Exciting news and storylines pop up in the combat sports world every day. In this weekly series, our UFC team will answer questions that fight fans are asking themselves, with bold takes and differing opinions on each topic.
Charles Oliveira became the undisputed UFC lightweight champion after knocking out Michael Chandler in the second round of Saturday’s wild main event. What are your overall thoughts on Oliveira’s performance and do you think he has the tools necessary for a long title reign?
William: First off, let’s give all the props to Charles Oliveira. He was seriously hurt in the first round and in my opinion, seconds away from losing that fight. His awareness to get onto his back into full guard was all worldly, and his recovery from that was superb.
He came into the second round fresh and ready to put it on Chandler. Chandler is notorious for getting carried away and leaving his opponents openings, which spelled the end of his night with a few picture perfect hooks from Oliveira. It was an extremely impressive victory that cemented his place at the top of the division.
As for how long his reign will be? I think he certainly has the potential for a long title reign, but there are undoubtedly multiple challengers that could give him a run for his money. He was seriously hurt by Chandler’s right hand in the first round, and he is notorious for standing super upright when he fights. I would be curious to see him against one of the more technical strikers in the division who are a little more calculated. A la Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, or Conor McGregor. But the tools are there for a long run for Oliveira and this could just be the start.
Nick: Throughout his entire career, Charles Oliveira has had a reputation for quitting when the going gets tough. He has a long history of breaking under pressure and giving up. Michael Chandler even mentioned it in the lead up to Saturday’s fight.
It’s time to put that to bed.
There were so many moments in the first round where it looked as if the fight was going to end. When Chandler gave up his back to Oliveira early on, I thought there was no way he’d survive. He did. When Oliveira got clipped by Chandler’s signature overhand right punch, I thought there was no way he’d survive. He did.
The look on Oliveira’s face coming into the second round was something we’d never seen from him before. He was fully recovered and ready to go. Chandler got over-confident, came out of the gate too aggressive and succumbed to Oliveira’s incredibly precise, technical strikes. It was truly a masterful performance from the Brazillian, the culmination of over 11 years of hardship and struggle to get to that spot; what a monumental accomplishment for Charles Oliveira.
Moving forward, there are still a lot of questions to be answered in this division. I mean, there are essentially four different guys who could be considered the top contender right now, and the prospect of that feisty Irishman having a chance to jump the line still looms large.
In terms of Oliveira’s title reign, he’s certainly capable of keeping that strap in Sao Paulo for a long, long time. At the moment, there’s nobody who can beat him. His ground game is far and away the best in the division, his ever-improving striking ability is world class and his cardio has never wavered. On top of that, the fact that he ate multiple kill shots from Chandler, whom many argue is the hardest-hitting 155 pounder in the world, proves that his chin is as durable as it has ever been.
At this point, I don’t see a reason to believe that Oliveira is going to lose anytime soon.
Zack: Saturday’s main event was one of the most exciting events of 2021 for the constant action, the multiple close calls for both fighters, and the implications of the event. At the same time you wanted to see a spectacular finish and also wanted the fight to progress at that breakneck pace forever. It couldn’t have worked out better for the fight promoters considering the chances Chandler created, and you can’t be upset with Oliveira winning the belt if you know anything about his past.
To answer the first part of the question, I think the answer is mostly a yes. When you think about tools in the MMA world you probably think about striking, wrestling, submissions, takedowns, endurance, that kind of thing, but you can’t forget the defenses. All the best fighters in the world could defend against any form of attack and while Oliveira is very close to being that type of fighter, I really need to see better striking defense.
Lightweight is one of the most dangerous divisions in the promotion and it’s because of the wealth of versatility and the show-stopping ability of the top guys. Chandler should have finished the fight twice in the first round after putting Oliveira in the seat, but because he was wary of getting stuck on the ground, he was slow to come after the stunned Oliveira. If Charles does not work on his head and body movement he will be finished by one of the top players in this division.
That being said, this is statistically the most dangerous fighter in UFC history. He’s the best offensive finisher in the sport and has a myriad of weapons to prove it. He can outstrike boxers, he can submit jiu-jitsu black belts and wrestlers, he can dominate clinches, he does not tire. He has the tools to stay champ, he just needs to work on his striking defense. He wasn’t lucky to not be finished on Saturday because his past performances made Chandler wary, but he will not be afforded that luxury again.
