A picture of the UFC’s lightweight division

The UFC is the premier MMA organization in the world which hosts international talent on the biggest stage week in and week out. The UFC has been home to some of the most brutal, entertaining, talented and legendary fighters to ever step inside the octagon. Home to 8 men’s weight divisions and 4 women’s divisions, each division is home to its respective champion and contenders. But there is one division in the UFC that seems to be home to the best fighters in terms of skill and brutality. The men’s lightweight division is home to some of the most dangerous men at 155lbs from precise, hard-hitting strikers to some of the best grapplers in the sport.

The division’s current champion is Brazil’s Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira, a veteran of the UFC who has the most submission wins in the UFC with 14. Prior to Oliveira was the undefeated, and utterly dominant, Khabib Nurmagomedov whose recent retirement left the top of the division wide open. It is a testament to the ability of Nurmagomedov to have had 0 losses while competing at the highest level of his division and the sport itself. Before Nurmagomedov took the top spot, it was the notorious Conor McGregor, who stood on top of the division by defeating former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. McGregor had just become the UFC’s first double champion, holding the lightweight and featherweight belt, which he had just taken from Jose Aldo a year prior. Mcgregor vacated his belt when he went on a break to care for his newborn son and to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. In one of the biggest PPV event of all time. McGregor would return from his loss to Mayweather to fight the newest champion at the time: Khabib Nurmagomedov. That fight itself would be the biggest MMA event of all time to this day. From explosive press conferences, personal bad blood, McGregor assaulting a bus filled with fighters and Khabib jumping out the cage in an all-out brawl at the end of the fight between the two, that fight chaotically beautiful. After that fight, McGregor would take a year and a half hiatus from the sport. With the money-making superstar out of the picture, other stars in the lightweight division were building up their resumes and arguments for title contention.

Dustin Poirier was next in line to face Khabib. Poirier was on a 4-fight win-streak against some of the top contenders in the division and got his chance at a belt, but unfortunately for Poirier, a dominant crazy Dagestani man named Khabib put an end to his run. But being that it’s only a loss to an undefeated champion, Poirier has been able to get two more wins under his belt and now sits at the 1st ranked fighter in the division, second to the current champion. His most recent win came in the form of a massive upset against a returning McGregor who was brutally calf kicked and subsequently TKO’d by Poirier who avenged his prior loss to McGregor. Their trilogy fight is set for July 10th of this year. Another man who worked his way up to a long-awaited title fight was Tony Ferguson. Ferguson won the UFC’s ultimate fighter and proceeded to tear through the division’s top fighters, building up an impressive resume and adding to his streak. Ferguson was set to face Nurmagomedov on 5 separate occasions in his career, but the match-up kept getting cancelled for various medical reasons. The trend held true when Khabib became the champion. The fight between the two would never materialize and became one of the most cursed fights in the eyes of many fans who were longing for the matchup to come to fruition. Nonetheless, Ferguson had the misfortune of coming against a surging Justin Gaethje, who was on a 3-fight win streak at the time coming off a rough start to his UFC career from his beginnings as lightweight champion in the then World Series of Fighting, now known as the Premier Fighters League. Gaethje would put on a spectacularly dominant striking performance against the indestructible Tony Ferguson for 5 rounds until the ref called the fight. Unfortunately, Ferguson has not been able to recover in the win column, seeing him lose two fights since then. Although to be fair to Tony, they were against the now champion Oliveira and now 3rd ranked Beneil Dariush. Gaethje was now next on the list to fight Khabib.

 The matchup between Gaethje and Khabib was highly anticipated, but the match was short lived. The first round saw Gaethje land some significant strikes to Khabib in the form of both punches and leg-kicks, but the pressure and grappling ability from Nurmagomedov was too much for Gaethje (as it has been for every other fighter). Gaethje went to sleep early in the second round to a triangle choke. Khabib announced his retirement at 29-0 and set the MMA world alight. Speculations to the new matchups to be made and how the division will now look were on all media reports. Gaethje, Poirier and Mcgregor were all ready to possibly contend for the vacant title. The opportunity at the title would not see to any of those fighters as the match-up was now between Oliveira, who defeated Ferguson in December of 2020 and was now on an 8-win streak, and the former Bellator lightweight champion: Michael Chandler.

A new face to the UFC, but not to MMA, the 37 year-old American fighter “Iron” Michael Chandler boasted a 21-5 record prior to coming to the UFC. Chandler dominated the lightweight division in Bellator and made his debut as the co-main event for the rematch between McGregor and Poirier. Chandler stunned the MMA world by knocking out Dan Hooker out cold in a brutal fashion early in the first round with a powerful left hand and cemented his place as a top contender in the UFC. Poirier was next in line to challenge for the title coming off a win against McGregor that same night but turned it down for the trilogy fight coming up soon. Being that fighting McGregor does bring in a bunch of money win or lose, it’s no surprise Poirier would turn it down knowing that he’d still be next in line for a title should he win against McGregor.

The deal was set for Oliveira to fight Chandler on May 15th of this year; so, like two weeks ago. The first round was one of the best rounds I had seen all year, with both fighters getting the leg up on another and Chandler almost ending Oliveira. The second round came and Oliveira came back composed and dropped Chandler with a picture-perfect left hook which soon ended the fight. Oliveira celebrated by jumping out the cage, luckily not for the same reasons Khabib jumped out the cage. He brought his belt back to Brazil and celebrated his new belt with the Favela he was born, raised, and still lives in. The new champion will now have to be the one to contend with the best challenges the division throws at him.

It is rare to have a division where, realistically, any of the top 5 ranked fighters could win the belt against the champion on any given night, but that is the fortunate circumstance we are given in the UFC’s lightweight division. The perfect mix of all you could ask for in an MMA fight could be found among UFC lightweights. It is projected now that the winner of the trilogy fight between McGregor and Poirier will be next in line to fight for Oliveira’s belt. I for one hope they make a fight between Gaethje and Chandler as I see them both as, pound-for-pound, the most hard hitting and explosive fighters not only in the division, but likely in the entirety of the UFC. 

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