In the main event of UFC 257 on Saturday, Conor McGregor was knocked out for the first time in his MMA career as old rival Dustin Poirier exacted his revenge almost seven years after the pair’s first meeting.
As the fallout from that stunning result continues, fans and fighters are looking ahead to what’s next for McGregor, Poirier, and the other protagonists of the UFC’s lightweight division.
The good news for the promotion is that they can’t, you’d think, get it wrong from here; there a various viable combinations of match-ups at 155lbs.
That said, here is how Indy Sport would book the UFC’s lightweight division in the coming months.
Dustin Poirier vs Charles Oliveira – for the vacant lightweight title
Since his seismic victory on Saturday, Poirier has declared himself the “uncrowned” king of the lightweight division. That is hard to dispute when one looks at his resume – which includes stoppage wins over former 155lbs champions in McGregor, Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis and (former interim titleholder) Justin Gaethje – and when one considers that the only man to beat Poirier in the last four years is the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, who last week doubled down on his recent retirement.
Factor in Poirier’s win in a gruelling war against Dan Hooker last year, and his two wins over former featherweight champion Max Holloway – one of which came at 155lbs – and ‘The Diamond’ has earned the right to be deemed not just one of the greatest lightweights of his era, but of all time. The one thing the former interim champion is yet to do? Wear undisputed UFC gold.
And despite Michael Chandler’s impressive UFC debut in Saturday’s co-main event, the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion should not be the one to stand across from Poirier (27-6) in the Louisianan’s bid to claim the crown. Instead, it should be Charles Oliveira (30-8), the versatile Brazilian on an eight-fight win streak.
Nineteen of Oliveira’s 30 career wins have come via submission, while eight have come by KO/TKO, and he removed lightweight Bogeyman Tony Ferguson from the title picture with a dominant decision victory in December. ‘Do Bronx’ is the definition of dangerous, and a match-up with Poirier is surely worthy of being a title fight. Some fans believe Oliveira’s win against a flagging Ferguson is not enough, and that he needs one more victory over a top-five opponent to earn a shot at gold. But based on the landscape at lightweight right now, we’ll have to disagree.
Michael Chandler vs Justin Gaethje
Poirier versus Chandler for the title Khabib is due to vacate any day now would be a fun contest with a big-fight feel to it, but ‘The Diamond’ believes the UFC newcomer needs to further prove himself in the promotion before he challenges for a championship.
There’s certainly some merit to that argument, no matter how impressive Chandler’s first-round KO of the usually sturdy New Zealander Dan Hooker was at UFC 257. Luckily, there’s another all-American clash out there that would bring plenty of hype and likely deliver on it.
Chandler (22-5) should take on Gaethje (22-3) next in a battle of former collegiate wrestlers with genuine knockout power.
Chandler has three lightweight championship reigns to his name from his time in Bellator, while Gaethje was 155lbs champion in World Series of Fighting and held the interim UFC belt before being submitted by Nurmagomedov in October. Whoever were to win from this hypothetical pairing would have a very strong case for a crack at the undisputed UFC title.
Conor McGregor vs Tony Ferguson
This bout has always been intriguing to fans.
In McGregor (22-5), you have one of the slickest strikers in UFC history. In Ferguson (25-5), you have one of the wildest forces the sport has ever seen.
On the feet, the clinical nature of the Irishman’s offence should cut through ‘El Cucuy’s unorthodox entries, but Ferguson’s submission threat and faultless cardio mean this is not necessarily a kind match-up for McGregor. It would have been even less kind in the past, but with Ferguson’s 2020 comprising two defeats in which the ageing American was dominated by Gaethje and Oliveira, this contest could just work for McGregor.
There is also a dislike from Ferguson’s side at least, with the 36-year-old believing he was kept away from a match-up against McGregor back when he was part of the same management company as ‘Notorious’.
This fight would provide former interim champion Ferguson and former undisputed titleholder McGregor the opportunity to prove they are still elite-level lightweights, though the winner would likely need to secure a finish to make the required statement, given both would enter the bout on the back of a loss – two losses in Ferguson’s case.