We’re on the cusp of a certain change of pace at lightweight, as well as an entirely new era within the division’s top five contenders. For the past three years and change, Khabib Nurmagomedov personified dominance amongst his divisional peers, however, with the eagle firmly taking his final flight last October on ‘Fight Island’ — the door remains open for either Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira or ‘Iron’ Michael Chandler to create, or at least attempt to forge their own respective period of prolonged success at 155lbs. And that era could very well begin this weekend at UFC 262.
There’s rarely been a submission artist over the last five or so years at lightweight that’s gained such acclaim, and deservedly so as the #3 rated contender, Charles Oliveira.
It’s taken quite a lengthy period for onlookers to warm to the Sao Paulo native, although it has to be said, it’s taken him quite a lengthy period to reach that level where he’s to be considered a potential future champion.
Oliveira has always been supremely talented and almost gifted with his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ability, particularly offensively, but even back to and particularly during his featherweight days, questions could be asked of his willingness to deal with adversity. And when forced to deal with that distress, Oliveira, would more often than not wilt whether that be from pressure or a self-douting force that took a foothold in his often diminishing performances.
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The Diego Lima Chute Boxe mainstay has gone on a splendid undefeated streak of eight fights — the current longest run in the division, and despite the early gulf in competition between himself and opponents on that run, Oliveira firmly earned his championship tilt with a pair of really eye-catching performances over the last year.
Returning to his home country in March of 2020, Oliveira headlined UFC Fight Night Brasilia against one-time interim title challenger, Kevin Lee. Regardless of current or recent form, Lee, on his day can turn in quite the impressive performance, however, he didn’t really ever appear comfortable when tasked with mitigating the wicked guard of Oliveira.
Eventually succumbing to a third round guillotine, despite protests — the writing was on the wall for Lee throughout the majority of the fight, with Oliveira threatening constantly with both armbar and triangle attempts from his back.
Fast-moving through the ranks — leap forward to December at UFC 256, where he tackles former interim titleholder, Tony Ferguson, in arguably the most high-profile fight of his UFC run. Ferguson had just suffered a punishing, and quite frightening fifth round knockout loss to Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 in April — resulting in the snapping of his division-tying twelve-fight undefeated run.
Ferguson himself is known as a highly-proficient Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, particularly from his back, and with his ability to ‘snap down’ his opponents in a bid to set up brabos, d’arces, and anacondas — tangling with the Oxnard native rarely proves worthwhile.
Although forced to the judges’ scorecards against Ferguson, the way in which Oliveira truly dismantled the former interim titleholder on the ground was breathtaking. It was flowy, loose, and very, very creative grappling from Oliveira which seen him control Ferguson over the course of three rounds. As far as championship challenge earning performances go, you can’t ask for much more from Oliveira than the display he turned in.
Just four months removed from his long-awaited and much-speculated UFC bow, former three-time Bellator lightweight best, Michael Chandler himself made arguably the biggest impression upon his debut that we’ve seen in recent years from transitioning fighters.
Spending a whopping ten years under the Bellator MMA banner, Chandler achieved unrivaled success as a lightweight in the organization, scoring the undisputed lightweight championship on three separate occasions. However, for many years — the question would arise; how would Michael Chandler fair under the UFC’s banner?
And as far as promotional bow opponents go, it doesn’t get more tasking than Kiwi striking ace, Dan Hooker. Sure, the City Kickboxing mainstay suffered a unanimous decision loss to another former interim champion, Dustin Poirier last summer, but he most definitely caused the Lafayette native some concern throughout.
Chandler brings with him a collegiate wrestling background in every sense of the word traditional, and with his ability to scramble with the best of them, as well as uncork meaningful shots akin to what we witnessed against Hooker with either hand, a pressing style could serve him well against the similarly lengthy Oliveira.
Making some real improvement to his overall striking game since his return to lightweight, Oliveira has tightened up his boxing tremendously, as well as adding some notable kicks, both conventional and incorporating spins with his polished Muay Thai background.
Oliveira is also hugely potent with his forward movement and pressure, stalking opponents with not so much high, volume-based output, but more so with his ability to fight extremely lengthy behind a jab like the aforenoted, Ferguson, as well as utilizing kicks.
Of note, Chandler found himself on the receiving end of some punishing calf kicks from the right leg of Hooker to his lead left, with the last strike in particular landing just behind Chandler’s knee — resulting in a notable jerk to his step. His well-documented struggle with the leg attacks construed by Brent Primus makes his ability to absorb Oliveira’s potential leg attacks very important.
Whilst Oliveira is the more creative and dynamic of the two in regards to natural striking prowess, Chandler is going to tip the scales in his favour in regards to power with either hand against the majority of the lightweight division undoubtedly. Oliveira’s forward pressure must come with some caution as a result of that power, with Chandler capable of countering with much more pump behind his shots than Oliveira.
To the naked eye, it would appear that the fact Oliveira is the most prolific submission artist in UFC history with eleven separate submission successes, the clear path to victory comes with him utilizing a similar game plan that he did to stop Lee and suppress Ferguson. However, for all of Oliveira’s grappling ability, Chandler, whilst not within touching distance of the Brazilian’s prowess — and let’s face it, few are, he’s got his fair share of notable scrambling ability.
Chandler’s got championship pedigree in abundance which Oliveira simply hasn’t got, and that is simply undeniable. Whether that past championship experience will play a factor in this weekend’s title tilt remains to be seen, but after some major deliberation, I’m hedging my bets that Chandler can find that target and manage to switch Oliveira’s master switch off in similar fashion to how he managed to bullrush Hooker, although not in as timely a fashion.
Prediction: Michael Chandler def. Charles Oliveira via second round TKO
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.
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