UFC 262: The Culmination of a Journey for Both Oliveira and Chandler

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Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler. Photo: Gabriel Gonzalez

The journey to UFC championship gold has been long for both Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler, and only one will reach the summit at UFC 262.

In 2010, few could have expected the twists and turns that Charles Oliveira’s career would take.  20 years old and one of the youngest fighters on the roster, “Do Bronx” was an exciting prospect whose UFC career was defined by flashes of brilliance but also a struggle to have a major breakthrough.  Despite nearly ten years in the company, a long win-streak eluded him.  When he finally came close, he ran into a legend in the making in Max Holloway during an unsuccessful stint at featherweight.  While he showed plenty of promise, it looked like a UFC title was simply destined to remain out of his grasp.

Things turned around in 2018.  After a 2-4 skid in his six previous fights, Oliveira embarked on an eight fight win-streak that saw him set the all-time submission record in the UFC with 14.  He turned away veterans in Clay Guida and Jim Miller, the latter being the man who originally gave him his first UFC loss.  He overcame challenges from Christos Giagos, Jared Gordon, and David Teymur.  Finally, his 2020 saw him best perennial contender Kevin Lee and dominate the highly regarded former interim champion Tony Ferguson.

About two months after a 20 year-old Oliveira made his UFC debut, a fresh faced 24 year-old named Michael Chandler would compete in Bellator for the first time.  A participant in the season four lightweight tournament, Chandler powered his way through the competition and eventually shocked the face of the promotion, Eddie Alvarez, in a Fight of the Year candidate in 2011 to win the title.  Several wars soon followed: an encore with Alvarez, a pair of battles with Will Brooks, and fights with the likes of Benson Henderson, Derek Campos, Patricky Freire, and Brent Primus.  Chandler ascended to become the face of Bellator, tying the record for victories in the promotion and in title fights to become one of it’s greatest home grown talents.

Last year, Chandler entered free agency with a unique opportunity.  A rematch to regain his lightweight title from Patricio “Pitbull” Freire appeared to be the only thing left for him in Bellator.  But with no title holding him contractually and a chance to prove himself in the UFC, Chandler left with a championship or bust mentality as the prime of his career wound down.  He’s admitted it wasn’t the more lucrative deal, but it’s a gamble that has paid off.  He was given the backup slot for the title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje last October and went on to have an electrifying UFC debut with a first round knockout of Dan Hooker in January.  Finally, instead of needing one more fight to earn a title shot, Dustin Poirier’s choice to face Conor McGregor for a third time led to an immediate title shot for Chandler.

For Oliveira, the key to victory will be to keep the fight at mid-range or get the fight to the ground where his top control puts Chandler in the worst position possible.  He has proven to be an adept striker, but is dealing with a very compact and powerful athlete in Chandler and thus should avoid exchanging at short range.  For Chandler, he should choose his spots to surge forward and use his explosive kicks to chop away at the calf of Oliveira to hamper his mobility.  While he is an accomplished grappler himself, he should be weary of getting into exchanges on the mat as Oliveira’s pedigree off his back is amongst the best in all of MMA.

The winner of the bout is expected to face the winner of the trilogy between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor that takes place in July.  Depending on the health of the victors following their bouts, a late 2021 or early 2022 date is expected for the next lightweight title fight.

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