With Khabib Nurmagomedov retiring after defending his title for a third time when he defeated Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, the lightweight belt now sits vacant. This weekend, at UFC 262, that belt will find a new home.
Submission ace Charles Oliveira takes on former Bellator kingpin Michael Chandler in the main event to determine a new champion. Oliveira enters the fight as the UFC’s all-time leader in submission victories with 14, and he is also riding an eight-fight winning streak. Chandler earned this title opportunity with an impressive Octagon debut in which he scored a first-round knockout victory over Dan Hooker.
The co-headliner is another clash between all-action lightweights. Former interim champ Tony Ferguson meets the hard-charging Beneil Dariush. After rattling off 12 straight victories in the UFC’s deepest division, Ferguson has fallen on hard times with two consecutive losses. He has a tough task ahead of him in Dariush, who is on a six-fight winning streak with four performance bonuses in that stretch.
Seventh-ranked Viviane Araujo also lands on the pay-per-view card as she looks to move into the flyweight top five with a victory over the current No. 2-ranked fighter Katlyn Chookagian.
Two additional bouts round out the remainder of the main card. Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza, a pair of ranked featherweights with a propensity for violence, are slated to throw down. Meanwhile, the pay-per-view portion of the show opens with a can’t-miss affair between flyweights Matt Schnell and Rogério Bontorin.
UFC 262 takes place in front of a capacity crowd inside the Toyota Center in Houston. The early prelims air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the televised prelims on ESPN and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. From there, the action shifts to pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov now officially retired, Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler vie for the vacant lightweight title. Who walks away with the belt, and how do they secure the win?
Sumian: Despite the UFC’s commitment in moving the division along, it is somewhat difficult to rally behind this fight when it does not include any of the three best lightweights in the world — Nurmagomedov, Dustin Poirier or Justin Gaethje. This bout was put together out of necessity so that the new champ will be ready to face the winner of the July 10 trilogy fight between Poirier and Conor McGregor. Now, in no way is this a knock on Chandler or Oliveira. They are merely taking advantage of the situation, in which the winner eventually secures a highly lucrative pay-per-view spot.
Outside of a bizarre leg injury and a first-round knockout loss to the greatest Bellator fighter of all time, Chandler has been close to perfect since June 2015. He has compiled a 10-2 record in the time since then, while also becoming a two-time Bellator lightweight champ. The Missouri native inarguably established himself as one of the most well-rounded Bellator competitors, with many fans and media outlets questioning just how well he would compete if he ever crossed to the UFC.
Those people got their answer in January when Chandler erased all doubts by delivering a devastating first-round knockout over top-five lightweight Dan Hooker. Fresh off that first UFC victory and currently riding a three-fight knockout streak, Chandler now has the opportunity to be the new face of the UFC’s lightweight division.
In present-day MMA competition — and especially in the UFC — it is incredibly difficult to compile a lengthy winning streak. Despite all odds, Oliveira did just that with seven straight finishes before plundering Tony Ferguson in December for a unanimous nod. The Brazilian has always been considered a top talent in the UFC, but he was unfortunately always derailed after garnering some momentum. Many would have considered the 31-year-old Oliveira’s best days to be behind him after competing in the UFC for over a decade, but the third-ranked lightweight is now in the biggest fight of his life with the opportunity to finally capture UFC gold.
Despite both competitors earning a spot in this showdown, their respective strength of schedule is somewhat questionable. Oliveira’s winning streak mainly consists of mid-level competition like Jared Gordon, Clay Guida, David Teymur and Jim Miller. The Brazilian’s biggest wins came at the expense of Kevin Lee and the aforementioned Ferguson. Meanwhile, Chandler holds the most notable victory of their combined UFC careers with his knockout of Hooker.
Oliveira’s strength is in his ability to pressure his opponent with his craftiness and length in an effort to eventually secure a takedown. He then uses his slick grappling to constantly improve position and fire off powerful strikes from the top. The Brazilian is capable of doing this consistently round after round before forcing his opponent into making a mistake that opens up a submission opportunity.
Chandler is certainly capable of taking down his opponent as well. He has an extensive wrestling background, but he has recently favored the use of his immense power in knocking out his opponents cold. The former Bellator champ possesses one of the most powerful overhands in MMA today, and he will certainly try to land it against the taller Oliveira while negating the Brazilian’s offensive grappling.
