With two-must see lightweight bouts atop the marquee and results that likely signal the end of any speculation regarding a Khabib Nurmagomedov return, Saturday's UFC 257 card appeared to signal a changing of the guard atop the 155-pound division.
Dustin Poirier scored a stunning TKO of Conor McGregor in their rematch, shattering UFC president Dana White's hope for a blockbuster Nurmagomedov-McGregor rematch, and Michael Chandler delivered a resounding statement in his promotional debut by knocking out Dan Hooker.
The hard part now for White and UFC matchmakers is deciding whom should fight whom moving forward in a division that remains historically deep even with the loss of the unbeaten Nurmagomedov to retirement.
Given everything from star power, recent performance and whose resume is most deserving, here is what the future could look like next for the UFC at 155 pounds.
Lightweight title: Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Despite how much Poirier shared in the post-fight press conference about how undeserving he feels Chandler is to be able to cut the line, the former three-time Bellator MMA champion made as alarming a splash as one could make in their Octagon debut by knocking out Dan Hooker in the first round. No one is more deserving of fighting for the title in the aftermath of Nurmagomedov's exit than Poirier, who could retroactively be named champion and no one would complain. But Chandler was given a tremendous platform to make a huge statement by the UFC and he was done no favors from a matchmaking perspective as the betting underdog. All Chandler did was exceed every possible expectation anyone had of him. With all respect to Charles Oliveira and his eight-fight win streak, UFC would be smart to try and capitalize on Chandler's violent arrival by making a fight with Poirier that would all but guarantee to be an instant classic.
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Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje
A fight that reportedly was already under discussion behind the scenes would make a perfect must-see No. 1 contender bout. Oliveira certainly has a case to be fighting for the title outright, especially after the statement he made by stopping Tony Ferguson in December. But among the top contenders who are coming off of a loss, no one has a stronger resume at the moment than Gaethje. The blood-and-guts slugger might be fresh off a disappointing title loss to Nurmagomedov, but his four-fight knockout streak heading into that bout still retains plenty of value. Given the incredible talent within the division at the moment, it's hard to make a bad fight between any two names in the top 15. Yet this fight, in a deep pool of potential bouts not too dissimilar, still screams incredible potential for entertainment and violence.
Conor McGregor vs. Tony Ferguson
Sure, McGregor had lost twice before inside the Octagon. Not like this, however, and never by knockout. Although McGregor said all the right things after being stopped by Poirier, including his want to increase activity (along with learning how to defend calf strikes), he will need to decide which lane he chooses to fight in moving forward. Given his marketability, there is no shortage of fights McGregor could chase that exploit his ability to draw heavy interest as a celebrity, including a third dance with Nate Diaz. But if McGregor decides to truly get back in line within the 155-pound title picture, he shouldn't deserve any kind of protection from the level of matchmaking. Should Poirier become the next champion, it's no secret a trilogy against McGregor would hold huge marketability for the UFC. It won't feel as important, however, if "The Notorious" doesn't earn his way back there with a difficult victory against a top-10 foe. With the 36-year-old Ferguson fresh off of two surprising defeats against elite foes, there may be no better time than now to book this fight to decide which superstar fighter will exit the title picture for good. (Not for nothing, it would also be an absolute war and well deserving as a non-title PPV main event.)
Thanks for the support everyone! Was not my night/morning in there but a great contest to improve on. I’m excited at the blockbuster trilogy I now have on my hands. Dustin is a hell of a competitor and I look forward to going again. God bless us all, happy Sunday ❤️— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) January 24, 2021
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Carlos Ferreira
This all-Brazilian showdown might not get the same love from casual fans as the fights above, but it would be an important one to propel the winner into a huge fight with potential title implications. At 35, Ferreira has gone through a recent renaissance that has been hidden under the radar. With six straight wins since 2016 including a dominant submission of former champion Anthony Pettis to open 2020, Ferreira could be a longterm sleeper should he continue winning. Dos Anjos, meanwhile, is a 36-year-old former champion who appears poised for one more big run after moving back down to 155 pounds and edging Paul Felder via split decision in their thrilling five-round fight last November. RDA's name likely lifts him directly into a big fight, should he be victorious. It also makes him a potential candidate to be McGregor's first opponent following the defeat to Poirier given that dos Anjos was originally scheduled to defend his lightweight title at UFC 196 to McGregor before pulling out due to a foot injury (and triggering a McGregor rivalry with Diaz).
Nate Diaz vs. Paul Felder
Lost in the McGregor talk heading into UFC 257 was how much Diaz appeared prime for a return to 155 pounds in hopes of securing a trilogy for the 155-pound title against McGregor. Those plans will need to be delayed, of course, but Diaz could still find himself an interesting B-side for UFC to use at any point as a name opponent given his PPV history being matched against McGregor and Jorge Masvidal. Diaz would need a quality win within the division first to make it possible and a fight against Felder could produce incredible theater on the feet while also providing credibility toward Diaz's standing within the division. Given the expressed interest from Poirier in fighting Diaz to "shut him up" during Saturday's post-fight press conference, this would be a fight that could make a lot of sense.
These guys all get finished all the time 🤦🏻♂️— Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) January 24, 2021
Dan Hooker vs. Kevin Lee
Although an extended break might be the best medicine for Hooker following consecutive defeats against top competition, he'll need to first decide whether he intends to keep fighting. The New Zealander left his gloves in the Octagon after his loss to Chandler and had many speculating his retirement. But Hooker is still just 30 and remains among the toughest and most technically skilled the division has to offer. Should he decide to return, a fight against the extremely inconsistent Lee, a former interim title challenger, would be the perfect litmus test regarding the futures of both.