UFC 262 heralds a new era in the lightweight construction sector. It’s been more than three years since anyone other than Khabib Nurmagomedov wore the UFC lightweight belt around their waist.
With the official resignation of Nurmagomedov (29: 0), the impressively deep lightweight division is ready to crown a new king. Barring a tie or other unlikely circumstance, Charles Oliveira or Michael Chandler will claim this coat on Saturday at UFC 262 at the Toyota Center in Houston, where they will meet at the main event for the vacant championship.
Oliveira made a name for himself as the most effective submission fighter in UFC history with a record of 14 submission wins out of 18 overall wins. But during his current eight-fight winning streak, he has shown more depth to his combat arsenal. Is it time to stop calling him a submission fighter?
Chandler stormed into the UFC in January with a round of 16 against Dan Hooker. The three-time Bellator lightweight champion has the chance to win UFC gold in just his second bout with the promotion. How far would a win go to prove that there is elite star power outside the walls of the UFC?
In the co-main event, Tony Ferguson wants to start rebuilding in the direction of his own light title shot. His streak of 12 fights is a thing of the past, but can he still get back to a level where he can finally fight for the true world title? Ferguson has lost his last two fights and faces a tough test when he takes on Beneil Dariush. Is Ferguson destined to be known as the greatest lightweight that never wins the belt?
After all, middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan is taking no easy or moderate route to his goals after losing the first loss of his promising career to Derek Brunson in August 2020. He jumps back into the fire on the UFC 262 main map against Jack Hermansson. Hermansson knocked on the door of a title shot before losing two of his last three fights to Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori. Is 23-year-old Shahbazyan facing the right opponent in Hermansson?
Our panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, and Jeff Wagenheim broken down some of the biggest questions that led up to UFC 262 Fight Week to determine what is real and what is not.
Before UFC 262, check out Charles Oliveira’s eight-fight winning streak that earned him an easy title shot.
Despite holding the UFC record for most submission wins, Charles Oliveira is more than a submission fighter.
Okamoto: Real. If you still think Oliveira is nothing more than a talented submission ace who will struggle to find another path to victory, then you are not paying attention.
The most impressive thing about Oliveira’s eight-fight winning streak for me was his punch. It looks just as comfortable on your feet as it does on the floor, which really says something.
He’s extremely aggressive, but not that ruthless, and he’s shown real power. Not many of us would have ever thought that this grappling specialist who used to fight featherweight would become such a dangerous striker at 155, but Oliveira has real finishing skills. If he injures Chandler’s feet and he wins a UFC championship, that’s an important statement, but he hasn’t proven anything new. We know he can do that now.
Michael Chandler will prove that there are fighters outside the UFC who could win a promotion title.
Wagenheim: This is Real, and even if Chandler doesn’t win the easy belt on Saturday, it will still be real. That’s not to deny the UFC’s status as the front runner in MMA promotions. His squad is overflowing with most of the best fighters in the world. Take a look at ESPN’s MMA leaderboard, division by division, and you will see that few top 10 fighters compete against each other in a cage that is not an octagonal shape.
How few? Of the 110 available positions in the leaderboard – top 10 in eight men’s divisions and three women – only 14 spots are occupied by non-UFC fighters. Four departments are all UFC, top to bottom. The greatest variety of advertising is in two weight classes – light heavyweight and female flyweight – with three Bellator fighters in the top 10. A representation of 30 percent is not exactly a coup.
But don’t tell me that Bellator doubles champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, who knocked out Chandler two years ago, wouldn’t have a shot at Saturday’s title runner or UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. Don’t tell me that Adriano Moraes, a One Championship flyweight title last seen defeating Demetrious Johnson, had no chance against UFC’s Deiveson Figueiredo – or that “Mighty Mouse,” the largest 125-pounder all the time, was absolutely positive Against Figueiredo the job is not done either.
The underdogs would all be underdogs against their UFC counterparts, as I can imagine, just as Bellator’s three light heavyweights – champion Vadim Nemkov, Corey Anderson and ex-champion Ryan Bader – would be against UFC king Jan Blachowicz. But it would be narrow-minded to figure them out. Blachowicz knocked out Anderson last year but another night could lead to a different outcome.
We saw what happens when well-known UFC fighters go to other actions. We expect them to dominate and sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. This was the case with Johnson and Eddie Alvarez in One and Anthony Pettis and Fabricio Werdum in the PFL. There are some excellent fighters in the world. The UFC has most of them. But not all.
Tony Ferguson will go down as the best lightweight never to win a title.
Raimondi: This is a very tough question as Ferguson is obviously still active and a win on Saturday will keep him in the title mix. Ferguson is a minor underdog against Dariush, however. It’s easy to see why. He didn’t look quite like himself in two defeats in a row, one against Justin Gaethje and most recently against Oliveira last December at UFC 256. Gaethje and Oliveira are both in the title mix. So if Ferguson has already lost to them, it won’t be easy for him to climb his way back to the top. If anyone can, it’s Ferguson. But we have to be realistic. He is now 37 years old. The size it reached in the cage could decrease.
With that in mind I will say real to this statement. It is imperative that Ferguson be recognized for everything he has accomplished in the UFC. Nurmagomedov is considered the best lightweight in MMA history. There is no argument there. But consider this: Ferguson is linked to Nurmagomedov for the longest winning streak in division history (12). And in those 12 wins in a row between 2013 and 2019, Ferguson had nine placements – more than Nurmagomedov’s seven.
Ferguson is the former UFC interim lightweight champion, and it’s an absolute crime that he didn’t even fight for a chance to win the undisputed title. Some of the circumstances in which Ferguson withheld this opportunity are incredible, including the weekly knee tear on one occasion during a media tour. He was supposed to fight Nurmagomedov five times and the fight failed each time, including last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurmagomedov is now retired so the most anticipated fight in lightweight history will almost certainly never take place. It’s not fair to Ferguson that he never had the chance to challenge Nurmagomedov. Many believed Ferguson had the skills to dethrone the undefeated champion.
It is easy to look back at Ferguson’s career with regret, but I would rather do it with honor and appreciation. The man was and is a must see on television. He won six Fight of the Night bonuses, including five in six fights, and he won The Ultimate Fighter 13. Ferguson’s UFC record is 15-3. “El Cucuy” has a Hall of Fame-worthy career behind it. And yes, if things stay the way they are, he’ll be the greatest MMA lightweight that will never win the title – and the greatest that will never fight for the undisputed gold.
Jack Hermansson is the right opponent to bring Edmen Shahbazyan back to top status.
Helwani: Not really.
Well, I know this could sound really stupid in about six days, and I’d also like to add that I’m looking forward to the matchup. But there is no way the very dangerous Hermansson, who apparently knocked on the door of a title shot a few months ago, is the right opponent for a 23-year-old who suffered his first Pro loss. How can this possibly be real?
I mean, Shahbazyan could literally fight anyone next. Why Type No. 7? Hermansson, who also lost and will undoubtedly have a chip on his shoulder trying to get back on track, is a tough job for anyone. I did not understand the booking from Shahbazyan’s point of view from the moment this fight was announced. When it comes to a young fighter facing their first loss – not to mention a TKO loss – I prefer to take a step back in the competition to rebuild their confidence. But, as we know, there are seldom tuning battles in the UFC. That was just never part of their model.
And again I’m looking forward to the fight. It’s the third most interesting fight on the map. And see Shahbazyan get an impressive result against the veteran, proving that this answer is completely wrong in less than a week. After all, that’s why we’re watching the fighting.