For the first time since April 2018, the UFC will crown a new lightweight champion on Saturday when former Bellator titleholder Michael Chandler battles Charles Oliviera in the main event of UFC 262. As former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov moved on to his retirement, so should the division and that’s why Justin Gaethje should be the next title challenger.
Michael Chandler vs Charles Oliveira for vacant lightweight title tops #UFC262 this weekend
— FIGHTMAG (@fightmag) May 10, 2021
Why Gaethje makes sense
Gaethje (22-2) hasn’t competed since his submission loss to Nuragomedov in their unification bout in October at UFC 254. The former interim champion has been patiently waiting on the sidelines for his next opponent and noted that it needed to be the ‘right fight.
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) April 13, 2021
Normally, I don’t like seeing a fighter earn a title shot off a loss, however, this is a bit of a different circumstance. With Nurmagomedov retired, the last opponent to defeat Gaethje was Dustin Poirier, and that loss was back in April 2018. Since that setback, Gaethje has gone 4-1, including wins over Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson. Not only has he looked like a much different fighter since that loss, but Gaethje has also dominated his opponents during that winning streak.
Other Opponent Options
You could make a case for Dustin Poirier fighting for the title should he defeat Conor McGregor at UFC 264 in July. Like I previously mentioned, Poirier holds a win over Gaethje and is ranked one spot higher at #1 in the 155-pound weight class. Instead of fighting for the vacant title this Saturday, Poirier opted to fight McGregor instead for a bigger payday. No shame in booking a money fight, but since that fight isn’t for a few months it doesn’t make sense holding up the division for that fight.
That’s why Gaethje fighting next solves that problem. It keeps the division moving and Poirier (or McGregor) could fight the winner of that. Outside of those two names, I don’t see anyone else worthy of competing for the lightweight title next.