Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and the leading contenders to challenge UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira

Brazilian became the new title holder on Sunday after defeating Michael Chandler at UFC 262

A new era post-Khabib Nurmagomedov began in the UFC lightweight division on Sunday, when Charles Oliveira defeated Michael Chandler for the vacant belt at UFC 262. We look at the likely contenders to challenge the talented Brazilian for the gold.

Dustin Poirier

Despite Oliveira’s brilliant win, Dustin Poirier represents the best lightweight in the UFC for many. The American seemed set to finally get the gold following his superb victory against Conor McGregor at UFC 257 in January in Abu Dhabi, when he inflicted the latter’s first knockout loss of his professional career.

There were even calls for Poirier to be handed the belt once Nurmagomedov vacated via his decision to retire. A former interim champion, Poirier apparently turned down a title shot to have a money-spinning trilogy with McGregor in July – their rivalry stands at 1-1 – which no one would begrudge him.

Win again, in the headline bout at UFC 264 and thus the biggest gain of his career, and it’s that simple: Poirier, the No 1-ranked challenger, needs to take on Oliveira next.


Dustin Poirier beats Conor McGregor at UFC 257


Conor McGregor

The Irishman was among the first to congratulate Oliveira upon his championship win, albeit in true McGregor fashion. “Congrats to Olivera on becoming the 11th UFC lightweight champion,” tweeted the former champ early Sunday. “Wonder who Twelve is...”

First, though, McGregor needs to get past Poirier, a formidable feat in its own right, and considered a must-win for his title aspirations at 155 lbs. McGregor has lost twice in his past three outings, and by the time July 10 rolls around will have competed in the octagon only four times since late 2016.

Previously champion of two divisions simultaneously – the first in the sport – McGregor has been fine-tuning his game in Dubai ahead of UFC 264. He had made no secret of his ambitions: he expects to have the lightweight strap by the close of 2021.

Justin Gaethje

Justin Gaethje, right, was defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. Getty
Justin Gaethje, right, was defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. Getty

The former interim champion has felt somewhat like the forgotten man following his defeat to Nurmagomedov in Abu Dhabi in October. Until then, Gaethje was viewed as the most dangerous challenge the then-reigning champion had faced, but was outclassed at Flash Forum.

He has not competed since, and has found himself on the periphery as the title conversation centred around Oliveira, Chandler, Poirier and McGregor. Still, Gaethje remains an explosive fighter and a thrill to watch, while he currently ranks as the division’s No 2 challenger.

Also, most probably, he will feel a sense of injustice at being seemingly overlooked in regard to another shot at the belt.

However, would Gaethje get an immediate chance at title redemption? A clash with Chandler, his compatriot reeling from defeat on Sunday, looks a road the UFC may choose to go down first.

Beneil Dariush

Beneil Dariush comfortably beat Tony Ferguson at UFC 262. Reuters
Beneil Dariush comfortably beat Tony Ferguson at UFC 262. Reuters

What a tear the Iranian-born American has been on. Dariush’s unanimous-decision victory against Tony Ferguson in the co-main event on Sunday was comfortably the biggest of his career, and carried his win streak to seven – the tied-second longest active win streak in the division.

Much will be made of Ferguson’s dwindling powers, and rightly so, but Dariush deserves credit for his recent run. He not only defeated Ferguson, but totally dominated the former interim champion. That said, a title shot appears out for the rest of 2021, chiefly because of the guys ahead in the pecking order.

As well, Dariush announced post-win on Sunday that, with his wife about to give birth to their firstborn, he will take off the rest of the year. Now unbeaten in more than three years, he has vaulted to No 3 in the contender rankings.

Updated: May 18, 2021 03:21 PM


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