In a world where Khabib Nurmagomedov no longer fights for a living, being considered mixed martial arts’ best lightweight seems less meaningful a notion than it did a year ago.
But this is fine.
Great champions rise and fall, gracefully or otherwise, and new fighters step up to build legacies for themselves.
In that spirit the UFC crowned its eleventh undisputed lightweight title holder Saturday in Houston, and 31-year-old Charles Oliveira, who first stepped into the Octagon in 2010 and has done so 27 times since, proved to be the man for the job.
A second round stoppage of Michael Chandler, who received a UFC title shot after just one bout with the organization, marked Oliveira’s eighth finish during a nine-fight win streak over the past three years. It’s worth recognizing that before his current unbeaten run, “Do Bronx” went 9-8 with one no contest against UFC competition.
The Brazilian, a UFC lifer, is one of the cast of kids who entered the organization looking like the matchmaking department had a fetish for throwing high school sophomores into cage fights who years later earned the right to be called UFC champion.
Does this make “Do Bronx” No. 1 at 155?
Have fun kicking around a question no one can reasonably answer right now.
Could “Do Bronx” beat any man his size? Yes.
Could other men his size beat him? Yes.
“I wanted to come here and show I’m the best in this category,” Oliveira said.
But there’s no way he could legitimately earn the right to be considered No. 1 by defeating Chandler, who is undoubtedly a quality, tough, big-time fighter in a division that overflows with guys like that.
Chandler was not the best lightweight in Bellator when he left the organization (that is and was Patricio “Pitbull” Freire), and there are quite a few lightweights in the UFC who had done more to earn a title shot.
Still, Oliveira exclaimed, “I’m proving to everyone that I’m the lions of lions.”
The only accurate response to that right now is … maybe.
Starting with the winner of the Poirier-McGregor rematch and continuing on from there, Oliveira will need to wind his way through at least a handful of the UFC’s top contenders to firmly establish that level of respect.
UFC gets off easy evading a Chandler championship
MMA organizations almost always control both sides of a fight, which means regardless of the outcome promoters tend to come out ahead.
That said, UFC is significantly better off having “Do Bronx” hold its 155 pound title than Chandler. Chandler is smart, plays the game, brings energy and regularly ends up in scraps. He has always been extremely promotable. But after tonight the 35-year-old former Bellator MMA champion is 5-3 at 155 since 2017.
Had Chandler accomplished his ascendency to the UFC crown it would have propped up narratives that upended the well-cultivated notions regarding dominance of UFC fighters. Now no one really needs to wonder how Bellator’s two-division champion Patricio Freire stacks up even though he stopped Chandler two years ago this month.
Oliveira’s victory makes that result much less important in the grand scheme of things.
Sane and calm Dariush downs “El Cucuy”
Beneil Dariush believes he’ll have something to say about the state of the UFC lightweight division, too — but not for the rest of the year.
After his 20th fight in the UFC, and his seventh straight victory, this time over a fighter fans know and love, Dariush set himself up for big things. The 32-year-old Iranian-American fighter awaits the birth of his daughter next month and expects to focus on his family before returning to the cage later this year or early 2022.
In the meantime he’ll see contenders battle as the lightweight landscape sorts itself out. Whenever Dariush returns it should be clear that his scrambling, grappling-heavy style, which propelled him to a clear-cut points win over Tony Ferguson, makes him a tough out for anyone at that weight.
Also, if nice guys don’t win, someone please explain Dariush.
Ref Stand Ups Almost Always Suck
A long time ago I learned the value of jotting down the time of a round when a referee separated fighters. Too often these moments ended up cutting against the grain of what was actually happening in the cage, usually with one competitor holding a grappling advantage over the other, and were critical in altering the outcome of a bout.
Unfortunately, on Saturday the usually steady Mike Beltran was guilty of exactly this type of decision making during the flyweight fight between Gina Mazany and Priscila Cachoeira.
Prioritizing “action” over the reality of a fight has always been an easily-crossed line. This idea was adopted as standard operating procedure to assuage fans who lusted after action and didn’t care to understand grappling. This is why fighters are told that sitting inside the guard and landing pitter-patter shots to the body and head isn’t enough to maintain their position. They must advance. Go from guard, to half, to side, to mount, to back … whatever, just move.
There is sense in having fighters understand that a drought in the can result in a separation, but that’s not what happened here. Mazany had won the first round and appeared on the way to winning the second when Beltran stood them up at the 2:15 mark of Round 2.
Prior to that point, all Mazany did was put herself in a great spot. I mean, if you’re a fighter and you’re tired and your opponent isn’t anything special from the bottom, working from the guard makes total sense. Mazany earned the position. It’s not like Cachoeira wanted to fight from the guard; she had to because Mazany put her there after taking the back then forced and won a scramble.
Rather than benefit from the success of a game plan that neutralized an obviously dangerous striker, Mazany was disadvantaged when Beltran decided that all of that work — the predominant factor in the round before the standup — should be ignored so a fighter on the bottom who couldn’t stand (or sweep or find a sub) on her own was let back into the fight.
There’s was no question that Cachoeira’s chances of winning shot through the roof after Beltran’s move. And she proved it by smashing Mazany on the feet to get the stoppage a couple minutes later.
There is no sense of fairness here. Maybe Cachoeira would have done the same thing later in the fight. Maybe not. Either way, a deficient fighter should never be gifted with fight-altering advantage. Beltran’s decision strung up a safety net for one competitor while cutting out the legs from the other.
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