Dustin Poirier is no longer to be underestimated. The major underdog retaliated for his loss at UFC 178 by defeating Conor McGregor in the second round to shock the Abu Dhabi crowd and even the UFC 257 result on Saturday.
Poirier has now won six of his last seven fights, with his only loss being to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in September 2019.
But shortly before Poirier’s big moment, Michael Chandler announced himself as a key player in the division. Chandler knocked out the typically long-lived Dan Hooker, backfliped the Octagon, and offered a memorable promo that would make wrestling fans proud. He called everyone out appropriately and proved to the UFC that his signature was wise.
What will happen to the lightweight construction department? Where does McGregor go from here? Is Nurmagomedov coming back? Here are some answers.
Who’s next: Michael Chandler
Saturday was all business for Poirier. He said the experience wasn’t emotional and he didn’t seem to be taking revenge on McGregor. For Poirier it was just an easy fight and he won.
Poirier sees himself as a champion, and once Nurmagomedov officially makes it clear that he’s retired, he should be the champion. His first defense should be against the other man of the hour at UFC 257, Chandler.
Nurmagomedov doesn’t come back for Poirier. There’s no need to walk back to McGregor, at least not right away. Charles Oliveira is interesting, but Chandler has the momentum, the steam and the win all on the same map. This is the fight.
Who’s next: Nate Diaz. This loss for McGregor hits differently than the previous ones. When he lost to Diaz in 2016, there was a built-in explanation that he had mismanaged the weight for a short period of time. When he fought Nurmagomedov in 2018, he was a man distracted by the millions he made in the Floyd Mayweather fight.
I’m not saying these are excuses for both losses, but they were a way for McGregor to justify the results in his head. On Saturday he looked prepared. He saw to the point and was beaten by a better fighter.
Where he goes from here will be very interesting. Either he throws himself into the 155 mix or finally does the long-awaited trilogy with Diaz. Of these two options, I believe Diaz is the clear choice.
Placeholder: Max Holloway
I love this fight. I love everything about it. The only reason I wouldn’t put it above is because Holloway is next up for a £ 145 title fight. When he gets to 155 pounds, he wants to take his time and add mass to his body in a smart way. Given that preparation, he can’t just go up against McGregor at the lightweight, as that would mean forfeiting his shot at the 145-pound belt.
I hope we see this fight one day, but I don’t think we will see it next.
Who’s next: Dustin Poirier
Chandler had one of the greatest UFC debuts ever. Chandler was remarkable in every way. He was even, efficient, and strategic throughout the fight and then cut off the best promo you could ever ask for. Give Chandler 100 more tries and I don’t think he could do any better than Saturday.
Not only did that win prove Chandler is good enough to fight for a title, but I think the numbers will show that people are interested in this fight. It would only be his second UFC fight, but give the man his title shot.
Placeholder: Charles Olivera
If Nurmagomedov somehow comes back and faces Poirier, you have to give Chandler to someone else and that other person would be Oliveira. I just don’t see Nurmagomedov there.
Who’s next: Tony Ferguson
Personally, I thought the best opponent for Ferguson in December was Diaz, but now I think the better opponent for Diaz is McGregor. After two straight defeats, things are not going well for Ferguson right now and as much as he would discuss this, it is fair to wonder if his days as an elite lightweight are over.
A fight against Hooker is a chance for Ferguson to prove that assumption is wrong because despite what happened on Saturday, Hooker is still elite. It’s a name for Hooker who is obviously disappointed with this fight, and for Ferguson a chance to bounce back from a disastrous 2020.
Placeholder: Paul fields
These two fought in February 2020. It was a fight literally too close to call on him. If the judges had gone with Felder instead of Hooker, I would not have complained. It was one of those fights that had no loser.
In a sense, there are unfinished business deals. I would prefer a new matchup for hookers, but from a leaderboard perspective it’s worth considering.