This past weekend at UFC 257 we watched as the elite of the lightweight division went to war. In the main event, ‘The Diamond’ Dustin Poirier spoiled the return of ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor, as he scored a second round knockout, enacting his revenge 7 years after their first bout.
In the Co-Main event we saw the UFC debut of Michael Chandler, as he secured a knock out victory over Dan Hooker in the very first round. At the end of the night however, fans were seemingly left with as many questions as they got answered, wondering how this changes the landscape of the Lightweight division. I will be taking a look at where this weekend leaves all four competitors, and what future match ups make sense for each man.
Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira
After witnessing Poirier’s impressive knockout victory over combat sports most prolific fighter, Conor McGregor, it’s safe to say Dustin’s next fight must be for the title. The question then becomes, who gets the opportunity to compete against him for the chance at UFC gold? While fans have suggested a possible rematch against McGregor or a fight against Michael Chandler, in my eyes there is only one right answer, and his name is Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira.
Possibly the most overlooked contender on the lightweight roster, Oliveira has without a doubt earned his number 3 spot in the rankings, winning his last 8 fights in a row and finishing 7 of them. In his last outing, Oliveira punctuated his win streak by dominating the impossibly tough Tony Ferguson, demonstrating that this game has levels, and he is atop the highest one. While a Dustin vs McGregor trilogy fight may sell more PPV’s, it would be a detriment to the sport to have anyone else compete for the lightweight title.
Michael Chandler vs. Justin Gaethje
Michael Chandler certainly made a big statement at UFC 257, proving that he absolutely belongs at the top of the lightweight division. However, the question that remains on many peoples minds, has he done enough to secure a title shot against Dustin? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding no. Dustin himself would also seem to agree, stating that he’s "going to sell hot sauce if that’s the case.”
While Dan Hooker is one of the top lightweights in the world, beating the 6th ranked fighter in the division should not allow you to leap frog over the rest of the top 5, straight to a title shot. Chandler should now face off against another top contender in a title eliminator fight. Specifically, against former interim champion, Justin Gaethje.
In the past 3 years Justin Gaethje has only lost one fight (albeit his most recent fight), a title unification bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov. And let’s be honest, not a single man who has entered the octagon and stood across from Nurmagomedov has won. However, prior to his loss, he had been on an absolute tear, knocking out the likes of James Vick, Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone, and Tony Ferguson. Gaethje is still the number 2 ranked lightweight in the world, only behind Dustin Poirier and a fight with the UFC’s newest contender would propel him back into the title picture.
Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz III
Its not how many times we fall, but how many times we get up and try again that matters. It’s safe to say that all the greatest fighters in the history of MMA have suffered losses and setbacks in their careers (unless your name is Khabib Nurmagomedov), with McGregor no different. The Notorious suffered his first knockout loss at the hands of Poirier, and after a full year anticipating his return, finds himself in an awkward spot. The mega superstar has only won one bout since the end of 2016, and has only a single victory in the lightweight division throughout his entire career. With that said, an immediate rematch seems like a reach after losing in such devastating fashion, so where does he go from here?
I would argue that there has never been a better time to set up the Nate Diaz trilogy fight, except this time, have the fight take place at lightweight. Fans have been patiently awaiting the rubber match and with Nate in the same boat as McGregor, only having a single victory since 2016, they are both in desperate need of a win. Without a title shot in sight, this is the biggest fight that either man could partake in, with a win propelling Diaz or McGregor back into title contention.
Dan Hooker vs Diego Ferreira
While his longtime teammates and training partners Israel Adesanya, and Alexander Volkanovski, are both champions in their own respective divisions (Middleweight and Featherweight), Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker has a long road ahead of him if he wants to make a run at the title himself. Hooker suffered his second loss in a row, this time a vicious T.K.O., at the hands of Michael Chandler this past weekend at UFC 257. While things may look grim for the Kiwi, a win over a rising star such as Diego Ferreira, could completely turn things around.
Ferreira, who is currently riding a six fight win streak, is quickly making a name for himself in the lightweight division. That being said, he is still yet to get a victory over a man inside of the top ten. If he could get a win over a big name like Dan Hooker, Diego will push into the elite of the division and at the very least have his name thrown around in contender conversations. The Hangman, on the other hand, would have an opportunity to steal the hype train out from under Ferreira, and get himself back on a path towards a title shot.