Khabib Nurmagomedov remains lightweight king despite retirement but Michael Chandler has thrust himself into the mix alongside Dustin Poirier after his stunning KO of Conor McGregor… the scramble for UFC’s finest division will catch fire in 2021
- The race for the lightweight title became clearer following UFC 257 on Saturday
- Dustin Poirier defeated Conor McGregor to put him in the hotseat for a shot
- UFC new signing Michael Chandler also excited with a thrilling knockout
- McGregor’s defeat means he is unlikely to fight for the title any time soon
- Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje will surely be plotting their next moves
As the dust settles and the show rolls on, the puzzle becomes slightly clearer.
The scramble for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s lightweight crown saw its first instalment last weekend, with Conor McGregor looking to set his stall in his bid to once again reign supreme over his 155-pound rivals.
For Dana White, the hope would surely have been for the saga to start and end on January 23.
The lightweight picture has become slightly clearer after a thrilling UFC 257 last weekend
Dustin Poirier sensationally knocked out Conor McGregor to put himself in line for a title shot
The UFC supremo has been unafraid in disclosing his attempts to persuade Nurmagomedov back to the octagon, and knew a ‘spectacular’ McGregor win would almost certainly result in a grudge rematch between the bitter rivals, despite the Dagestani’s insistence that he will remain retired.
But Dustin Poirier was not following the script. The Louisiana native, so often overlooked during his 10-year UFC career, proved the doubters wrong once more to sensationally hand McGregor his first ever knockout defeat.
In so doing, Poirier puts himself front and centre for a shot at the title, with the Diamond insisting he is champion in all but name.
UFC supremo Dana White will surely book Poirier to fight for the lightweight title next up
Poirier, 32, already feels he is champion but still remains a strong contender at 155 pounds
And who can begrudge him that? The 32-year-old has racked up wins over Justin Gaethje, Dan Hooker, Eddie Alvarez and now McGregor, giving him one of the strongest records out of those chasing UFC gold.
Yet Poirier still remains a serious contender, rather than the champion, and Saturday provided us a glimpse of a potentially mouthwatering clash for the title.
As UFC debuts go, not many can top the impact made by Michael Chandler.
Bellator’s former lightweight champion made a stunning UFC arrival on Fight Island, knocking out No 6 contender Hooker before backflipping off the octagon cage in celebration. That is some way to announce yourself as a serious challenger among the sharks at lightweight.
The American channeled Ric Flair to call out McGregor and Nurmagomedov in a superb post-fight interview, but his sights may now be on a different target if he wants to become champion.
White hinted Poirier could fight Michael Chandler (above) for the lightweight championship
Chandler made a spectacular impression on his UFC debut, after knocking out Dan Hooker
But the Diamond has dismissed Chandler as a credible rival for the lightweight crown
White indicated that should the Dagestani vacate his lightweight title, he would book Poirier and Chandler to fight for the 155-pound crown, given the new boy’s impressive showing.
‘It’s [a] pretty damn good [debut],’ White said. ‘I don’t know if I’ve seen one [better]. A lot of people who come in their first time have a rough go, in the first fight in the UFC, that kid fought like he’s been here for years. So yeah, off the top of my head, I can’t remember a better one.’
Poirier, though, dismissed the credibility of his new rival, insisting that he would rather sell hot sauce than fight the 34-year-old at this stage.
‘Respect to Chandler. Great win over a guy. But to come in and beat a guy I just beat and get a title shot, dude, I’ve been in, what is this? 27, 28 fights in the UFC, trying everything, find the toughest of the toughest guys to get my hands on gold,’ Poirier said.
Charles Oliveira (L) and Justin Gaethje (R) would have kept a keen eye on Saturday’s event
Oliveira is enjoying the best form of his 10-year UFC career and is a serious challenger
Gaethje is the No 1 contender at lightweight but most recently lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov
‘Dude, I’m the champ. I’m not going to fight some, and like I said, respect to Chandler, new guy to the UFC who just beat a guy who was coming off a loss that I just beat for the belt. That’s not exciting to me.’
While Poirier and Chandler have no doubt put themselves in strong positions to compete for the top prize, two notable absentees from the UFC 257 action would have been pondering their next moves as they watched on.
Gaethje may have just been swept aside by Nurmagomedov, but as No 1 contender remains a big scalp among the 155-pound ranks. Having already been beaten by Poirier, the Highlight may not have a strong case for a rematch with his countryman until he gains an attention-grabbing win.
Charles Oliveira believes his next fight must be for the title. The Brazilian is unbeaten in his last eight fights, and having comfortably beaten former interim champion Tony Ferguson he feels the next time he steps in the octagon, the belt should be on the line.
Poirier says Oliveira is most deserving of a shot and the Brazilian wants to fight the American
Poirier revealed that, of the two, Oliveira is the more deserving of a title shot. The Brazilian has since shared his view on social media that he should take on Poirier.
‘I hope to see you soon, @DustinPoirier. Once again congrats for last night’s performance. Hard work pays off, and you delivered. Let’s do it’.
‘I’ve been watching that guy for 10 years in the UFC, two different weight classes,’ Poirier said of Oliveira. ‘He’s fought the best of the best, over and over again. And he’s been knocked down and got up time and time again.
‘He’s proven himself and he’s proven what mixed martial arts and perseverance and what believing in yourself is.
‘Gaethje just came out here and got beat [by Khabib], as I did. Not a knock on Gaethje, but he lost. I think Oliveira probably [deserves a shot]. Or let them fight to see who gets it. There are so many tough fighters in the 155 pound division.’
For McGregor, the Irishman seems some way off challenging for the title at this moment
The former two-weight champion says he will regroup before determining his next step
The shifting of the lightweight landscape does not make for great reading for McGregor. Admittedly, every McGregor contest attracts the sort of attention garnered by title fights, but White will find it close to impossible to put the Irishman up for the crown next.
In fact, White questioned McGregor’s ‘hunger’ after his UFC 257 loss, and, though insisting he wants to get back as soon as possible, the Irishman said he needs to take some time to reflect before deciding what is next.
A trilogy fight with Poirier would appeal, with the pair on one win each, while a third fight with Nate Diaz would certainly offer McGregor the opportunity for much-needed octagon time.
And for the champion? Don’t get your hopes up over a return any time soon. White recalled Nurmagomedov saying he is ‘so many levels above’ his lightweight competition, with no one at present stirring his competitive juices to return and take his record to 30 wins, zero defeats.
Poirier and Chandler have set the benchmark, and with McGregor and Hooker dropping out of the race for now, it will be down to Oliveira and Gaethje to seize the initiative if they want to snatch Nurmagomedov’s crown.
The puzzle for White and the UFC matchmakers has become clearer after a stunning UFC 257
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