Considering how historically deep the UFC's lightweight division was in 2020 and how many household names competed near the top of the rankings, it's hard to imagine any two fighters as more unlikely to be fighting for the vacant title less than one year later.
Yet the sudden retirement of unbeaten champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and recent defeats for Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson and Dan Hooker mixed perfectly with the timing of the Dustin Poirier-Conor McGregor rivalry to create a perfect storm. Enter our main event on Saturday for UFC 262.
For as dangerous as Charles Oliveira (30-8, 1 NC) has been throughout his eight-fight win streak that included becoming the UFC record-holder for submissions and finishes, the Brazilian's improvement as a fighter occurred somewhat under the radar until recent wins over Kevin Lee and Ferguson. Michael Chandler (22-5), meanwhile, ended a decade-long run as a major face of Bellator MMA to sign a free-agent deal with UFC and over deliver in his debut by finishing Hooker in the opening round.
Yet for how unlikely it might be that Oliveira and Chandler have suddenly found each other to stand across from inside the Toyota Center in Houston, there isn't much use lamenting the fact that Nurmagomedov decided against defending his crown once more or that Poirier, the most deserving of a 155-pound title shot, chose the money of chasing McGregor over a shot at the title.
The reason is because Oliveira-Chandler has the potential to be the most combustible kind of dramatic theater inside the Octagon. And for whatever it lacks in combined star power compared to other names in the division, the build to the fight has featured no shortage of explosive sound bites for those paying close enough attention.
"I'm a vessel of violence," Chandler told "UFC 256: Countdown" cameras. "I just inflict harm on my opponent and I get my hand raised."
"Honestly, do you want me to be honest?" Oliveira said. "I think this guy gets knocked out in the first round.
"I'm the biggest finisher in history. I'm here to stay."
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Part of the secret sauce behind the 31-year-old Oliveira's current win streak has been that it was a move back up to lightweight in 2017 that spurred it. "Do Bronx" lost three of his last four at featherweight and missed weight in three of his final six times fighting in the division.
But along the way, Oliveira built one of the game's most respected resumes in terms of the difficulty of names he shared the Octagon with, including Frankie Edgar, Donald Cerrone, Cub Swanson, Jeremy Stephens, Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas and Paul Felder.
Oliveira's finishing ability speaks for itself from the standpoint of volume alone and the UFC records he continues to accumulate. But he'll be facing an opponent just as explosive, if not more, in Chandler who finds himself in the most confident and dangerous form of his entire career, which, like Oliveira, has featured pockets of losses that turned into valuable lessons for growth.
Chandler, 35, knows he needs to maximize upon his window to find out his ceiling and took on a posture upon signing with UFC that he would do whatever it took to get there, including agreeing to be the backup fighter last October when Nurmagomedov defended his title for the final time against Gaethje before retiring inside the cage in Abu Dhabi.
"I knew that within the first 12 months of being signed with the UFC that I was going to say yes to every opportunity that was thrown my way," Chandler said. "I will never pull out of a fight, I will never miss weight and I will always come to entertain. When that cage door closes and that bell rings, I'm coming forward and I'm going to get into your face and you have no other option but to retreat.
"When that phone rings and it says [UFC president] Dana White or [chief business officer and EVP] Hunter Campbell, I'm going to say yes."
From Oliveira's point of view, Chandler's act of valor is nothing more than a perquisite for a championship fighter.
"We are fighters. So the fact that Chandler always says, 'yes,' he's right obviously. Are you going to say no? Your boss calls you to work, are you going to say no?" Oliveira said. "You have to take the fight. So he has a win in the UFC against a guy who only ran? I'm coming off eight consecutive wins. I go and get knockouts and submissions. I was born to fight."
If the closing comments from both are any extra need for motivation, the new era of the UFC's toughest division is in good hands as nothing short of fireworks is expected.
"I'm going to get in his face right away, drown him and puts his lights off right there in front of 20,000 screaming fans," Chandler said.
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