira. Gaethje has been shown to succumb to that type of fight, as is evident in his battles with Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Both men would each have to overcome those glaring problems but this match would definitely not see the judges cards; it’s a knockout waiting to happen.
#3. (3) Beneil Dariush Vs (8) Dan Hooker
Beneil Dariush got the big fight win he needed in his now-six fight win streak by beating Tony Ferguson. He dominated the former interim champ on the floor and did not let Tony get any offence out; a complete shutout. Dariush jumped from 9th ranked to 3rd ranked Lightweight on the rankings, setting himself in prime position for the best opportunity of his career to hunt for the title. The problem is, with Oliveira waiting for his next contender in Poirier Vs McGregor 3, and the birth of his child coming next month, Dariush stated he will take time off and come back a the end of 2021 or the start of 2022. A lot can change from here to then and with many lightweight battles waiting to happen, he may need one more win to get back on the scene and remind fans of his place on the rankings.
Enter Dan Hooker. Hooker lost to Michael Chandler back in UFC 257 in a TKO (strikes) fashion. Hooker may not want to wait until the time Dariush would want to be back, but should Hooker return in the middle of the year and gain a win, he could raise his stock and be primed to challenge Dariush for that top 5 ranking and regain momentum for himself.
#4. (10) Islam Makhachev Vs (7) Rafael Dos Anjos
Islam Makhachev is on his way to the title scene and it becomes more and more evident with every fight. It’s only a matter of time before Makhachev gets a high profile fight to showcase his skills and mark his spot in this loaded division.
The most constant name that gets brought up to fight Islam is former lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos, who made his return to the lightweight division in an exciting win against Paul Felder. Now being ranked 7th in the division, RDA finds himself on the doorstep of the top 5 in the division. The styles between both of these men would make for a very interesting matchup. With Makhachev being Khabib’s understudy, the Dagestan product possesses the same dominant sambo wrestling and grappling that the former champ showcased, including his fight with Dos Anjos back in 2014. Dos Anjos, however, remains a very game opponent, and still holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, making him the perfect veteran to test the up and coming contender.
#5. (6) Tony Ferguson Vs Donald Cerrone 2
For many longtime fans of the sport, it’s hard for either fan base to see where these two future hall of famers are at in their careers. But Father Time will always remain undefeated and we have reached a point where these seasoned lions have come up short against up and coming talent, and it is now time to match them up to give them clarity as to where they feel the twilights of their careers are heading.
Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson, now on a 3 fight losing skid, is in need of a win to re-establish his confidence he had during his historic 12 fight win streak. In his last 3 outings, he faced off against now-two top 5 contenders and the current champion, losing to Gaethje by 4th round TKO, Charles Oliveira by unanimous decision, and Beneil Dariush by unanimous decision. Ferguson even brought in legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach and it showed in his fight with Dariush; he was very elusive, showed excellent head movement but never pulled the trigger on offence. This may be from a lack of confidence arising from his war with Gaethje, where he sustained a heavy beating to the face. Regardless, Ferguson needs a fight against an unranked fighter to see where he is. The man isn’tat the point he should retire, or be cut from the UFC. He remains resilient, never submitting, staying competitive through to the final bell, but it’s evident as of right now that his days as a title contender are behind him.
This brings us to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Losing 5 of his last 6 fights, with the one non-loss being a no contest, Cerrone hasn’t sustained the level of damage Ferguson has, but he hasn’t shown any level of competition against fighters he probably should have beaten, losing to names like Ferguson, Anthony Pettis, Conor McGregor, Justin Gaethje and most recently Alex Morono (who replaced Diego Sanchez over a week before their scheduled bout), with 4 of those 5 losses being by TKO from Punches or Doctors stoppage.
These two men met back in 2019 in a controversial win for Ferguson, with the Doctor stopping the fight when Cerrone sneezed blood out of his nose after a late after-the-bell punch Ferguson landed. It was this fight that actually started their tailspin down, Tony having his last win of his 12 fight win streak against Cerrone, and Cerrone starting his winless streak against Ferguson. Both men have a high level of respect for each other but now could find themselves in what may or may not be their final fight in the UFC. And to kill two birds with one stone, they can narrow down which of the two could be ready to hang up the gloves with a marquee matchup on Pay-Per-View.