The lightweight championship is no longer vacant as the ‘Do Bronx’ era began at UFC 262 when Charles Oliveira knocked out Michael Chandler in Houston, Texas.
The 31-year-old made it nine wins in a row at 155lbs with a second round stoppage, after surviving a scare in the first round to become the 11th undisputed world champion in the organisation’s history to take over from Khabib Nurmagomedov.
While the belt is now occupied, the division is far from settled with so many top contenders immediately ready to challenge and ensure he isn’t just a paper champion.
So how does the division play out going forward? Oliveira is the champion and seems ready to take on all comers but the top six ranked guys can all be paired up together but what is the best way to do it, so that the next contender makes sense?
Well the obvious next contender is the winner of the Dustin Poirier vs Conor McGregor trilogy at UFC 264.
The two fought back in 2014 in the featherweight division, with Notorious getting the first round knockout win en route to his stunning title win over Jose Aldo before claiming the lightweight crown from Eddie Alvarez.
They met again in January of this year in a rematch but this time at 155lbs, with a very different result. Poirier used calf kicks brilliantly to destabilise McGregor’s movement and while the Irishman landed some big shots, ‘Diamond’ was able to come through them this time and eventually get a huge knockout win of his own in the second round.
That win should have seen Poirier challenge for the title in his next bout, but instead he opted to take the money fight with McGregor for a final trilogy bout – something he was praised for by UFC president Dana White.
Poirier is the most deserving man in the division for a title shot and McGregor is still without a doubt the biggest name in the sport, despite winning just once at lightweight in his entire UFC career. It’s the obvious fight to make, with Poirier’s run undeniable if he wins again while McGregor would be “back” and would be the fight Oliveira wants too as his first defence.
Justin Gaethje is still waiting in the wings for an opponent after his defeat to Khabib back at UFC 254, and the perfect choice for him could be the man who is looking to break into the top five once again – former champion Rafael Dos Anjos.
The Brazilian was the champion at 155lbs once upon a time and after a venture into welterweight where he was successful until his lack of size paid dividends against the elite of the division, he moved back down.
Since returning he got a big win over Paul Felder on short notice to push himself into the top ten and stylistically would prove a good match up against Gaethje. Both guys have a great grappling background, but are excellent strikers on the feet too and would prove to be excellent competition for one another.
Neither have fought since the back end of 2020 and would both be available to make a fight happen any time soon, although whether Gaethje would be willing to go against the number six ranked guy is up for debate.
The other option for Gaethje is a fight against UFC 262’s other big lightweight winner, Beneil Dariush. The Iranian dominated Tony Ferguson to a unanimous decision win in the co-main event to break into the top five and with Gaethje ranked at number two it’s certainly a fight that would make sense.
The issue with that, is that Dariush is expecting his first child next month and told everyone in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan that he doesn’t expect to come back to the cage until the end of the year or even early next year.
That would mean over a year out of the cage for Gaethje, which isn’t something that he’s likely to be happy about. For that reason, the UFC can look to pair Dariush up with the beaten challenger Chandler in their next fight as they both look to get to the top of the mountain again.
Chandler would be afforded the chance to recover from the vicious knockout he suffered, but also keep himself in the picture with a fight against a top five guy knowing that a win could set him up to get back into title contention as soon as possible.
So we have a mini tournament bracket that has Oliveira as the champion, with the winner of Poirier vs McGregor getting the next title shot. Gaethje vs Dos Anjos and Dariush vs Chandler, with the winners fighting each other potentially to see who would fight the winner of the original title fight.