UFC 257 answered many pressing questions regarding the lightweight title picture. Now, we’re all left eagerly waiting to find out what fights are made next. Below is the toughest match up for each lightweight contender.
First and for most, the likelihood of Khabib Nurmagomedov returning anytime soon is slim. Dana White admittedly tried his best to convince the current champ, but to no avail. With that being known, expect a vacant lightweight title fight to take place near the end of the year.
Obviously, Dustin Poirier jumped ahead of the pack with his second round TKO over Conor McGregor at UFC 257. Furthermore, Michael Chandler immediately entered the conversation following his opening round KO against Dan Hooker. Chandler now joins Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, and Tony Ferguson as contenders campaigning to be Poirier’s next opponent.
With all that being said, what is the toughest match up for each lightweight contender?
Dustin Poirier: Charles Oliveira
Dustin Poirier and Charles Oliveira may cross paths in the very near future. That might spell trouble for ‘The Diamond’ – as Oliveira presents the most difficult match up out there for him.
Looking back on Poirier’s last five wins and you’ll see a trend – they’re all versus strikers (McGregor, Hooker, Holloway, Alvarez, and Gaethje). His only loss came against the masterful wrestler Khabib. Oliveira will not be willing to stand and attempt to beat Poirier at his own game.
Instead, ‘Do Bronx’ will look to work the fight to the mat. The Brazilian featherweight is one of the most feared submission artists in the world – owning the most submission victories in UFC history (14). If Poirier allows Oliveira to take him down, he’ll be in serious trouble until he gets back up.
Recently, Oliveira has displayed sizable improvements in the striking department as well. He cannot box with Poirier, but he could use his length to land shots from the outside prior to closing the distance for the takedown.
Chandler, Gaethje, and Ferguson are all accomplished grapplers, but they’ve all fallen in love with their hands lately. I don’t believe any of the three could out-box Poirier. Oliveira’s determination to grapple, along with his proven submission attacks is why he’s the toughest match up for ‘The Diamond’.
Charles Oliveira: Michael Chandler
Michael Chandler is the toughest match up for Charles Oliveira due to his wrestling pedigree and his one-punch knockout power. Chandler would likely only utilize his wrestling defense, but that’s mighty important against Oliveira.
Moreover, his power clearly translated over to the UFC with his quick flatlining of Dan Hooker. The former Bellator lightweight champ edges out Justin Gaethje as Oliveira’s most difficult opponent because of the consistent one-punch finishing ability. Gaethje displays insane cardio and zombie-like durability, but his one-punch KO ability seems to come and go.
Additionally, Chandler seems stronger in his legs and core than just about any lightweight out there – I bet he’d be able to get back to his feet against Oliveira; at least early on.
Not to mention, I’m in heavy favor of Chandler and Oliveira fighting next to determine who faces Poirier for the vacant belt.
Justin Gaethje: Charles Oliveira
Justin Gaethje keeps his wrestling in his back pocket, but that’ll certainly change in a fight versus Charles Oliveira. ‘The Highlight’ has already beaten Ferguson and despite losing to Poirier, he spent nearly 20 minutes inside the octagon with him.
The only opponent of Gaethje’s to actively try and take him down was Khabib – he got submitted fairly easily in the second round.
Versus Gaethje, Oliveira would surprise most if he even attempted to stand and bang. The numbers say Gaethje’s takedown defense is stellar, but Oliveira has dominated credentialed, and even more seasoned grapplers before. As soon as ‘Do Bronx’ gets Gaethje on the ground, he’ll attack the neck, arms, and legs.
Michael Chandler: Justin Gaethje
The reasoning behind Gaethje being Chandler’s toughest match up is largely due to their similarities. Both are exceptional wrestlers who mostly lean on their striking to win them fights. Plus, both guys like to move forward – constantly pressuring their opponent.
While Chandler is more explosive than Gaethje, is he as durable? I’m betting on Gaethje’s ability to take Chandler’s best shots, and keep moving forward. ‘The Highlight’ is adept at diversifying his attacks – making it very difficult to get a read on him.
What we saw Chandler do against Hooker was pressure, pressure, and more pressure while cutting off angles. Gaethje will not move backwards versus Chandler. They will meet in the middle and I believe Gaethje would be the man standing in the end.
Conor McGregor: Justin Gaethje
Like I said, Gaethje usually keeps his wrestling in his back pocket – meaning a stand up battle would ensue against McGregor. Watching Conor wilt to Poirier’s calf kicks makes me wonder if he could handle even one of Gaethje’s piercing leg kicks.
Meanwhile, Gaethje’s constant pressure would disallow Conor to ever get comfortable in the fight. Then, combine his durability with the likelihood of him entering with a solid Trevor Wittman game-plan, and you have a very tough test for McGregor.
McGregor currently claims he has strong desire to fight again, but he better mean that if he ever faces Justin Gaethje. Damage is inevitable in a Gaethje bout – if Conor can’t get him out early, he’ll be in for a long, painful evening.
Tony Ferguson: Dustin Poirier
Tony Ferguson, he got butchered on the feet by Justin Gaethje. A similar outcome may ensue if he and Dustin Poirier ever squared off. Poirier proved again versus Conor that he’s arguably the best boxer in the sport. He’s a better boxer than Gaethje, which doesn’t bode well for Tony.
I believe Ferguson would take the challenge of striking with Poirier (not a smart move), rather than trying to take him down and attack submissions. Notably, if Ferguson took the route of grappling he’ll probably have some success.
Still, Poirier works well in the clinch and he carries a lot of power in his short hooks. Besides that, his experienced head movement and high guard will fend off most of Ferguson’s unorthodox attacks.
The toughest match up for each lightweight contender can be found above. Please feel free to leave your opinions in the comment section. Also, you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @RyanTruland.
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