Pre-fight Analysis

What to do with the Lightweight Division

Image for What to do with the Lightweight Division

The division of superstars, UFC’s lightweight division is a bit stagnant since Conor McGregor re-emerged from the injury he suffered in a loss versus fellow star Dustin Poirier. Add in Alexander Volkanovski’s quest for legacy-defining double champ status and the UFC has quite a situation on their hands. 

In an attempt to bring clarity to the situation, we will assess the contenders and their positions within the title picture. 

Our assessment will categorize them into four groups: “Title Ready,” “One Quality Win Away,” “Work to Do,” and “Extenuating Circumstances.” By doing so, we hope to provide a comprehensive overview of the division’s current landscape.

Title Ready – Just need an opponent and a date

One Quality Win Away – One signature win from being placed in the title fight 

Got Some Work to Do – Two or more fights from a chance at the belt

Extenuating Circumstances – Obstacles outside their control are preventing them from making strides toward a championship

Title Ready

Islam Makhachev Champion (24-1)

  • Islam Makhachev is clearly title-ready as he is the reigning defending champion.  Anticipation is building as he readies himself to defend his belt on October 21st in Abu Dhabi, where he will face off once more against the former champion, Charles Oliveira, in an eagerly awaited rematch
  • Dirty Secret:  Only 3 wins over current fighters in the top 15 and no title defences against ranked lightweights
  • Potential matchup: Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira on 10/21

Charles Oliveira #1 (34-9)

  • ‘Do Bronx,’ fulfilled his duty by defeating the surging Beneil Dariush at UFC 289, with a title shot at stake. He showcased his supremacy across all aspects of the fight, solidifying his status as a legendary fighter capable of thriving under pressure. Now, as he enters a highly anticipated rematch against Makhachev, it’s a test not only of his own skills but also of his team’s ability to strategize for victory
  • Dirty Secret: Only 3 wins over current fighters in the top 15 and no title defenses against ranked lightweights
  • Potential matchup: Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev on 10/21

Justin Gaethje #2 (26-4)

  • This one is straightforward, as the UFC has already set this plan into action. While we don’t expect Gaethje to opt for the backup fighter role, it’s confirmed that he will square off against the victor of the Oliveira vs. Makhachev showdown
  • Dirty Secret: Has the calculated sniper version of Gaethje addressed the grappling prowess of his potential future opponents?  
  • Potential matchup: Gaethje vs. Oliveira-Makhachev winner 

One Quality Win Away

Dustin Poirier #3 (29-8)

  • UFC 291 turned into a nightmarish event for ‘El Diamante.’ In Salt Lake City, now humorously dubbed ‘Head Kick City,’ he witnessed Justin Gaethje snatching both a title shot and the coveted BMF belt with one spectacular kick. Despite this devastating setback, his star power and standing within the division place him at a critical juncture. While he’s not thrilled about facing rising prospects that fail to ignite his competitive fire, he also finds himself just on the outskirts of the title contention. He’s now compelled to reevaluate his ambitions within the division before making his next opponent selection.  He’s earned the right to take his time before a decision must be made
  • Dirty Secret:  3-2 in his last 5 fights.
  • Potential matchup: Poirier vs. Fiziev against Gamrot winner

Michael Chandler #5 (23-8)

  • “Red Panty Night” isn’t what it used to be. Michael Chandler found himself in the role of an observer, relegated to the sidelines as the division progressed while he coached The Ultimate Fighter against a non-USADA-approved, Conor McGregor. Although facing off against the sport’s biggest superstar holds financial and divisional benefits, this delay has temporarily taken him out of the immediate title contention. However, a single dazzling finish could swiftly catapult him back into the title mix
  • Dirty Secret:  Hasn’t fought in over 280 days (and counting) 
  • Potential matchup: Chandler vs. Conor McGregor (Sometime in 2024)

Conor McGregor Unranked (22-6)

  • Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Conor McGregor has consistently remained just one victory away from contending for a championship, although the passage of time has been slowly closing that title window. At 35 years old, he’s been absent from the octagon for over two years and the last time he won inside the octagon was before any of us knew what a mask mandate was.  Any other fighter with such a record would be nowhere near the title picture. However, McGregor’s enduring relationship with the UFC and his uncanny ability to drive pay-per-view sales mean that you can never entirely discount his chances. Conor is likely to remain just one fight away from the title until he chooses to step away himself
  • Dirty Secret: No fighter has returned from a similar injury and looked remotely the same
  • Potential matchup: McGregor vs. USADA (and then Michael Chandler)

Got Some Work to Do

Beneil Dariush #4 (22-5-1)

  • Oh, Benny, what a tough break. Beneil Dariush was just one victory away from securing that coveted title shot, but he collided with a prepared and highly motivated Charles Oliveira at UFC 289. Unfortunately, that loss sent his stock plummeting. Now, Dariush faces the demanding task of stringing together quality wins to reestablish himself as a legitimate contender. While you might assume that a fighter in the top five would be merely one fight away from a championship opportunity, it appears he may need to impress with two solid performances. This is partly due to his previous performance against Oliveira and his relative lack of star power, which makes it imperative for him to deliver standout showings.  The task is simple: beat a top-10 opponent, then beat a top-five opponent
  • Dirty Secret:  Is he not a big-fight performer?  
  • Potential matchup: Dariush vs. Arman Tsarukyan 

Rafael Fiziev #6 (12-2)

  • Rafael Fiziev undeniably ranks among the division’s most electrifying fighters, thanks to his captivating Muay Thai technique and remarkable speed. Despite landing on the unfavourable side of a majority decision against Justin Gaethje at UFC 286, Fiziev left a lasting impression with his standout moments in the fight. This performance solidified his place among the elite in the lightweight division, clearly demonstrating his rightful spot in the upper echelon. With just two solid victories, he could find himself poised at the doorstep of a title shot
  • Dirty Secret:  We should find this out in his next fight, but how will he impose his will against grappling heavy elite fighters?
  • Potential matchup: Fiziev vs. Mateusz Gamrot on 9/23 

Mateusz Gamrot #7 (22-2)

  • Mateusz Gamrot embodies his nickname, “Gamer,” to the fullest extent. In his recent clash with Jalin Turner, he tenaciously executed his game plan despite facing an opponent with evident physical advantages, ultimately securing a hard-fought split-decision victory. While he fell short in a contest against Beneil Dariush, Gamrot remains committed to his slow and steady ascent through the rankings. By seamlessly melding his elite wrestling skills and enduring cardio with ongoing improvements in his striking, he appears poised to make a significant impact on the title race sooner rather than later, provided he can string together a few crucial victories
  • Dirty Secret:  No fighter has returned from a similar injury and looked remotely the same
  • Potential matchup: Gamrot vs. Rafael Fiziev on 9/23

Extenuating Circumstances

Alex Volkanovski Champion-FW (26-2)

  • Volkanovski currently finds himself in an enviable position, boasting ready-made opportunities in two weight divisions. He can opt to maintain his unquestioned supremacy at featherweight, a realm where he seems unparalleled. Alternatively, he can continue to bang the drum for a rematch against Islam Makhachev, a quest fueled by their tightly contested showdown at UFC 284. Volkanovski has openly expressed his desire to step into the octagon before the year’s end. However, with the main event slots for all numbered events already claimed, it appears his choices have narrowed. His immediate options seem to be defending his belt against Illia Toporia in December or awaiting a clash with the victor of the Makhachev vs. Oliveira showdown early next year
  • Dirty Secret: Not really a secret, the ruptured achilles rehab road is long and arduous.
  • Potential matchup: Volkanovski vs. Illia Toporia

Share this article

Antwyn Jackson is a freelance writer hailing from Dallas, TX. He holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Texas. His fascination with MMA was ignited during the WEC days, watching legends like Urijah Faber and Donald Cerrone. With a background as a feature writer for Bleacher Report, Antwyn currently shines as the host of the up and coming show, Making the Walk MMA on Youtube. In 2023, he joined the esteemed MMA Sucka family. When he's not immersed in the world of combat sports, Antwyn enjoys indulging in his passion for music and other sports such as basketball, football, and track. Stay connected with him on Twitter @walk_mma, Instagram, and on YouTube through Making the Walk MMA.

Leave a comment