Matchmaking for the UFC Lightweight Division
Big movement in the lightweight division - after a weekend that saw four of the weight-classes most beloved fighters engaging in a pair of truly excellent fights.
Seriously, while the card itself was a bit up and down at times - the 155 pounders really brought some much-needed electricity to proceedings.
It's Tony Time
In the third-highest billed fight of the night - I had my heart ripped out of my chest and displayed on a platter in front of me - as Michael Chandler managed to very quickly shut down a strong first-round performance from Tony Ferguson with a truly stunning front-kick KO.
And look, as most of you will know, I am a big fan of both of these guys - but during fight week - I couldn’t help but think that this matchup was really going to end badly for Ferguson.
Putting him in there with a powerful, explosive and game striker like Chandler seemed like a recipe for a pretty brutal finish.
And while that was what we ended up getting - what really made this one sting, was that Tony looked pretty good in that opening round - he looked a bit closer to what we could call ‘vintage Tony’.
You could just see it on his face as well - after round 1 - where he wheeled off to his corner with a smile on his face - almost as if to say ‘I’m back’.
And I was sitting here at home watching this live, at probably about half 4 in the morning - I couldn’t help but feel like somehow, someway, we were actually watching El Cucuy overturning his slump.
Then Michael Chandler front-kicked him about 15 seconds into round 2.
And do you know what, it was a knockout so incredible, so perfect, that I genuinely could do nothing more than sit there with my jaw agape - my emotions in a total mess.
But look, MMA is a vicious sport as we know - and as much as El Cucuy looked good, looked sharp in those early goings - Chandler deserves some huge praise for the way he fought back in the second half of round 1 before then scoring that finish - with a tool that he hasn’t really shown us in the past.
Anyway, the question on the minds of many an MMA fan is what exactly the promotion should do with Chandler next?
He’s obviously a bankable star - the fans love him, and even those who find his style of trash-talk or even motivation speech-work kind of corny, can’t help but be drawn in because love him or hate him, Michael Chandler just looks like a guy who lives by the code he is preaching.
Supremely athletic and perhaps the most powerful striker in the division - his post-fight call-out was actually kind of perfect.
Chandler's Savvy Callout
Then, and only then, did he make his call-out of the returning Conor McGregor.
And that for me, says it all. He wants the biggest fight possible - whether for the belt or the one that will draw in the most eyes.
And as far as matching him goes - I think that, while yes, a title-shot isn’t likely - that McGregor fight isn’t a bad shout. Ok realistically, Conor, as I have said many times in the past, needs a step down in competition - and if I had it my way, he would fighting someone like Rafael dos Anjos - but in some ways, Michael Chandler also works in that regard.
If Conor isn’t an option, I think Dustin Poirier works as well - if he is interested.
But for reasons that I will outline later in the video - I think Chandler should fight Beneil Dariush.
Tony, on the other hand, will likely be out for quite some time - but if he does wish to return - and, I dunno, it’s not like he looked awful in there - in many ways, he looked a lot better than he did in his last two.
Oliveira Forging His Own Legacy
As for the main-event - Charles Oliveira, call him the former champion, call him the uncrowned king, whatever you want.
This guy is truly something else.
Not only is he beating and finishing the world’s greatest lightweights in main-event contests - but he’s also diving head-first into the fire with them - rebounding from damage taken against Michael Chandler, against Dustin Poirier, and now against Justin Gaethje of all people - to bounce back, to prove his mettle, and to further himself from the labels that had followed him through his entire career.
And believe me, those labels were full deserved - but this eleven fight win-streak just kicks all of those labels in the ass and makes it very clear that this is a changed fighter.
And he could well be moving closer to divisional G.O.A.T status.
Now, I’m going to bring you a video over the week where I dive into that claim and how much of a gap there may or may not be between him and Khabib Nurmagomedov - so keep an eye out for that.
But for now, yea, this was truly a special night for the lightweights - and in that main-event, we’re left with some matchmaking to do for the two fighters who competed.
Justin Gaethje isn’t a tough man to set up a fight for - I mean, the majority of names that you could place beside his names would probably result in a great fight.
I think if Rafael dos Anjos is free, depending on the timing - that would work. Gregor Gillespie is a real favourite of mine, so I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him get a nice bump, even if that’s unlikely.
The Poirier rematch is there - but again, who knows.
In an ideal world, yes, we’d go with Poirier vs. Gaethje II - but let’s just see what happens.
As for Charles, I really do think it’s time for the big one - the one fighter who seems to have all of the answers for those insane submissions.
Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev is the fight at 155lbs right now.
There are a range of new contenders just waiting for their chance to break into that discussion - guys like Rafael Fiziev, Gregor Gillespie, Arman Tsaryukyan, Mateusz Gamrot - and before that happens, before this new breed of contender finds there way in - this ongoing era at 155lbs needs the answer to the Oliveira vs. Makhachev question.
I know the fight with Beneil was meant to happen - but look, he pulled out with an injury, it happens. Let’s move on. Islam deserves it!
All I can say for certain is that lightweight - which has been as good as can be over the last few years - is showing absolutely no signs of stopping in its momentum - so let’s just wait and see what happens!