Another weekend is in the rear view mirror, as is another carnage-filled UFC event. With dozens of takeaways to choose from, here are five significant learnings from UFC 262.
1. Charles Oliveira was not going to be denied his opportunity to wear the Lightweight strap.
Floating around in a stacked Lightweight division, Charles Oliveira’s name was never the sexiest. Especially as a “boring” submission artist. With warriors like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, and now Michael Chandler, occupying the division’s spotlight, it was always very easy for him to get overlooked, despite being highly ranked for years. And now, everyone looks silly for doing so.
“Do Bronx” captured the vacant Lightweight title (left behind behind Khabib) by knocking out Michael Chandler in the second round, and perhaps more impressively, extending his winning streak to NINE STRAIGHT FIGHTS. That’s ridiculous.
It’s impressive that Oliveira waited in the background for this chance, while the championship opportunities got handed to many of those guys mentioned above. But he never gave up, he never relented, and he just kept tapping guys out, knowing the chance would eventually come. It did, and he took full advantage of a very eager and explosive Michael Chandler this past Saturday night. He even survived a frightening first round, one in which two the judges actually scored 10-8 for Chandler. Much like his entire career, he held strong and put his best
foot fist forward in the very next round to capture the gold.
2. Oliveira finished the fight in a truly atypical (and ironic) way.
The extremely cool part about Oliveira’s victory on Saturday wasn’t just that he defeated a loose cannon-style fighter in Chandler, but it was the way in which he did so. Despite being the underdog, Chandler was coming in as the more “hyped” guy. I heard several experts say that the smart betting money was actually on him, the guy who possessed the kind of aggression and knockout power to push Oliveira into making a mistake or not letting him close enough to grab a limb.
Let’s consider the clash of styles and expected outcomes of this fight. Oliveira is a submission artist in every sense of the word (his 14 submission finishes are the most in UFC history), while Chandler often likes to swing for the fences (10 of his 22 wins are by knockout).
In terms of betting odds (by FanDuel) here were the posted prop bets for finish outcomes, in order of most likely to least likely:
- Chandler by TKO (+200)
- Oliveira by submission (+220)
- Oliveira by TKO (+460)
- Either fighter by decision (+600)
- Chandler by submission (+1700)
Now, this is my personal opinion, but based on their styles and history, I feel like the more accurate depiction of likely outcomes would look like this:
- Oliveira by submission
- Chandler by TKO
- Oliveira by decision
- Chandler by decision
- Oliveira by knockout
- Chandler by submission
The irony is that Oliveira actually did not win by submission or decision. Instead, he caught Chandler with a left hand, dropped him, then immediately pounced and finished the job. That was supposed to be Chandler’s bag. It wasn’t an unfathomable outcome, but certainly unexpected, especially after barely surviving that first round. Joe Rogan in particular was very impressed and complimentary of Oliveira’s technical striking and impeccable body control. Overall, the style of finish spoke loudly to his well-rounded ability. His first title defense, which could come from any number of elite competitors, should be explosive.
3. Tony Ferguson proves to be a tough son of a bitch (again). But he might also be done.
Love him or hate him, no person on planet earth should question the toughness of “El Cucuy.” I mean, he certainly doesn’t question himself. He’s often been on the better side of a beatdown, but when he has been on the receiving end, only a single time has he actually tapped. It’s worth mentioning that this was back in 2009 under National Fight Alliance.
On Saturday, his opponent Beneil Dariush applied a heel hook that popped his knee and appeared to have almost dislocated his ankle, which looked like a golf ball.
“I saw him grimace, and I went for the same thing, and he just went into zombie mode and started kicking me,” Dariush told reporters after his shutout decision win on Saturday. “I was like, ‘Fine, I’ll come on top, you jerk.’”
It was absolutely brutal to watch. It was even more brutal to see the anguish on Tony’s face, which does not come easily. Of course, he didn’t tap and eventually escaped. Instead, he finished the fight with his leg intact and lost by unanimous decision. In typical fashion, he received major props from the Twitter community and the sold out Houston crowd, lauding his toughness. It’s now become customary.
But real talk, Tony Ferguson got mauled. Again. And it was ugly. Dariush was like a blanket on him for the entire fight.
At age 37, Ferguson has now lost three straight fights. In what might not be a huge deal to a more youthful fighter, this comes on the heels of a ridiculous 12-fight win streak where he dominated the division and racked up five Fight of the Night and three Performance of the Night bonuses. The pinnacle came in October 2017 where he captured the vacant Lightweight Championship. He was later stripped of the belt due to injury and inability to defend.
Despite all the accomplishments and the sheer depth of the Lightweight division (more on that below), Tony’s path back to a title shot is almost non-existent. He’d have to put up another significant win streak and/or beat a couple of the top guys. That’s not happening, for a variety of reasons.
4. The Lightweight division is STACKED.
So many stars, so many up-and-comers, so many combinations of fights to make. The possibilities are endless. And this is all before even considering guys like Nate Diaz moving down from Welterweight or a Max Holloway moving up from Featherweight to test the waters.
This is why I feel Michael Chandler’s loss last weekend wasn’t necessarily the worst thing for him. He lost at the right time, while the division is loaded. There are so many quality opponents inside the Top 10 (or even Top 15-20) to be able to boost his stock again, and very quickly. His path back to a title shot (which he claims will be within a year) will be swift, if he stays active and takes care of business.
Here’s just the Top 10 ranked Lightweights:
- (c) Charles Oliveira (31-8)
- Dustin Poirier (27-6)
- Justin Gaethje (22-3)
- Beneil Dariush (21-4-1)
- Conor McGregor (22-5)
- Michael Chandler (22-6)
- Tony Ferguson (25-6)
- Rafael dos Anjos (30-13)
- Dan Hooker (20-10)
- Islam Makhachev (19-1)
Any of these combinations are absolutely lit. Dustin and Conor are set to square off in a couple of months, which is the #1 contender fight. The winner will likely be Oliveira’s first title defense. Chandler/Gaethje would be an absolute slugfest. As would Dariush/Gaethje. RDA and Hooker are still hanging in there. Personally, the guy I think to watch is Makhachev. As Khabib’s protégé, he’s an absolute animal and loves to be active. Don’t be surprised at all if this kid is fighting for the title within a matter of months.
5. Crowds. Are. Back!
Holy hell it was loud in the Toyota Center. After watching MMA events in empty arenas for the past year, it seemed like such a foreign sound to hear that crowd roar. But damn, was it welcoming. I’ll leave it to the Washington Post to describe the crowd’s desperation:
“Two days after federal health officials rescinded most masking and distancing recommendations for fully vaccinated Americans, more than 16,000 fans packed Toyota Center for UFC 262 on Saturday, nearly filling the arena for the first time in a year and attracting fans across state lines in search of a full-capacity event to relieve their pandemic fatigue.”
And not surprisingly, the UFC ended up doing record-breakingly well at the gate for 262.
All appears to be well and good in the United States, where crowds are routinely starting to file back into arenas and stadiums. I can’t lie, I’m envious. If Canada could just get its shit together, I for one, could stand to see some blood, sweat, and tears in person.