After a back-and-forth two rounds that showcase both competitors constantly moving and pressuring each other into making mistakes, Chandler will land a power punch, much like he did against Hooker, and send Oliveira to the canvas and into defense mode in round three. Chandler will swiftly follow Oliveira to the ground, where he will fire off several powerful follow-up punches that force the referee to step in and save Oliveira. Chandler will become the new lightweight champion.
Petela: The edge in power certainly goes to Chandler. He is more than capable of landing a fight-changing punch at any moment, too. However, that will not happen this weekend.
The aforementioned Hooker found out the hard way that there is no feeling-out period when you are standing in the cage opposite Chandler. The former Bellator kingpin starts fast and gets to work early. He can easily overwhelm an opponent who is looking to establish a methodical pace to open the fight.
Oliveira, however, won’t be caught off guard and will instead use the forward pressure of Chandler to his advantage. The Brazilian will slip an early overhand right from Chandler and duck under to put the standout collegiate wrestler in the last place he wants to be: flat on his back.
It won’t be an early finish for Oliveira, though. Chandler will get back to his feet eventually and avoid taking too much heavy damage. Ultimately, that will be the pattern of the night: Chandler swings and misses; Oliveira gets a takedown; and Chandler explodes back to his feet.
By the championship rounds, both men will have their cardio tested. Oliveira will be on top late in the fight, where he will be able to take Chandler’s back and sink in another record-breaking submission. The Brazilian will become the first man to submit Chandler.
This Saturday is coronation night for the new Brazilian king of the lightweight division.
The co-headliner is another lightweight affair, this one featuring perennial contender Tony Ferguson and rising star Beneil Dariush. Will Dariush cement his standing as a top 155-pounder on Saturday?
Petela: Well, he will pick up a win, but it is hard to determine how much weight that will carry since he is taking on a less-than-prime version of Ferguson. In his past two outings, both losses, Ferguson hasn’t looked like the same “El Cucuy” who once terrorized the lightweight division. While he had his moments in a TKO loss to Justin Gaethje, the lopsided defeat at the hands of Charles Oliveira seemed to suggest that the magic was gone.
Dariush will be able to replicate a lot of the grappling success that Oliveira had against Ferguson, as well as some of the precision striking that Gaethje demonstrated. This fight will be the final chapter of Ferguson’s career as one of the best lightweights on the planet, while Dariush will find himself matched up against a top-five contender in his next outing. However, the question will remain heading into that fight whether or not he can compete and beat the very best of the best.
Sumian: Despite it being incredibly difficult to believe, Ferguson has made a convincing claim of resurgence after suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in his UFC career. The former interim lightweight champ has called those losses valuable learning experiences and claims to feel little pressure in his upcoming bout against the rising Dariush.
Due to his impeccable resume and willingness to fight anybody throughout his UFC career, Ferguson is in no danger of being cut by the UFC if he suffers a loss to Dariush. The former top-ranked lightweight will still have enough juice to stick around, which gives him the flexibility to return to his wild ways and deliver a vintage performance.
In all likelihood, the majority of pundits and fans will pick Dariush to swiftly dispatch Ferguson. However, Ferguson has undoubtedly fought stiffer competition throughout his career. Dariush’s most high-profile win came by way of split decision against Diego Ferreira, who just lost to Gregor Gillespie and missed weight by more than four pounds. Dariush has yet to defeat a top-10 lightweight and has much to prove prior to being considered a threat to the lightweight crown.
Ferguson will connect with Dariush’s chin and deliver a second-round TKO. He is far from done, ladies and gentlemen.
Tucker Lutz — do we need to know this name?
Sumian: Absolutely. The Baltimore native is a powerful, well-rounded featherweight who makes his UFC debut after compiling an 11-1 record. Lutz has not suffered a defeat since his pro debut and most recently turned in two unanimous decision victories on Dana White’s Contender Series. The 26-year-old prospect meets Kevin Aguilar, who is currently on a three-fight skid after previously compiling a nine-fight winning streak. Lutz will turn in another unanimous nod for his Octagon debut.
Petela: Agreed. “Top Gun” trains out of Ground Control MMA and has been one of the best prospects in the Mid-Atlantic region for a number of years. The Reisterstown, Md., resident showed why in those two wins on the Contender Series. He will roll successfully into his UFC career with another victory this weekend. The Shogun Fights staple will make waves on the big stage and is definitely a fighter to watch over the next couple years.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 262?
Petela: Beneil Dariush. Not only will he defeat Tony Ferguson, but he will do something that Charles Oliveira couldn’t and submit the 10th Planet standout. The early portion of this fight will largely be contested on the feet, where Dariush will get the better of the striking. In the third frame, Ferguson will be forced to get even more unconventional than normal and attempt something like an Imanari roll. It will backfire, though, and leave Dariush in a dominant position where a battered Ferguson will likely be choked unconscious. It will be the biggest win of Dariush’s career.
