The UFC lightweight division is about to embark on a new era following the retirement of undefeated former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The division endured the Conor McGregor era from 2016 to 2018, during which he essentially held the belt hostage without a single title defense for 511 days before being stripped for inactivity. And we say goodbye to the Nurmagomedov era from 2018 to 2020, during which there were real, but not competitive, title fights.
On Saturday, the vacant UFC lightweight belt is up for grabs between Charles Oliveira (30-8) and Michael Chandler (22-5). Neither has ever fought for a UFC title before, and regardless of who wins, there will be a lot of what to talk about as the division progresses.
So in honor of the new chapter we’re about to witness, let’s answer some of the most pertinent questions surrounding the divide right now.
UFC 262: Oliveira-Chandler buys PPV here
The winner of McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 3 is guaranteed a shot at Saturday’s winner?
Unbelievable, Dustin Poirier knocked out Conor McGregor!
El Diamante ‘hit the bell in the main event at UFC 257, avenging his September 2014 loss to the Irish star at UFC 178.
Yes, case closed. McGregor and Poirier square off in the main event of UFC 264 in a non-title trilogy fight. The weird thing about the showdown is that Poirier could have had the title fight if he wanted to. He was given a choice between the two fights and he chose McGregor, for the money, of course.
So in a sense, Poirier is already the No. 1 contender, even more so than the two men battling for the belt at UFC 262. And if he beats McGregor, his action will be higher than ever, and he would fight for the title at continuation.
As for McGregor, UFC wants give it a shot at the title. If Nurmagomedov had stayed and been willing to fight him, the UFC would have made that fight without even asking McGregor to earn the opportunity. McGregor is a wild card in his own right, and who knows what he wants to do beyond UFC 264? But he has said he wants to be active, and if he beats Poirier, the offer will be there to claim his title.
Where does Justin Gaethje fit in the championship landscape?
We are about to find out. Gaethje has been the man out in these recent reserves, mainly because he turned out to be the last to lose to Nurmagomedov. There just wasn’t an obvious fight for him. McGregor and Poirier needed to finish their trilogy, and the UFC didn’t want to book a vacant title fight with a guy who just of losing a UFC title fight. So it’s a bad time for Gaethje, but I believe UFC president Dana White when he said that Gaethje is still in a good place. A big place.
Gaethje’s next move will really come down to the timing and results of these upcoming fights. If McGregor beats Poirier but fails to return to the fight quickly, the UFC could sign Gaethje against the Oliveira-Chandler winner. If Poirier wins the trilogy and gets the title fight, he could absolutely see the UFC trying to nail down McGregor vs. Gaethje, what would be a massive fight. There are some very good options for Gaethje, but it is difficult to predict what his next move will be until we see some of these results.
Are there any wild card challengers to the title?
The best of Tony Ferguson in the UFC
Look at the best moments of the Mexican American Tony Ferguson inside the Octagon. El Cucuy returns to fight at UFC 262 against Beneil Dariush on Saturday, May 15.
Not really. The names we have discussed are the ones on the line for the UFC championship in the near future. However, I will give you two names to consider, not necessarily as wild cards to fight for the title soon, but as part of the conversation: Tony Ferguson and Islam Makhachev.
Ferguson faces Beneil Dariush on Saturday in a crossroads fight for his career. He went 0-2 last year and didn’t look good against Gaethje or Oliveira. If he loses to Dariush, he will lose relevance at lightweight, when it comes to the title landscape.
If Ferguson wins, I think he’s on a collision course with the other name I wrote down: Makhachev. Ferguson is now at a disadvantage when it comes to claiming a title shot, due to his recent performances. If he wants to get back into the picture for the title, I think he will have to take the fight that nobody wants, and that is Makhachev. A protégé of the Nurmagomedovs, Khabib and his late father Abdulmanap, Makhachev has a similar style to the now retired former champion, and has made it clear that he wants to fight Ferguson.
In a way, this showdown would be a nod to Nurmagomedov’s five fights against Ferguson that fell apart over the years for various reasons. If Ferguson wins at UFC 262, I think this fight is in his future, and the good news is that it is a great fight. Because if this fight is ever done, whoever wins will be in a great position.