Matches to make: Sorting out the lightweight division after UFC 274
It's an interesting time for the UFC lightweight division, long considered to be the creme de la creme of MMA weight classes.
The title is once again vacant following Charles Oliveira's unfortunate weight miss and thrilling first-round submission of Justin Gaethje at UFC 274 this past weekend.
UFC president Dana White already said Oliveira will fight for the vacant belt in his next bout. But whom should "Do Bronx" face? And what other fights should be booked at the top of the division? Let's try to sort through the chaos. Here are three matchups the promotion should consider.
Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
There's been some talk of Conor McGregor getting the title shot against Oliveira. Of course, a lot of that has to do with Oliveira mentioning McGregor in his postfight interview. And who can blame him? He knows it's a money fight - and a winnable one, too.
That said, Makhachev is the no-brainer choice. Each time he fights, people talk about him as the uncrowned king of the lightweight division - he's that good, and it's time to find out if he's indeed the best. A protege and training partner of retired former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev has won 10 in a row and has only lost once in the UFC (back in 2015).
On paper, Oliveira's grappling makes him the toughest matchup for Makhachev, and Makhachev's wrestling makes him the toughest matchup for Oliveira. It would be an incredible fight to watch.
Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier 2
Gaethje and Poirier's last meeting was one of the best fights of 2018. A rematch would produce just as many fireworks, and this is a great time for it to happen.
Gaethje and Poirier are both coming off losses to Oliveira in title fights and need to get back on track. However, they are still the first- and second-ranked fighters in the division, respectively. A win would put one of them right back into title contention, while the other would fall off a bit and have to fight someone lower down in the top 10.
This would also ensure that fighters who have yet to challenge for UFC gold - like Beneil Dariush and Rafael Fiziev - have a better chance of receiving that opportunity.
Beneil Dariush vs. Michael Chandler
Dariush-Chandler might not be as obvious as the other two matchups. But these are two top-five lightweights who are both coming off wins and are one or two victories away from a title shot. So it makes sense to pair them up.
Chandler called for either a title shot or a fight with McGregor after he knocked out Tony Ferguson at UFC 274. Unfortunately for him, the first option likely won't happen. Chandler lost to Oliveira in a vacant title bout in May 2021 and is 1-1 since. There's no need for the UFC to run that fight back so soon.
The McGregor matchup is more realistic - and it would no doubt be in Chandler's best interests to accept a fight with the Irishman over Dariush - but McGregor isn't ready to return and is still unsure whether he wants to compete at lightweight or welterweight. Until we know what McGregor's plans are, Chandler against Dariush is the fight to make.