Regardless of the outcome, do you think the winner of the UFC 264 main event between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor in July automatically becomes Oliveira’s first challenger?
William: Yes, with no other contender fights lined up to jump either of those men if they win, the winner of that fight will be next for Oliveira.
Unless the winner of that fight takes some serious damage and needs substantial time off, I would expect the winner to fight Oliveira sometime in the fall or early winter. One thing I don’t want to see is Oliveira moving back down to 145. He mentioned this in his post-fight presser, and I don’t understand it at all. He had serious weight issues at 145 and it would be incredibly draining for him to go back. I think he shouldn’t even think about 145 for some time with the full plate of contenders he has waiting for him at 155.
Nick: Yes, this is probably the route the UFC is going to take, and it’s a win-win situation for them as a promotion. If Poirier notches another victory, he is the clear cut No. 1 contender and not a single soul is going to dispute his worthiness of a title shot. If McGregor wins, I’m sure some Twitter truthers will argue that he’s still not the No. 1 contender, but that’s not going to stop the UFC from giving him a belt fight and it certainly won’t deter fans from watching.
I’ll venture to assume that both Charles Oliveira and the UFC as a whole will be rooting for McGregor in this spot, solely for financial reasons. Both the champ and the promotion will be licking their respective chops at the inevitably massive paycheck that will be lined up if McGregor fights for undisputed gold again.
The main thing I’m hoping for is that the victor of the fight in July will emerge healthy and ready to go on a relatively short turnaround. The last thing we want is for either Poirier or McGregor to require a substantial layoff before taking the title fight. I don’t want to wait around until 2022 to see the strap on the line again and I’m sure Oliveira doesn’t either.
Zack: I would certainly think so. When the UFC rankings are updated Conor will be the 3rd or 4th contender while Poirier will be at the top. The winner of that matchup will have earned the title shot even if their names weren’t Dustin or Conor, so we can definitely expect that to be the case. Dustin passed up the chance to fight for the title for the money that McGregor draws, so if he wins again we can be sure that he’ll go for the cash involved in the championship bout. If McGregor wins, we know what the callout carnage will look like afterwards. The winner of that fight earns a title shot.
I heard some conversations about Charles being a very active fighter and maybe not wanting to wait very long for his next contender and while that scenario could play out, I don’t think it has to. We all saw Charles jump out of the Octagon and celebrate with the fans at UFC 262, this is a man of the people. His nickname has true meaning to him and he will absolutely bring his UFC gold back to the favelas of Sao Paulo to celebrate with the people who forged his spirit and championship mentality. We will see scenes like we saw in Batie when Francis took his new mantlepiece back home. Charles will not be in any rush to get back into the ring, and I can’t blame him.
The only way I can see Charles fighting someone other than the Poirier/McGregor trilogy champion is if that fighter has an injury and needs some time off. I believe Oliveira will fight again in 2021 with or without Dustin or Conor, but I doubt the winner will need more than five months to recover. Regardless of the next opponent, though, we are sure to see a great fight when the title defense begins.
In Saturday’s co-main event, Beneil Dariush wiped out Tony Ferguson, marking Ferguson’s third consecutive loss. It seems clear Ferguson’s time as a top contender has come to an end, but are there any fights you like for him moving forward?
William: Once again, Tony Ferguson did not look good on Saturday night. It seems in each of his three defeats, he has looked worse and worse each time out. Looking at the lightweight division as is, I don’t really like any fights for Tony at the moment.
An idea that could spark some intrigue for him however, is a move back to where it all started. Welterweight. In his TUF season he competed at welterweight and was competitive, so maybe a fresh division with new contenders and different fights would work well for Tony. Or even, how about a fight with Nick Diaz at welterweight? Nick is rumored to be looking to come back later this year, and if Ferguson would be interested in moving up that would be one hell of an interesting fight.
Nick: As Tony Ferguson was making his walk to the Octagon in Houston on Saturday, I Tweeted that his career hung in the balance. Unfortunately for Ferguson and his cult-esque fanbase, the balance is gone and his career is on a rapid downward trajectory. He’s just not good anymore. Father Time catches up to everyone; sometimes it’s gradual, sometimes it’s at the snap of the fingers. For Ferguson, it’s the latter.
