JUST seven days removed from Canelo Alvarez’s crushing unification victory over Billy Joe Saunders in the boxing ring, Texas retains its temporary moniker as prizefighting’s capital when the Octagon touches down for UFC 262 and the crowning of a new lightweight champion.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov choosing to walk away at the top as both undefeated 155lb champ and mixed martial arts’ pound-for-pound number one, the sport almost reluctantly moves on with a vacant title match that just six months ago seemed illogical.
But in a sport that moves as quickly as MMA, this weekend’s main event makes perfect sense in an imperfect world.
Number one ranked Dustin Poirier, fresh off a revenge TKO over the sport’s brightest star, Conor McGregor, turned down the chance to contest the belt in favour of a far more lucrative rubber-match with the Irishman in July.
So, the UFC moved on the next two most viable contenders: red-hot Brazilian Charles Oliveira and the consummate Michael Chandler.
Dominance from Do Bronx
Charles Oliveira cemented his elite credentials with a three-round masterclass in December
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 10, 2021
Unbeaten in his last eight fights, seven of which were finishes with six performance bonus cheques too, Oliveira holds the record for the most submissions by any fighter in UFC history (14). Truly at his peak, the 30-8-1 Brazilian is also no stranger to quickfire KO’s either with eight of those wins also coming via knockout.
After making his UFC debut in 2010, ‘Do Bronx’ has been a regular on main cards for the past decade; this is a fighter truly realising his potential. But if there is one criticism it’s his lack of experience when it comes to main events and, critically, five-round fights.
Oliveira’s 1-1 record in event headliners is completely overshadowed by the man in the opposing corner. Chandler may only be one fight into his UFC tenure, but the former University of Missouri All American wrestler has already built a solid legacy as the biggest star competing outside of the UFC.
Michael Chandler fight week pic.twitter.com/KbuolxX0oG
— Chaos MMA (@ChaossMMA) May 10, 2021
As three-time Bellator lightweight champion, Chandler headlined nine cards and has experienced championship rounds six times already. He was the poster boy of the second biggest MMA promotion in the USA, with finishes over two former UFC champions in Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson.
His 22-5 record includes 10 knockouts and seven submission wins, whilst his UFC debut on Fight Island in January could well have been the greatest Octagon entrance ever as the 35-year-old sparked top contender Dan Hooker with one perfectly timed left hook.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu master versus standout collegiate wrestler, this matchup is old school UFC: style versus style with a fine sprinkling of explosive Thai knees from Oliveira and one-shot KO boxing from Chandler.
I ended 2020 predicting Oliveira would become the new UFC lightweight king this year and he’s done nothing since to make me believe he’s no longer capable. But Chandler’s emergence feels more like an inauguration; he’s already walking and talking like the champion and that attitude is infectious. This is as good as MMA gets.