Dana White has finally thrown in the towel on his stance to try convincing undefeated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) out of retirement for one more fight, with ESPN reports confirming an in-form Charles Oliveira (#3) will next face three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler (#4) in the UFC 262 headliner on May 15 for a vacant belt.
It’s not former interim champions Dustin Poirier (#1), nor Justin Gaethje (#2) but after Khabib’s retirement was finally been set in stone by Dana on social media overnight, the promotion wasted no time determining who was next for a vacant lightweight strap in two months’ time.
Oliveira, who is on an eight-fight win streak and recently dominated Tony Ferguson (#5) at UFC 256, has been vocal about deserving a title shot – something that has eluded his grasp during a challenging 11-year tenure with the promotion.
Chandler by contrast, was a free agent after a first-round knockout win over former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at Bellator 243 last August.
“Let’s go get that title shot soon. There’s a new king of the lightweight division. See you at the top.” – Chandler post-fight after his R1 KO win over Hooker
Those words have proven prophetic, as Poirier appears focused on securing a Conor McGregor trilogy fight at some stage this summer and revealed he wasn’t enthused about the idea of facing Chandler until he had more Octagon experience first.
It leaves Gaethje in the lurch waiting awkwardly, as the entire top-10 are arguably booked besides him and more low-ranked, high-risk fight options. Rafael dos Anjos (#7), Hooker (#8) and Paul Felder (#10) don’t do anything for him besides more activity, having stressed his eagerness to fight regularly even after losing to Khabib on October 24. At the time, he said:
“I fight for a living, the best thing about getting choked out is, there’s nothing consequential to your health. I’m in good shape and don’t want to get fat at home – six-to-eight weeks [then I’m ready].”
We’ll have to see whether he sits patiently or targets one of the aforementioned trio next.
UFC 262 card, as it stands
Lightweight championship: Charles Oliveira (#3) vs Michael Chandler (#4)
Lightweight: Tony Ferguson (#5) vs Beneil Dariush (#9)
Women’s flyweight: Katlyn Chookagian (#2) vs Viviane Araújo (#7)
Flyweight: Alex Perez (#4) vs Matt Schnell (#8)
Featherweight: Edson Barboza (#14) vs Shane Burgos (#12)
Women’s flyweight: Andrea Lee (#11) vs Antonina Shevchenko (#12)
Middleweight: Jordan Wright vs Jamie Pickett
Lightweight: Christos Giagos vs Joel Álvarez
Women’s flyweight: Priscila Cachoeira vs Gina Mazany
Elsewhere, two big bantamweight bouts revealed
Dillashaw’s long-awaited return comes vs. in-form Sandhagen
Former UFC bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw (16-4), will make his long-awaited return to action on May 8 against #2 ranked contender Cory Sandhagen (14-2). Contracts have not yet been signed, though both have agreed to what will be a five-round main event matchup.
Sandhagen has earned Performance of the Night knockouts of Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar while revealing his willingness to face TJ during his post-fight interview back in October.
“The only other guys with an argument [in the title picture] are TJ when he gets back in January and Frankie [Edgar].
All the respect to both of those guys but I want that belt, those are the only two ahead of me, then I want the winner of Yan-Sterling.”
He needed just 28 seconds to KO Edgar with a nasty flying knee last month, while Dillashaw hasn’t been seen since his unsuccessful attempt to become the first champion in UFC history to move down in weight and win a second title.
After suffering a TKO defeat by Henry Cejudo in 32 seconds, the 35-year-old relinquished his 135-pound strap after USADA served him with a two-year suspension having tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO), which he took knowingly to ease his weight loss.
The pair have previously trained together in Denver, where Sandhagen currently lives and trains with Elevation.
former champ Garbrandt takes on rising contender Font
As well as Sandhagen-Dillashaw, another bantamweight main event takes place a fortnight later on May 22 between former champion Cody Garbrandt (#4) and rising contender Rob Font (#3).
Just like the aforementioned bout, contracts have not yet been signed but multiple sources told ESPN overnight that this is imminent.
Garbrandt (12-3) ended a three-fight skid against Raphael Assuncao with a beautiful one-punch knockout at UFC 250 last June and was scheduled to move down in weight, challenging flyweight Deiveson Figueiredo for the flyweight championship five months later but had to withdraw in early October after tearing his bicep, among other health-related reasons.
Figueiredo (20-1-1) faces Brandon Moreno (18-5-2) in a title fight rematch at UFC 263 on June 12, after they fought to a majority draw last December.
While Garbrandt hasn’t completely abandoned those plans to drop down to 125 pounds, he appears focused on remaining at 135 right now – even with the Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan battle far from over after their controversial finish on March 6 saw a new champion crowned.
As for Font (18-4), he flew up the divisional rankings with a first-round KO vs. Moraes in December and is enjoying a three-fight win streak, beating Sergio Pettis (now at Bellator) and Ricky Simon – now fighting at featherweight, easing past Brian Kelleher at UFC 258 last month.
Pictures source: MMA Junkie, Getty