When Ferguson was brutally beaten by Justin Gaethje a year ago, it seemed as if the primary takeaway was “wow, Gaethje looks amazing.” Likewise, when Charles Oliveira wiped out Ferguson in December, the common opinion was “wow, Oliveira is the real deal.”
For some reason, it was different this time. All respect to Dariush, because he was truly masterful, but I got the feeling that the conversation went from “[insert opponent] looked great” to “dang, Tony is just really bad.” When it has hit that point, it’s time to start looking at the bigger picture.
Ferguson’s “never say die” attitude that he’s long displayed has betrayed him. All of that determination to absorb damage and endure pain has backfired on him and he just doesn’t look healthy anymore.
To answer the actual question, no fights really appeal to me. I’m firmly of the belief that Ferguson can’t beat anyone right now because he hasn’t shown us that he can. I wish I could say that I’m interested to see where he goes from here, but honestly, I’m not.
Zack: Not really. Tony is just turning into a tomato can at this point and while he’s free to work and continue rolling himself out there to get beaten up, I hope someone can talk some sense into him before he starts really hurting himself. The end comes abruptly and conclusively at this point and I don’t really know how far down the line we would need to go for Tony to start winning fights again. Tony cannot even land strikes, let alone defend him himself. I hope he steps away from the competition, but something tells me that he will not.
Looking ahead to the next few UFC cards, we have some great fights waiting in the wings. Which upcoming matchup is your favorite and why?
William: It seems every UFC card of late has been absolutely stacked, and these next few won’t buck that trend. With so many good fights coming up, it’s hard to pick one but I’ll try my best.
With that being said, I’m going to opt for Nate Diaz returning versus Leon Edwards. Call me a sucker, but I simply love watching Nate Diaz fight. Win or lose he is always incredibly entertaining and displays incredible toughness and skill each time out. His record may not look the prettiest, but check the names on there. And after being off for a year and a half he is coming back to Leon “Rocky” Edwards. The man doesn’t take easy fights and is always ready to entertain. I cannot wait for this fight.
Nick: Well, I secured tickets to UFC 263 here in Arizona, so I’ll stick with that card, though there are a whole host of fights I’m ecstatic to see (including Font vs. Garbrandt this weekend).
The entire lineup of bouts at UFC 263 is loaded, from the early prelims all the way to the main event. Obviously, seeing Israel Adesanya in person is going to be awesome. The fanfare around Nate Diaz will be incredible to experience, even though I’ll be vocally rooting against him. And of course, my hometown favorite Drew Dober will be taking on Brad Riddell in the prelim headliner at 263, so I can’t wait for that one.
I’d say the most interesting fight, however, resides in the co-main event slot. That being the flyweight title rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno. The first meeting between these two took place on the last PPV card of 2020 and made a late push for fight of the year. It ended in a draw, so the jury is still out on who is truly the best flyweight in the world. I think that fight will deliver once more and it’s going to be a treat to witness it first hand at Gila River Arena on June 12.
I’m hoping to attend the press conference and ceremonial weigh-ins as well, so expect a lot of content in the week leading up to that blockbuster event.
Zack: You’re asking me to pick one? Sigh. I will do my best to adhere to the rules. If I had to pick one fight between the next two fight nights I would probably go with this week’s co-main event between Yan Xiaonan and Carla Esparza. Yan hasn’t lost a fight since 2010 and is rightfully nicknamed “Fury” while Esparza is on a four fight win streak, is a huge body for the division, and will be determined to prove she deserves a shot at the UFC title. This is a title eliminator and I believe the winner will be in line for a title shot without another fight. It remains to be seen if Weili gets an immediate rematch, but if she doesn’t I see the winner of this co-main as the next challenger. I like next week’s card more, but Yan/Esparza should be electric.
As for UFC 263, I would have to narrow it down to… the entire card. I’m not picking just one here, you fools, I’m going with every single fight on the evening. Everything from the early prelim opener to Vettori/Adesanya 2 has the potential to be the best fight of the night and I will be taking them all in sloppily. Put the kids to bed at 5:30 eastern because that card, as Gwen Stefani might so eloquently put it, is bananas.