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Making the Grade: UFC 262: Oliveira vs. Chandler edition

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UFC 262: Charles Oliveira v Michael Chandler Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

A new lightweight champion was crowned in the UFC 262 main event as Charles Oliveira’s miraculous story continued to evolve as he captured gold for the first time in his career.

After spending more than 20 fights and 11 years with the promotion, Oliveira appeared to be one of those mainstay fighters who would occasionally knock on the door to title contention but never quite reach the pinnacle of the sport.

He proved everybody wrong on Saturday night while also staging an incredible comeback from a near finish courtesy of Michael Chandler in the first round. Oliveira not only came storming back in the second round but he needed just 19 seconds to vanquish the former Bellator champion to capture the lightweight title.

In the co-main event, Beneil Dariush continued his own ascendency up the lightweight rankings with a lopsided performance over former interim champion Tony Ferguson. Dariush nearly ripped off Ferguson’s leg with a nasty heel hook and ultimately overwhelmed him on the ground for the better part of 15 minutes.

Dariush has always shown potential to become a true threat to the best lightweights in the world but now he’s really entering his prime with only a few options available to him now as he takes a huge step forward in the division with the win over Ferguson.

There’s plenty to dissect from Saturday night’s card so let’s talk about what passed and what failed from the latest pay-per-view offering. This is Making the Grade for UFC 262: Oliveira vs. Chandler.

PASSES

King Charles I

With his win over Michael Chandler in the UFC 262 main event, Charles Oliveira officially became the gold standard for perseverance when it comes to championship aspirations in mixed martial arts.

While Oliveira was always a fun fighter to watch, he constantly stumbled when facing the best competition as he drained his body in order to compete at featherweight. He’s win a few consecutive fights in a row, usually with some highlight reel finishes mixed in there, but then he’d come up short against Max Holloway or Anthony Pettis or Cub Swanson or Frankie Edgar.

That seemed to be Oliveira’s lot in life — he was good but seemingly destined to never be great.

After suffering a brutal TKO loss to Paul Felder in his second fight back at lightweight, Oliveira’s future was all but written in stone. He’d win lots of bonuses and probably even fight in a few main events but it didn’t appear that a championship was ever in the cards for him.

Then a funny thing happened.

Oliveira started winning and then he won some more and before long he had notched seven victories in a row in arguably the UFC’s deepest and toughest division. After finishing former interim title challenger Kevin Lee by submission, Oliveira was able to dispel the notion that he was a great main card fighter but not quite at the level of the athletes competing in the main event.

In his next performance, Oliveira dominated Tony Ferguson from the first second of their fight until the final bell as he sent notice to the lightweight division that a new contender had officially arrived. Oliveira put on a suffocating performance against a fighter who most believed would have been the toughest possible challenge for Khabib Nurmagomedov when he was champion.

Then came UFC 262 and Oliveira’s amazing come-from-behind victory where he had to survive an early onslaught from Michael Chandler to then deliver a jaw-dropping knockout of his own in the second round. Not only had Oliveira disproven the theory that he’d never be a champion but he also dispatched the idea that he was a great frontrunner but unable to fight through adversity.

Oliveira’s rise to become champion is nothing short of awe inspiring, especially considering he didn’t capture a UFC title until his 28th fight with the promotion. Michael Bisping, who for years was touted as the greatest fighter who came closest to a title but never quite became champion, eventually captured UFC gold in his 26th fight with the UFC.

It took Oliveira two fights longer to accomplish the same goal and there’s little doubt he’s going to enjoy this victory after proving all the naysayers wrong as he stands tall now as the UFC lightweight champion.

UFC Ready

There were plenty of people complaining about Michael Chandler receiving a UFC title shot in only his second fight with the promotion as if he hadn’t put together a body of work outside the promotion that could stand toe-to-toe with any other lightweight in the world.

That said, Chandler did nothing more than accept an opportunity presented to him after Dustin Poirier opted for a trilogy with Conor McGregor rather than fighting for a vacant title against Charles Oliveira.

