The UFC is ready to crown a new lightweight champion after finally coming to terms with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement.
Either Charles Oliveira or Michael Chandler will become the first fighter to have the belt wrapped around their waist in the post-Khabib era when the pair of 155-pounders headline Saturday’s UFC 262 card at a sold-out Toyota Center in Houston.
It’s a tantalizing matchup between Oliveira, the UFC record holder for most submission wins, and Chandler, a former three-time Bellator MMA champion.
From a box office perspective, the UFC could’ve booked a more sellable title fight. Dustin Poirier is the consensus top lightweight on the UFC roster, so it’s odd not having him involved in a vacant title fight yet he chose to take another mega-payday in the form of a Conor McGregor trilogy bout instead.
Oliveira (30-8, one no-contest) is on an 8-0 run over the past three years with seven stoppage wins plus a dominant unanimous decision victory over former interim champion Tony Ferguson at UFC 256 in December.
Chandler (22-5) wowed in his UFC debut in January when he knocked out Dan Hooker in less than three minutes to earn a Performance of the Night bonus and a title shot.
An anticipated welterweight matchup between Nate Diaz and Leon Edwards was postponed until next month, but UFC 262 still has plenty to offer with an exciting co-main event between top-10 lightweights Tony Ferguson and Beneil Dariush plus a handful of other intriguing matchups.
Charles Oliveira (-130) vs. Michael Chandler (+110)
Prop bet to consider: Chandler by stoppage +150
The way these two headliners fight it would be quite surprising to see this fight go to the scorecards. Over 1.5 rounds is a -163 favourite and so is under 2.5 rounds at -175, so oddsmakers aren’t even expecting this five-round contest to make it to the third round. All of Chandler’s fights from the past five years have either ended in the first round or gone the distance and Oliveira has only gone the distance four times in his 39-fight career.
Chandler will presumably want this fight on the feet and he should hold the wrestling advantage. Oliveira secured one takedown in each round of his dominant win over Ferguson and racked up a whopping 11:39 of ground control in the 15-minute bout. If he can take Chandler to the ground with ease, though, then we can expect to see him join Rafael dos Anjos as the second lightweight champion from Brazil.
Oliveira is aggressive on the feet partly because he never fears being taken down but engaging on the feet against Chandler is a dangerous game. Chandler moves well, closes distance quickly and has developed knockout power in both hands.
Chandler can join Eddie Alvarez, Cris “Cyborg” Justino and Ryan Bader as the only fighters to win titles in both Bellator and the UFC.
Beneil Dariush (-170) vs. Tony Ferguson (+140)
Prop bet to consider: Dariush by stoppage +333
This is slightly bizarre matchmaking by UFC standards considering Dariush is on a lengthy winning streak, and Ferguson is coming off back-to-back losses after getting battered by Justin Gaethje one year ago then handled by Oliveira in December.
Ferguson looked great at the weigh-ins and hopefully we see him back in proper form, but at age 37 he’s currently the oldest ranked lightweight contender. He has taken loads of damage over the years and aging fighters don’t usually fare well in the 155-pound division.
Dariush has won six in a row and walked away with post-fight bonuses in four of his past five fights. Ferguson is there to be hit and Dariush has more power on his feet. Keep in mind Dariush has been KO’d a few times in his UFC career so he doesn’t have an iron chin. This is a terrific matchup of skills that reminds me a bit of the recent Vicente Luque vs. Tyron Woodley matchup in regards to career momentum, and we all know how that ended.
Below is the full UFC 262 fight lineup:
— Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler
— Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush
— Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo
— Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza
— Matt Schnell vs. Rogerio Bontorin
— Ronaldo Souza vs. André Muniz
— Lando Vannata vs. Mike Grundy
— Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko
— Jordan Wright vs. Jamie Pickett
— Gina Mazany vs. Priscila Cachoeira
— Kevin Aguilar vs. Tucker Lutz
— Christos Giagos vs. Sean Soriano