MMA can be a funny world sometimes. If you had told somebody in May last year that in 12 months’ time we’d be seeing Charles ‘Du Bronx’ Oliveira versus “Iron” Michael Chandler for the undisputed UFC lightweight championship, they’d have been forgiven for thinking you’d taken leave of your senses.

Then champion Khabib Nurmagomedov had just beaten Dustin Poirier in his last fight and looked capable of holding the belt for as long as he wanted. Charles Oliveira had recently beaten Kevin Lee, his seventh UFC win in a row at the time, but was seemingly behind a fairly long line of contenders for the title. Michael Chandler had yet to even sign with the UFC and had a Bellator bout in the pipeline against Benson Henderson.

Sure, it may have taken Dustin Poirier deciding to take a trilogy fight with Conor McGregor to ensure that both of these men took their place in the UFC 262 main event, but it’s hard to argue that either are undeserving of the spot. We preview all the action as well as fascinating co-main between Tony Ferguson and Beneil Dariush.

Charles Oliveira v Michael Chandler – UFC lightweight championship

Casual MMA fans may not be overly familiar with either of the names in this one, but both have had excellent careers in the sport up to this point and neither are short on experience. Oliveira’s first UFC bout came way back in August 2010 and has since made the walk a further 26 times. Whilst much had been made in the past of his propensity to lose the big ones, suffering difficult defeats to the likes of Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone and Ricardo Lamas, the new and improved ‘Du Bronx’ has been all-but unstoppable since losing to Paul Felder in December 2017. His current eight-fight win streak includes Jim Miller, Jared Gordon, Kevin Lee as well as former interim champion Tony Ferguson.

Chandler too has had to overcome big-name defeats in the past, losing to the likes of Eddie Alvarez and Patricio Pitbull during his time in Bellator, but made quite the statement arrival at UFC 257 by knocking out Dan Hooker with the first significant head strike of the fight. Whilst victory was emphatic, it perhaps did not give chance for fans unfamiliar with Chandler to really see what he’s all about. A division one all-American wrestler, Chandler is now an all-round martial artist with excellent striking too, he likes to put the pace on his opponent and force them into mistakes. A win on Saturday will make Chandler, alongside long-time rival Eddie Alvarez, just the second fighter to win both a Bellator and UFC title.

As the old adage goes, styles make fights and this one is an excellent match-up. As a 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Oliveira would expect to have the advantage on the ground but getting Chandler there won’t be a straight-forward task. Chandler’s solid wrestling base will make him a tough man to grapple with and the outcome of the fight could well be decided by what happens in the early clinch exchanges. If ‘Du Bronx’ is able to have his way with Chandler on the ground, then he could be in for a similar experience to Tony Ferguson, who was controlled pretty much throughout his fight with Oliveira in December.

Chandler’s offensive wrestling is particularly strong though and he likes to slam his opponents in order to get them to the ground. With his feet, Chandler is arguably the more established striker with 45 per cent of his 22 career wins coming via knockout and he puts everything behind every punch. This is potentially Chandler’s most likely method of victory in this fight, and he is currently 15/8 to win via TKO/KO/DQ and 11/10 to leave as champion. Oliveira is 8/11 to win, and 15/8 to do so via submission.

Tony Ferguson v Beneil Dariush

Another excellent stylistic match-up pits two UFC veterans against one another as Tony Ferguson looks to bounce back from consecutive defeats against the streaking Beneil Dariush. Both have become firm fan favourites during their time in the UFC, with Ferguson’s unique style and Dariush’s never say die attitude endearing them to fans around the world. Both have a wealth of experience, with over 40 UFC fights between them, and always leave everything in the octagon when they fight.

Whilst Ferguson had long been proclaimed as the man with the skills to give Khabib his greatest challenge at lightweight, his final chance to set up that highly anticipated match-up fell away following his defeat to Justin Gaethje a year ago. Another damaging defeat to Oliveira in December has forced a reset for Ferguson, who must now fight his way back through the rankings if he is to achieve his dream of becoming a UFC champion. Whilst Dariush is far from a slouch, a third straight loss could lead to questions around ‘El Cucuy’s’ long term future in the organisation.

A Beneil Dariush fight usually means action. Dariush had been hurt with leg kicks in round one, before looking close to being knocked out in round two, only to come out swinging and land a series of brutal shots which instead knocked out Klose. The Iranian is on a six-fight win streak which could lead him towards the title conversation himself, particularly if he can make Ferguson the seventh name on that list on Saturday night.

All things point towards this being a straight-up war. Ferguson has a famously iron chin and won’t be afraid to get into the pocket with Dariush. Many had criticised Ferguson for not utilising his ground game more against Gaethje, so it will be interesting to see if that’s something he leans on in this one.

Dariush is an accomplished Jiu-Jitsu black belt, though, with eight career submission wins, so it may be that these abilities cancel each other out and the fight remains a striking match for the majority. If that’s the case, Ferguson could well edge it at 11/8, or 7/2 via decision, but how much the damage taken in his last two fights plays a role in this one could be key. Dariush is currently 4/7 to win, and 9/2 to do so via KO/TKO/DQ.

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