But for anyone questioning Chandler’s readiness for UFC competition received an emphatic answer with his performance on Saturday night.

Yes, he ultimately lost the fight but not before he nearly finished Oliveira in the opening round on two different occasions. He was confident enough in his guillotine choke to fall back into the submission following an early exchange with Oliveira and then he knocked down the Brazilian with one of his powerful punches later in the same round.

It appeared for a moment that Chandler was about to do to Olivera exactly what he did to Dan Hooker in his UFC debut. Credit goes to Oliveira for surviving and coming back to get the win in the second round but anyone questioning Chandler’s credentials at this point is just upset that a former Bellator champion came into the UFC and proved the best fighters in the world can come from any promotion across the globe.

Chandler also deserves a ton of credit for handling the loss like a true professional — he offered no excuses, paid tribute to Oliveira for a joe well done and promised he’d earn his way back to the top again.

Through just two fights with the promotion, Chandler has definitely proved he belongs in the UFC and there are plenty of fun matchups awaiting him as he moves forward with his career in 2021 and beyond.

Benny the Butcher

Much like the new UFC lightweight champion, Beneil Dariush is another shining example of perseverance paying off.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt went through plenty of ups and downs during the early part of his UFC career including an upset knockout loss to Ramsey Nijem in his second appearance in the promotion, a submission loss to Michael Chiesa and then a 0-2-1 run that saw him flatlined by Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez.

At that point, Dariush was out of the lightweight rankings and he wasn’t on anybody’s radar in terms of eventually becoming a title contender.

Just over three years later, Dariush has rattled off seven wins in a row over very good competition including names such as Thiago Moises, Drew Dober and Diego Ferreira being added to his resume but no victory was more important than the one he earned over Tony Ferguson at UFC 262.

Despite all the top talent that Dariush had beaten on his current run — including four finishes and four post-fight bonuses — he still hadn’t faced and defeated a top five ranked level opponent. That’s why the matchup with Ferguson was so important to him.

It was a chance to prove he belonged among the best lightweights in the world and Dariush looked every bit the part as he dominated Ferguson for three straight rounds. Dariush touched up Ferguson on the feet and then put on a suffocating performance against him on the ground. He controlled Ferguson with his wrestling and grappling prowess before very nearly finishing the fight with a nasty heel hook in the second round.

If not for Ferguson’s own stubborn toughness, Dariush probably would have added another submission victory to his record as well.

With this win, Dariush not only puts himself in the rankings among the best fighters in the world at 155 pounds but now the road to a potential title shot is rather short. There are only a couple of possible options left for him now that he’s dispatched Ferguson and it wouldn’t be shocking whatsoever that Dariush could be holding UFC gold by the end of 2022.

FAIL

Time Is Not On Your Side

First things first, let’s get this out of the way — this “fail” isn’t directed at Tony Ferguson or his performance at UFC 262 but rather the sadness involved in watching a legend who is beginning to fade.

The truly heartbreaking part about Ferguson suffering three losses in a row, capped off by his lopsided defeat to Dariush on Saturday night, is what preceded this current run. Ferguson went on an unprecedented 12-fight win streak as he sliced and diced his way through the lightweight division while earning nine post-fight bonuses and defeating two former UFC champions along the way.

Ferguson had some close moments during that streak including a surprising performance from late replacement opponent Lando Vannata when they clashed back in 2016, and he nearly got caught slipping by Anthony Pettis in their fight 2018, but again and again, Ferguson just found a way to win. He also managed to send his opponents home looking like they had just gone three rounds with a cheese grater, which only further added to his status as one of the most dangerous fighters on the entire UFC roster.

It’s tough to mention Ferguson’s reign of terror without relating that back to the many times he was supposed to face Khabib Nurmagomedov only for every possible tragedy to prevent them from actually meeting inside the octagon.

Then came Ferguson’s second shot at an interim title in a fight against Justin Gaethje just over one year ago.

After nearly finishing the bonus machine earlier in the second round, Ferguson then began absorbing a whole lot of damage as Gaethje just began pouring on the punishment. Gaethje dishes out damage like he’s serving at a never ending buffet and Ferguson had the be the unfortunate recipient.

