UFC 274 was a hotly anticipated card that ultimately hit a couple of speed bumps. When it was on, it was on: Michael Chandler stole the show with a front kick for the ages, and Charles Oliveira proved that, belt or no, he is the best lightweight on the planet.
Now, the question becomes, what’s next? Oliveira’s future is somewhat set, as he’ll be fighting for the title he was stripped of due to missing weight for the fight. Who he fights will shape the course of the division over the next six months or so. It’s matchmaker time, so let’s get down to work.
Justin Gaethje, in hindsight, spent too much time focused on Charles Oliveira’s history of quitting in fights and not enough on his own tendency of choking in big fights. Gaethje is the most violent man the sport has ever seen. He’s one of the most consistently entertaining fighters on the roster. But when it came time for the All-Violence title against Eddie Alvarez (they made the BMF title a real thing and not that, let that sink in for a moment), the title shot against Khabib, and now against Oliveira, Gaethje choked.
The Charles Oliveira we see today is a much better fighter, a much more mentally sound fighter, than the one we saw “quit” in fights years ago. Future opponents would be best served to ignore the Oliveira of old and look only at the past three to four years. This new Oliveira is a beast who has defeated Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, and now Gaethje. In four straight fights. Let that sink in a moment: those four are the most electrifying fighters in the division, and the biggest names out there save for Conor McGregor.
Now, Oliveira would no doubt love the McGregor fight. But Conor isn’t due back just yet, and he hasn’t won a fight for ages. Let’s leave him to the side for now. The only fight here is Islam Makhachev. We all want to know how Oliveira would have fared against Khabib Nurmagomedov, well this is as close to an answer as you’ll get. Makhachev vs. Dariush? That sounds dull in comparison. The UFC has already announced an October Pay-Per-View for Abu Dhabi. Makhachev is a big name there, and has won ten straight. This is the fight you make.
Oliveira’s next fight: Islam Makhachev
Carla Esparza is now a two-time UFC champion, winning the belt once again against Rose Namajunas. It’s a shame it came in a fight no one will ever want to watch again, unless it’s to break down exactly how such a bad fight happened at such a high level. And to figure out why Namajunas’ corner thought she was winning, in a fight that had many calling for at least one 10-10 round.
Esparza is 2-0 against “Thug” Rose and a third fight would be a hard sell. She’s getting married shortly, so let her enjoy her honeymoon. Then, give her the winner of Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Yes, we know, Marina Rodriguez has an argument for a title shot. And if this were the PFL, she’d be next. But the UFC isn’t a league, and the sporting argument is long dead. You book the biggest fights possible. Joanna vs. Esparza was a great fight the first time around, and we know the Polish star can shut down Esparza’s wrestling. Zhang would be a very, very interesting opponent as well.
Esparza’s next fight: Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk winner
“Iron” Mike Chandler had a knockout for the ages at UFC 274, turning Tony Ferguson’s face into something akin to an orc. Seriously. Look at the moment of impact, and tell us “El Cucuy” doesn’t look more like an orc from Lord of the Rings than any sort of Boogeyman. It was scary. We’re extremely glad Ferguson is okay, his CT scan reportedly negative. Now, he needs a long vacation, while Chandler… it’s tempting to say give the man what he wants. He cut a promo for the ages after his knockout for the ages.
But you know what? He’s not likely to get any of what he’s asking for.
The title is likely to wind up being contested between Makhachev and Oliveira. Chandler’s own loss to “Charlie Olives” (sure hope that name sticks, it’s the best thing since Bobby Knuckles) is too recent. Then there’s the McGregor callout. Yes, Conor responded positively to it. He always has with Chandler. But the UFC knows that while Conor vs. Chandler is a money fight, it’s not the money fight. When McGregor returns, it will either be for a title, or the trilogy against Nate Diaz. Because those two move the most Pay-Per-View buys.
As for Chandler, you start looking down the list for the next most explosive pairing. And that one is really, really obvious. With Nate Diaz vs. Dustin Poirier falling apart, book Chandler vs. Poirier. They’re both top five lightweights, they’ve both fought for the title recently, and it’s another very violent match-up.
Chandler’s next fight: Dustin Poirier
Ovince St. Preux
OSP was somewhat lucky to leave Phoenix with a split decision win over Shogun Rua. The pair’s rematch easily could have gone the other way. It wasn’t a great fight, and no one is screaming robbery, but it also doesn’t do much for St. Preux’s standing in the light heavyweight division.
It’s pretty telling that the former interim title challenger isn’t even ranked at this point. Mind you, he had been moonlighting at heavyweight. So, give him the #15 man in the division. That’s Dustin Jacoby right now, though it could be Da Un Jung come July. Either way, OSP gets the winner.
St. Preux’s next fight: Dustin Jacoby vs. Da Un Jung winner
Another split decision in a fight we had hoped to see fireworks in. Brown got past Khaos Williams, playing Matador against the “Ox Fighter.” Brown has now won three straight against some decent competition. More importantly, his losses look a lot better in hindsight, especially those to Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos was supposed to fight last month, but had to pull out of the fight. He’s 2-2 in his last four but was on a very solid run before that. The Brazilian joined the UFC in 2015; Brown came in a year later. Book ’em.
Brown’s next fight: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos