Charles Oliveira sits atop the UFC’s lightweight division after a thrilling second-round TKO of Michael Chandler in the main event of UFC 262 on Saturday, but did the new champ do enough to surpass Dustin Poirier as the No. 1-ranked fighter in the division?
Looking ahead to Saturday’s Fight Night, should the bout between No. 3 Yan Xionan and No. 4 Carla Esparza produce the first challenger for Rose Namajunas, who recently reclaimed the women’s strawweight title by knocking out Zhang Weili?
Meanwhile, an August fight between middleweight title hopefuls Jared Cannonier and Paulo Costa could either clarify what’s next for the winner of Israel Adesanya–Marvin Vettori 2, or make things even messier — especially when factoring Robert Whittaker into the equation.
Our panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim digs into the biggest questions of the moment in the world of MMA, to decipher what’s real, and what’s not.
Following his win at UFC 262, Charles Oliveira is the No. 1 lightweight in the world.
Okamoto: Real. I wasn’t sure going into Saturday if the winner would surpass Dustin Poirier in my lightweight rankings. But based on the result, I have to move Oliveira to No. 1.
It’s neck and neck between him and Poirier, but when you consider the nine-fight win streak, eight finishes during that stretch, a second-round knockout in a UFC title fight — yes, Oliveira gets my vote.
And I honestly don’t think Poirier cares much, if he’s temporarily seen as No. 2. I mean, he shouldn’t. He had a choice of fighting for the UFC championship or facing Conor McGregor for the third time, and he chose a money fight against McGregor. That was the smart and easy call, but it came with a risk that if Oliveira or Chandler did something spectacular at UFC 262, they might jump him in the rankings.
Poirier will get his chance to make that right. He is where he wants to be. Money fight against McGregor, and if he wins, a title fight against Oliveira. All of this is going to continue to play out the rest of 2021, but for right now, I believe you have to say Oliveira is the best lightweight on the planet.
Should the winner of Yan Xionan-Carla Esparza get a strawweight title shot next?
Helwani: Very real.
If I were the UFC I’d already have billed this as a fight to crown the No. 1 contender for the 115-pound title. Here’s why:
Rose Namajunas is the new champ. They are likely not rematching her with Zhang Weili right away. That wouldn’t make much sense, since their fight was so quick and decisive a couple of weeks ago.
No, it has to go to the winner of Yan-Esparza, who are the third- and fourth-ranked fighters at 115, respectively, behind the aforementioned Zhang and Jedrzejczyk.
Should Esparza pull off the W, that would be her fifth win in a row. A fight against Namajunas would be a rematch of the first-ever strawweight title fight in UFC, which occurred back in 2014 and was won by Esparza via rear-naked choke.
If Yan wins Saturday, that would improve her unbeaten streak to 13 in a row and her UFC record to 7-0.
The Aug. 21 middleweight fight between Paulo Costa and Jared Cannonier will bring clarity to the division.
Wagenheim: Clarity? At middleweight? This is a division whose champion, Israel Adesanya, last competed in a different weight class, and whose No. 1 contender, Robert Whittaker, turned down a title challenge because the timing just wasn’t right. That left the big opportunity on June 12 to Marvin Vettori, who three years ago gave Adesanya his toughest middleweight fight in a split-decision loss.
But is there really a plan at 185 pounds? Costa vs. Cannonier does have the feel of a No. 1 contender showdown between two once-hot contenders trying to turn up the heat again. Costa is looking to bounce back from his only loss, and Cannonier is seeking to get back on track after a winning streak came to a halt. But could either of them cut in front of Whittaker? That’s a privilege that Conor McGregor, Jorge Masvidal or Nate Diaz might be afforded, but neither of these middleweight contenders has anywhere near that level of star power or earning potential.
More important, Whittaker is the one who belongs in the cage with the champ. He’s the one who ended Cannonier’s streak, and that victory was just part of a longer run of success. He’s won 12 of his last 13 — or every fight since 2014 that wasn’t against Adesanya. He’s a clear No. 1 contender for me. But some might see that role being up for grabs between Costa and Cannonier, and understandably so, considering how it’s been set up.
Rather than bringing clarity, then, this fight could make the weight class murkier. So no, the statement above is not real.
Beneil Dariush doesn’t need to worry about the fans booing as long as he keeps winning.
Raimondi: When UFC president Dana White was asked about Beneil Dariush at the press conference after UFC 262, the first thing he said was that Dariush didn’t make any fans with his performance against Tony Ferguson. That’s true. The fans booed Dariush lustily during and after his dominant win over Ferguson. They didn’t appreciate Dariush’s wrestling-heavy style, despite it being incredibly effective.
During Dariush’s postfight interview with Joe Rogan, the fans in Houston really let him have it. It was a wild scene. But the truth is that Dariush was kind of cast as the villain, as odd as that sounds, all week. The fans in Houston really love Ferguson, like many UFC fans across the world. And no matter what Dariush did, he was going to hear it. Even at the prefight news conference last Thursday. The fans were all over him and going crazy for everything Ferguson said.
Let’s be honest. This statement is real. Dariush didn’t put in the most scintillating performance against Ferguson, but he did what he needed to do to win. And now he’s on a seven-fight winning streak, one of the best at lightweight, which is one of the toughest divisions in the UFC.
Dariush gets a mulligan for this one, not that he needs one. The guy has been one of the most exciting fighters at 155 pounds lately. You know that meme of Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier falling all over each other at the commentary table, before it started happening every other week? That was from a Dariush knockout over Drakkar Klose at UFC 248 in March 2020. The fight after that, Dariush won via spinning back fist. The one after that? He was in the Fight of the Night.
No, Dariush didn’t capture the imagination of the Texas spectators this weekend. But that’s totally fine. He’s onto bigger and better things in the division. And the truth is, regardless of what happened Saturday night, Dariush is one of the most spectacular (and now clearly one of the best) lightweights in the world.