By the time the fight was over, Ferguson was busted up and bleeding, barely able to stand while shaking his head to try and get his senses back after Gaethje had just pummeled him with punches for nearly five rounds. It was a tough way to see that win streak end but Ferguson passed the torch to Gaethje as he eventually went onto face Nurmagomedov in a title fight.

Since then, Ferguson has lost two more fights in a row — both lopsided decisions — with Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush taking him to the ground, nearly submitting him and then just overwhelming him with superior grappling. The good news is Ferguson hasn’t taken a ton of head shots since losing to Gaethje but the bad news is he’s still losing.

At 37, it’s tough to imagine Ferguson will ever turn things around to the point where he’s back in line for a title shot and that’s just difficult to accept considering how “El Cucuy” spent so much of his UFC career as the boogeyman of the lightweight division. If Ferguson’s days of terrorizing the best 155-pound fighters on the planet are over, it’s definitely been a wild ride but it’s still tough to reconcile with the reality that the end is near.

EPIC FAIL

Texas-Sized Problem

Well, here we go again.

Chances are if you’ve read past editions of Making the Grade, it’s a recurring theme that at least one of the “fails” will be dedicated to judging and/or refereeing. It’s not on purpose necessarily but it’s impossible to ignore when the same things keep happening again and again and again.

At UFC 262, the judges scoring the fights were particularly egregious even if there were no true robberies on the entire card.

It started with the featherweight fight between Lando Vannata and Mike Grundy on the prelims. While Grundy stuck around until the final bell, there was no doubt that Vannata had outscored him in at least two rounds if not all three. Vannata was the sharper striker throughout and he thwarted pretty much any attempt Grundy made to wrestling or grapple with him during the fight.

Then when the scorecards were read and judge Patrick Patlan gave Grundy the fight by a 30-27 score. Not only had Grundy not done enough to win the fight but he certainly hadn’t pitched a shutout over three rounds!

It was noted afterwards that Patlan is anything but an experienced mixed martial arts judge and he’s made questionable calls in the past where he was the dissenting opinion in two other fights that he scored in the UFC.

Then came the flyweight fight between Katlyn Chookagian and Viviane Araujo. The problem here once again was trying to understand how the judges justified the scores they gave for each particular round.

Araujo arguably won most convincingly in the first round but judge Marcos Rosales gave that one to Chookagian. Then the second round saw Araujo put Chookagian down on the ground and control her with superior grappling while also grabbing onto a mounted guillotine choke that could have potentially ended the fight. While Chookagian eventually escaped and got back to her feet to throw punches before time expired, it still appeared that Araujo’s ground work was enough to secure her the round.

All three judges still gave Chookagian the second round.

And finally in the main event, Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira engaged in a wild opening round that saw several near finishes from both sides. Chandler latched onto a guillotine choke and then put Oliveira down late in the round with the Brazilian also managing to take the back and work from the body triangle for a big chunk of the five-minute session.

When the horn sounded, Chandler had definitely done enough to win the round but then two judges — Sal D’Amato and Chris Lee — gave him a 10-8 scorecard. Now 10-8 scorecards have become a somewhat controversial subject in MMA lately because for years it seemed like a fighter had to essentially obliterate an opponent for five consecutive minutes to earn that score. Rules have changed and now the criteria for judges handing out a 10-8 seems more defined and a little easier to hand out, but considering the way Oliveira not only survived Chandler’s offensive output but actually looked for submissions after taking his back, that seemed to keep him close enough to make it a 10-9 round.

The larger point about all of this is that even though there were no true robberies at UFC 262, the judging was still abysmal at times. While the Texas commission should probably take the blame for assigning a largely inexperienced judge like Patlan earlier in the night, there’s no excuse for veteran officials like Rosales, D’Amato and Lee to continue handing out baffling scorecards.

Changes need to be made at the commission level and judges have to start being held accountable because ignoring the problem obviously isn’t going to make it go away.

OVERALL GRADE FOR UFC 262: B-