It’s been seven months since we saw the lightweight title last get defended in the UFC, when Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted Justin Gaethje in a stunning performance at UFC 254 in October 2020.
It was arguably the greatest performance of his stunning 29-0 career, which came to an end in the middle of the octagon immediately after the bout as he retired at the top of the game.
After months of back and forth, UFC 262 will see the crowning of a new champion at 155lbs when Charles ‘Du Bronx’ Oliveira takes on ‘Iron’ Michael Chandler in Houston, Texas.
But while a new champion will be crowned, the lightweight division picture will still be far from settled.
Oliveira comes into the fight on an eight-fight win streak, with notable wins over Kevin Lee and then a dominant performance over Tony Ferguson at UFC 256 while Chandler will be entering the octagon for only the second time ever after knocking out Dan Hooker in his debut at UFC 257 in January.
While both men are deemed as the number two and three ranked in the world, it’s a fight that many deem as crowning a filler champion. Dustin Poirier is the undisputed number one lightweight in the world right now, but he turned down the chance to fight for the title to instead fight Conor McGregor for a third time at UFC 264 in July.
While it was definitely the right decision for him and his career, it means that whoever wins Saturday’s main event will still have to beat the top man to ensure their reign is deemed legitimate when all is said and done.
Oliveira has earned his opportunity, with a crazy win streak and accumulating the most submission wins in the history of the organisation during his run. Chandler though seems to have been gifted this chance based on attitude rather than in-cage activity.
Yes his win over Hooker was mightily impressive, but before that he was immediately included as an alternate at UFC 254 for the title fight before ever stepping in the cage for the UFC. Even when that didn’t come to fruition, he was gifted an opponent just outside the top five in Hooker rather than having to work his way up the rankings like everyone else has to.
It’s crazy to think that when Tony Ferguson went on a 12-fight win streak in the company and is yet to receive an undisputed title shot (although obviously injury was a factor). Justin Gaethje had to fight savages before getting his shot despite being a world champion elsewhere too, so there’s nothing wrong with thinking Chandler should’ve been made to do more to earn his shot.
The winner will undoubtedly cement themselves as one of the best in the world, but that’s it. Just one of, not the. The likelihood is that the next challenger for the belt will be the winner of the Poirier and McGregor trilogy, while Gaethje waits in the wings for an opponent to get back in the swing of things too.
It’s a start to finally getting the division back on track, but it’s simply the start. The division won’t be settled by a long stretch and while someone that isn’t Khabib will be in possession of the belt, they won’t be regarded as the best in the world just yet.