One way or another, we’re going to hear Bruce Buffer shout “and new” at the end of a lightweight championship bout for the first time in over three years.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov’s iron grip on the division finally over—due to Nurmagomedov retiring as opposed to any challenger truly usurping him—Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler have earned the opportunity to battle for a vacant title in the main event of UFC 262 on Saturday in Houston.
There are other names in the discussion of 155-pound supremacy, certainly, such as the No. 1-ranked Dustin Poirier, who chose to resolve a trilogy with Conor McGregor rather than fight for the title sooner, and fan favorite Justin Gaethje, who has been passed over this time around despite being more than qualified for the position. One gets the sense that whoever wins tonight will face one of these names in the near future.
But for at least one night, it will be Oliveira or Chandler who can claim to be the UFC’s best lightweight. Oliveira has won eight straight fights to step into a title bout in his 28th appearance for the promotion, the longest a fighter has ever had to wait for a shot at UFC gold. “Do Bronx” has made tangible results of his enormous potential, which we’ve glimpsed in blindingly bright flashes ever since his octagon debut as a skinny 20-year-old featherweight in 2010.
Chandler has also waited a long time to reach the top of the UFC mountain, though he took a more circuitous route. Quite simply, Chandler came over from Bellator as the most accomplished lightweight in that promotion’s history and he didn’t disappoint in his UFC debut four months ago when he blitzed Dan Hooker and finished him in just half a round. An exciting fighter who knows how to handle the media, Chandler is everything the UFC’s marketing team is looking for in a new lightweight champion.
Aside from the names mentioned above, we have two more contenders for that title in Saturday’ s co-main event as former interim champion Tony Ferguson looks to snap the first losing streak of his career against Beneil Dariush, winner of six straight. A win for Dariush could put him one win away from a long-awaited title shot and send Ferguson into limbo, a far cry from his peak years where he was considered, at worst, one of the three best lightweights in the world.
In other main card action, Matt Schnell takes on Rogerio Bontorin in a catchweight bout, one-time flyweight title challenger Katlyn Chookagian looks to fend off the surging Viviane Araujo, and Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza meet in what should be a show-stealing featherweight bout.
What: UFC 262
Where: Toyota Center in Houston.
When: Saturday, May 15. The three-fight early prelims begin on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET. A four-fight preliminary card follows at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available to watch through ESPN+.
It’s going to take everything Charles Oliveira has to put away Michael Chandler. Fortunately for “do Bronx,” he has some of the deadliest tools in the game.
At 31, Oliveira has learned to make use of his physical gifts to amplify his raw striking ability, something that many long, athletic fighters never figure out. It’s turned him into a legitimate well-rounded fighter, something that is often overlooked because of his main skill set: that ridiculous, python-like grappling. When Oliveira gets a hold of someone, it’s a wrap.
That might not apply to Chandler, an elite wrestler who has never been submitted despite going against dangerous grapplers like Benson Henderson, Brent Primus, Goiti Yamauchi, and Marcin Held. There were also plenty of moments where Chandler could have crumbled in his two epic clashes with Eddie Alvarez, but somehow he always found another gear to help him survive and push through. All his other losses, outside of a flash knockout at the hands of Patricio Pitbull and a freak loss to Primus, have been Chandler coming out on the wrong end of wars of attrition.
Chandler could win via a KO flurry in the first or second round, or we might see him thrive by taking Oliveira into deep waters. Keep in mind, as gifted as Oliveira is, he has never fought past a third round in his career and his recent decision win over Tony Ferguson was mostly one-way traffic, so we didn’t get a good grasp at how much he’s improved at dealing with adversity.
I’m going out on a limb here and predicting an Oliveira win by submission. I doubt Chandler will tap, so I foresee Oliveira having to latch on with one of his expert chokes and hold on until Chandler goes to sleep. That’s the kind of performance and effort Oliveira will have to put forward to complete his journey from can’t-miss prospect to UFC champion.
I don’t know if this is a must-win for Tony Ferguson, but boy it would be nice to see him get off the schneid here, wouldn’t it?
Ferguson’s past two losses have come against Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, which is nothing to be ashamed of, and losing to the oft-overlooked Beneil Dariush would be understandable as well. I’m just not ready to accept that the Ferguson of old is gone. Or the possibility that even the best version of him would have inevitably fallen short against the Oliveiras, Gaethjes, and Khabibs of the world.
He’s always been an incredibly durable fighter and one who is also insanely fun to watch once he gets his offense going. But skill for skill, he couldn’t match the grappling of Oliveira nor could he match the striking of Gaethje. Dariush is a respected fighter in all disciplines and if he continues his current trend, he might just show that he’s superior in both of those categories to Ferguson.
I’m leaning toward Ferguson here because I see this going the distance and I like Ferguson’s chances of turning this into an ugly fight where proper technique and fundamentals become secondary to who can channel their inner dog. We’re about to get a definitive answer as to whether Ferguson is shot as an elite fighter or if he still belongs in the discussion of the best at 155.
Ferguson by decision.
Matt Schnell is such an enjoyable wild card, I have to pick him to beat the talented Rogerio Bontorin.
In a straight-up grappling battle, Bontorin all the way, obviously. Schnell is capable of producing some wild scrambles, but Bontorin is a level above him in the jiu-jitsu department and Schnell would be wise not to get to cute when this one inevitably goes to the mat. While much of the action is likely to take place on the ground and against the fence, I think Schnell should work on keeping this one standing if possible.
If he can turn this into a scrappy striking duel, Schnell has the size and reach to give Bontorin headaches for three rounds. It’s possible Schnell finishes this one late, but I’m leaning more towards him earning a decision win.
Katlyn Chookagian doesn’t have to change her style for anyone and it’s led to a lot of success for her, but I would like to see her find an extra gear if she’s ever going to come close to another title shot.
Don’t get me wrong, her smart and efficient distance striking is what has made her one of the toughest outs at 125 pounds, but as she learned in the Jessica Andrade fight, if you don’t show a little more killer instinct you can get seriously hurt in there. Even though Araujo doesn’t have nearly the amount of power in hear hands as Andrade, she’s capable of doing plenty of damage once she closes the distance. If Chookagian can keep her outside the whole fight, she’ll cruise to an easy win. If Araujo can continually cut off the angles and Chookagian’s defensive options, then the fight is hers.
I consider Araujo to be a better fighter than Cynthia Calvillo and Antonina Shevchenko, Chookagian’s most recent wins, so I think she’ll eventually dictate the pace after a feeling-out process in round one. For the last 10 minutes, watch Araujo put the pressure on Chookagian and take a win on the scorecards.
The usual disclaimer: I don’t pick against Edson Barboza in any fight he’s in that is expected to take place primarily on the feet.
You can bet that Shane Burgos is chomping at the bit not just to prove that he deserves his spot in the top-10, but that he’s also more than a match for Barboza in the striking department. “Hurricane” has definitely shown he can brawl with the best of them. Is he on Barboza’s level? That’s another question entirely.
Makwan Amirkhani, learned the hard way just how many levels there are to this as he was punished by Barboza’s legendary kickboxing. If I’m Burgos’ coaches, I’d be telling him to mix it up as opposed to playing with fire by staying at striking range. Barboza has excellent takedown defense, but the threat of wrestling could throw him off just enough for Burgos to gain an edge.
In the end, I just don’t see Burgos being able to threaten enough with his punches or his takedowns to get Barboza off of his game. And that means three rounds of hell for Burgos. At least he’ll join some illustrious company on the list of fighters who have been—to steal a phrase—baptized by Barboza.
Andrea Lee def. Antonina Shevchenko