Words By Will Vo
If the key word after the event isn’t ‘underdog’, then perhaps it is ‘gameplan’, as both Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier perfectly set up their finishing sequences with educated strategy and managed to overcome the favourites in Dan Hooker and Conor McGregor respectively.
As the threat of the takedown weighed on Hooker’s mind, the actuality of calf kicks weighed on McGregor’s legs, and both men fell when their opponents moved their offense towards the head. So, after looking at what happened, the next step is to look at what’s next, how does the biggest star in the sport bounce back? What happens to the lightweight title? Where does Michael Chandler, the new kid on the block, go from here? Let’s see.
To begin, a look at Conor McGregor. Immediately after the fight, McGregor indicated a desire to remain active in 2021, which opens a number of possibilities. After his defeat to Diaz in 2016, a rematch ensued, however due to the current title picture this seems unlikely. So, where does he go from here?
The first option, and what is seemingly a perpetual option, is the trilogy fight with the aforementioned Nate Diaz. Dana White has already expressed the likelihood of Diaz returning this year, so it would be reasonable to suggest that this could be next.
This would be interesting, and potentially likely for a number of reasons. Firstly, a Diaz fight has done big numbers for the UFC before, and that is always desirable for the company; both their fights have done over 1.5 million PPV buys, so it only seems reasonable to suggest the rubber match would follow suit.
Secondly, and perhaps cynically, it is a fight that McGregor would be heavily favoured to win, even more so than he was against Poirier. McGregor has already shown his ability to gameplan for a Diaz fight, and knows that he can outstrike him for as long as his stamina holds up.
Furthermore, Diaz was convincingly outclassed by Jorge Masvidal in his last outing, which only emphasises the idea that he isn’t the threat that he once was.
Thirdly, as it pertains to the wider picture in the 155lb division, neither McGregor nor Diaz hold a legitimate claim to challenge for the title, so both men would look to get back into the win column in their potential trilogy fight.
Another option for the Irishman would be the human highlight reel Justin Gaethje, and whilst the likelihood of this is low, it wouldn’t be completely out of the question following Gaethje’s defeat to Khabib.
How this fight would play out has become infinitely more intriguing following their respective recent bouts, as McGregor’s damage from leg kicks against Poirier would play right into the hands of Justin Gaethje, who Khabib claims hits harder than anyone he had previously faced. Furthermore, against Tony Ferguson, Gaethje showed a patience that we had never previously seen, as he managed to do what many thoughts was impossible, and stop El Cucuy, having kept pace with him for five rounds.
This makes a potential McGregor fight all the more interesting, as this version of Gaethje seems to be less likely to recklessly charge in and be open to the pinpoint precision of the Notorious one.
Now to look at the previously mentioned boogeyman, Tony Ferguson. Despite being in the lightweight division simultaneously, McGregor and Ferguson have never met inside the cage. On the back of two consecutive defeats, the American would be looking to bounce back against McGregor and prove that he’s still a force in the division, whilst McGregor would be attempting to either earn his trilogy fight with Poirier or put himself back in title contention.
This would be a fascinating bout, as Ferguson is often described as a ‘better version’ of Nate Diaz, with his seemingly granite chin, never ending cardio, and python-like submission threat. The possibilities here are endless; would McGregor crack the chin of El Cucuy early? Would Ferguson survive the storm as he usually does, and come back as McGregor starts to fade? As the cliché goes, there’s only one way to find out.
Looking at the wider picture in the lightweight division, for the sake of speculation let’s presume Khabib Nurmagomedov isn’t coming back, and we can play matchmaker with regards to the vacant title. The most likely option has to be Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira taking on Dustin Poirier for the vacant belt, with the winner facing the winner of a Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje fight.
Oliveira has quietly amassed a 7-fight win, and finish, streak, whilst Poirier has just knocked out the biggest star in the sport.
This bout would be exciting, and also make sense. Poirier hasn’t faced a submission threat on the level of Oliveira, who holds the record for most subs in the UFC, whilst Oliveira has yet to face an opponent with the power and technical boxing of ‘The Diamond’ Dustin Poirier.
How this would play out is truly impossible to call, as Oliveira seems to have overcome his previous propensity to crumble under pressure, and Poirier has improved leaps and bounds from the brawler he was before. Could Oliveira snatch the neck of the Diamond, or would the pressure boxing of Poirier earn him another stoppage? We’ll have to wait and see.
In Michael Chandler, the UFC have a cannon on their hands, as the former Bellator lightweight champion knocked out Dan Hooker, a feat which many thoughts would not be possible in a single round, if at all.
Matching Chandler up after UFC 257 is tricky, if only due to the sheer number of options available for him. The aforementioned Gaethje fight seems to make sense, purely due to rankings, and the undoubtable fact that their fight would be chaos. Or perhaps the UFC will match him up with McGregor.
Chandler’s reputation as somewhat of a glass cannon, meaning he can knock anyone out as easily as he himself can be knocked out, cannot be ignored, and a bout with Conor McGregor would be intriguing but also unlikely.
Overall, UFC 257 tore up the script, and made the already brilliant 155lb division exponentially more unpredictable, exciting, and ultimately intriguing.