UFC president Dana White has become extremely committed to being non-committal on future matchups the night of an event.
These days, when White gets asked about a division’s landscape, the phrases, We’ll see how it plays out and We’ll figure it out at our matchmaking meeting next week have become reliable responses. Sometimes, he’ll even throw an I have no idea in for good measure.
So, what’s truly next for the UFC’s lightweight division, following Charles Oliveira‘s sensational win against Beneil Dariush at UFC 289? It’s a heck of a discussion. Here are some burning questions about arguably the UFC’s premiere weight class, including a look at The Ultimate Fighter coaches and how they fit in the mix.
Who’s next for Islam Makhachev?
Right now, the front-runner is Oliveira. Despite White’s refusal to commit to anything, even he couldn’t deny that Makhachev vs. Oliveira makes sense. He even said he’d be excited to see that rematch (Oliveira lost to Makhachev in October).
Oliveira is not, however, the only option. Far from it.
Dustin Poirier faces Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC 291 on July 29, in a rematch of a fight from 2018. Neither Poirier nor Gaethje has fought Makhachev yet, and the winner will (deservedly) call for a title shot. Even if that doesn’t happen immediately, I suspect the winner will sit and wait for a title shot, even if it means not fighting again in 2023.
There’s also Alexander Volkanovski, who will look to defend his featherweight title against interim champion Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290 on July 8. Volkanovski lost to Makhachev in a very closely contested title fight in February. As long as he beats Rodriguez, I would make Volkanovski the favorite to face Makhachev next. The first fight was brilliant, and Volkanovski has a massive platform on July 8 to make a statement, headlining the UFC’s International Fight Week. If he takes care of business and knocks his post-fight speech out of the park, I’m guessing we’ll see that fight again.
How do Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler fit in?
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They don’t. Not right now. Whenever the fight happens, they will certainly factor in. But right now, it’s fair to question whether that fight will happen at all. McGregor keeps saying he’s going to enter the mandatory drug testing pool with USADA — and yet, one day goes by after another without official confirmation that he’s done so. He needs to be in that testing pool for six months before he’s clear to fight. That already puts us in December. How can anyone be even slightly confident that the fight will happen in 2023?
Again, when it does happen, all bets are off on how it might impact the division. Especially if McGregor were to win and demand a title shot, it would be outrageous to suggest the UFC wouldn’t consider it. McGregor wouldn’t have earned a title shot at all, but the UFC is a business, as we all know, and a McGregor title fight is good for business. But this fight is so far off at the moment and not even a real thing, it’s pointless to speculate how McGregor fits into a division in which he is 0-3 since 2017.
Where does Beneil Dariush fit in, following a disappointing loss to Oliveira?
This was a tough loss for Dariush. He did everything the company asked of him (and then some) during an eight-fight win streak. Sources say he had a brutal weight cut leading into UFC 289, which might have impacted his performance. Maybe, maybe not. While we can’t take anything away from Oliveira, obviously, it’s still hard not to feel for Dariush who has still never fought for a UFC championship.
If we know one thing about Dariush, he likely won’t sit around and lick his wounds for too long. He’ll be looking for a fight relatively soon, and the UFC will probably use his situation as an opportunity to give a chance to some of the new blood of this division to fight a highly-ranked opponent. That new blood includes …
Keep an eye on these names for the rest of the year:
Rafael Fiziev. Fiziev missed a big chance in April to collect a win against Gaethje, but if he learns from that experience and comes back a better version than he went in, there is still champion-level potential here. He’s ready to accept a fight, sources say, but the UFC has yet to come to him with a plan.
Jalin Turner. Turner suffered his first loss since 2019 earlier this year, in a split decision against another darkhorse of the division, Mateusz Gamrot. The UFC is high on his potential, though, as evidenced by his booking a matchup against fan favorite Dan Hooker on July 8. Turner wins that, and the promotion will likely look for another opportunity to showcase his progress.
Chasing Islam Makhachev: How the world’s top lightweights can get (back) in the title mix