Sumian: Michael Chandler. He is marketable, talented and inarguably one of the best additions to the UFC roster in recent memory. He will be crowned as the new lightweight champion, after which he will take to the microphone and confidently call out Conor McGregor and set up the biggest lightweight title fight in UFC history since Khabib Nurmagomedov fought McGregor. If McGregor loses to Dustin Poirier, then Chandler will book an equally compelling fight against Poirier. The sky’s the limit for the UFC’s latest addition.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 262?
Sumian: Katlyn Chookagian. The former title challenger has undoubtedly remained among the top flyweights, but she will drop a unanimous decision to the rising Viviane Araujo. Chookagian is a staple in the division, but it will take a number of impressive victories for her to earn another title shot after the one-sided nature of her title bout against Valentina Shevchenko.
Petela: Tony Ferguson. This will be the third straight loss for the former interim champion. While he is not at risk of being cut by the UFC, his days as a top-tier contender are over. Time and time again, we see elite fighters who are unable to accept that the glory days are gone. They take unnecessary damage in the latter stages of their career. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is one recent prime example. Ferguson will once again show that he is too tough for his own good and wind up taking punishment from which he will never fully recover.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. He is in danger of losing his fourth straight fight when he squares off against André Muniz. Jacare already finds himself in a strange position here: he’s fighting on the prelims. The Brazilian is 41 years old, and we have seen the UFC cut ties with a number of aging veterans recently whom the company no longer considers to be real contenders and yet who nevertheless have high price tags. A loss this weekend will mark the end of the jiu-jitsu legend’s UFC tenure.
Sumian: Andrea Lee. The former top-10 flyweight is on a three-fight skid as she’s set to face the always-dangerous Antonia Shevchenko. Shevchenko is coming off a second-round knockout of Ariane Lipski. Lee is in desperate need of a victory if she wants to convince the UFC to keep her around.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: The slugfest between Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza is going to steal the show. Both of these exciting featherweights will stand and trade for as long as the fight lasts. It will be an incredibly entertaining clash to kick off the main card, and it has “Fight of the Night” written all over it.
Petela: The flyweight contest between Matt Schnell and Rogério Bontorin. Anytime the flyweights fight, it’s can’t-miss action. These two men in particular really bring the action. In Schnell’s last fight against Tyson Nam, the Louisianan was able to come away with a victory in a back-and-forth affair against the hard-hitting Hawaiian. Despite consecutive setbacks, Bontorin is a huge threat to anyone at 125 pounds, thanks to his ability to secure submissions. He will test Schnell’s grappling this weekend. You don’t want to miss this prelim.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Shane Burgos. His featherweight clash with Edson Barboza is going to be a fun one. Burgos has won three “Fight of the Night” bonuses, twice in defeat and once in a winning effort. This time out, he will secure a finish late in the fight and add a knockout victory to his highlight reel. He’ll also collect a bonus as he reasserts himself as a legitimate threat at 145 pounds.
Sumian: Tony Ferguson. A stunning finish over the surging Beneil Dariush will remind fans and the UFC why he is nowhere near done. There are still a number of exciting match-ups for Ferguson to partake in and solidify his legacy.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: A final farewell to Khabib Nurmagomedov, and a big hello to the remaining lightweights. The UFC and its fans can officially call it the end to the UFC’s greatest lightweight champion of all time. The division will now move on with a new titleholder and, in all likelihood, an era of more entertaining championship fights now that the dominance and superiority of Khabib is no longer present. It’ll be a big year for lightweights, with the likes of Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor battling it out for supremacy.
Petela: Heineken Light. Four of the best lightweights on the planet feature prominently on this card, so why not enjoy it with the greatest light beer on the planet? My personal recommendation is to add a slice of lemon into each bottle when you open it to make it all the more refreshing.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LW Championship: Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler
LW: Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush
Women’s FlyW: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo
FW: Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza
FlyW: Matt Schnell vs. Rogério Bontorin
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
MW: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. André Muniz
FW: Mike Grundy vs. Lando Vannata
Women’s FlyW: Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko
MW: Jamie Pickett vs. Jordan Wright
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW: Gina Mazany vs. Priscila Cachoeira
LW: Kevin Aguilar vs. Tucker Lutz
LW: Sean Soriano vs. Christos Giagos
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