With Charles Oliveria becoming the first UFC Lightweight Champion following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement, we look at the contenders vying for his crown.
Conor McGregor’s run at 155lbs in the UFC is a rather strange one. The Irishman has posted a losing record at lightweight and has won just one of his fights in the weight class with the promotion.
It just so happens that McGregor’s lone victory at 155lbs was one of the most spectacular performances in the history of the sport, a victory that saw him defeat Eddie Alvarez to become the first simultaneous two-weight world champion in the UFC.
However, that was 2016. If Conor is to once more make his mark in the sport and reclaim his place on the throne of the division he must first get past the ever-evolving Dustin Poirier when the pair rematch later this year.
It is worth noting that, stylistically, McGregor’s striking accuracy and power matches him up well with Oliveria so don’t be surprised to see the Notorious first in line for a shot at the title if he can emerge victorious from his upcoming trilogy fight with the Diamond.
For the longest time, it seemed that Dustin Poirier was forever going to be the bridesmaid rather than the bride in the UFC.
A fan-favourite with great finishing instincts both in striking range and on the ground, Poirier always seemed to be just one cut below the championship level fighters during his early run with the organisation.
But, as the likes of Jorge Masvidal, Michael Bisping, and even current UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliviera have proven, fighters can make huge strides and reach unparalleled heights almost out of the blue even after spending years facing elite competition in the Octagon.
Poirier’s win over McGregor at UFC 257 has skyrocketed the Diamond’s mainstream popularity, but to truly capitalise on his new-found status in the lightweight division the American will be looking to put a definitive end to his and McGregor’s trilogy at UFC 264, before setting his sights on UFC gold once more.
Although the former Bellator Lightweight Champion’s shot at the UFC belt didn’t go exactly as planned, Michael Chandler’s two Octagon performances thus far should be enough evidence to convince anyone that the American belongs among the very elite of the 155lbs division.
Chandler’s distinguished wrestling pedigree and elite athleticism had long made him a constant feature in hypothetical UFC vs Bellator matchups so when the American finally made his Octagon bow; knocking out perennial lightweight contender Dan Hooker in under a round on Fight Island.
Though he was ultimately finished in the second round last week, it is worth noting just how close Chandler came to capturing UFC gold when he had Oliveira hurt in the main event of UFC 262.
Some fighters who emerge unsuccessful from a title shot often are forced to take the long route back up the rankings, but Chandler appears to have endeared himself to both the fans, and UFC brass, so do not be surprised if he has forced himself back into the title picture by year’s end.
Less than one year ago, former WSOF Lightweight Champion Justin Gaethje was next in line for a shot at the lightweight crown.
Unfortunately for the American, he just happened to be matched up with a Khabib Nurmagomedov who was looking to cement his legacy with one final salvo in the Octagon, and Gaethje was summarily defeated. Since then, it seems like Gaethje has been largely omitted from talks of future lightweight contenders.
Ever since linking up with legendary striking coach Trevor Whittman, Gaethje has managed to combine his natural toughness and athletic prowess with a devastating technical striking arsenal, that was best demonstrated in his victory over Tony Ferguson last year.
While the current lay of the land at lightweight might force Gaethje to have to wait for some of the other names on this list to fight each other before he gets his shot at the belt, don’t be surprised if the former interim champion is once again fighting for UFC gold in 2022.
It is exceedingly rare in combat sports that an athlete retires on top with an unblemished record in the manner that Khabib Nurmagomedov did last year. It is even rarer, however, that a fighter leaves the sport with a supposed like-for-like replacement waiting in the wings ready to take their place.
Enter Islam Makhachev.
Much like Khabib, Makhachev is a former Combat Sambo world champion with a propensity for dominating opponents with high-level grappling and positional control.
However, despite being the owner of a seven-fight win streak, Makhachev is yet to be given the opportunity to test his skills against the elite at 155lbs. At the time of writing, the Dagestani is booked to face #15 ranked Lightweight Thiago Moisés, but with a win, Makhachev could soon find himself on a collision course towards the belt.