The lightweight division will have a champion crowned in the main event of UFC 262 between Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler.
With Dana White and the UFC finally accepting Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement, the division finds itself on the precipice of a new era. The Eagle claimed the vacant title in 2018 and didn't let go of it until he hung up his gloves in October 2020.
Do either Chandler or Oliveira have a similar run in them? Probably not, but both will have the opportunity in the main event.
Saturday's card will bring further clarity to the division in the co-main event as well. Beneil Dariush and Tony Ferguson meet in what will likely be a title eliminator to see who faces the new champion.
Here's a look at the whole card, early odds and the latest hype from the fighters in the biggest bouts.
Fight Card, Odds and Schedule
Main Event (ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET)
- Charles Oliveira (-134) vs. Michael Chandler (+110), lightweight championship bout
- Tony Ferguson (+135) vs. Beneil Dariush (-165)
- Katlyn Chookagian (-139) vs. Viviane Araujo (+115)
- Shane Burgos (-134) vs. Edson Barboza (+108)
- Matt Schnell (-159) vs. Rogerio Bontorin (+130)
Prelims (ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET)
- Jacare Souza (-112) vs. Andre Muniz (-112)
- Lando Vannata (+100) vs. Mike Grundy (-124)
- Andrea Lee (+105) vs. Antonina Shevchenko (-129)
- Jordan Wright (-106) vs. Jamie Pickett (-118)
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET)
- Gina Mazany (-200) vs. Priscila Cachoeira (+155)
- Kevin Aguilar (-103) vs. Tucker Lutz (-122)
- Christos Giagos (-225) vs. Sean Soriano (+176)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Chandler Eager to Prove He Belongs in Championship Spot
There are those who would say Michael Chandler isn't deserving of his opportunity to win the belt on Saturday night. After all, he's fought in the UFC for a grand total of two minutes and 30 seconds.
In one of the UFC's deepest divisions, there were certainly others it could have put in the fight.
That's overlooking Chandler's impressive run in Bellator where he was a three-time champion in the division. While you can question some of the competition there, but there are plenty of quality fighters on the 35-year-old's resume and he's done well in five-round fights.
"So far the fans have only seen two-and-a-half minutes of my performance. Wait till you see Round 2, Round 3, Round 4 and Round 5," Chandler said, per Damon Martin of MMA Fighting. "I've been in those championship rounds. I've been in 25-minute wars. I've been in the deep, deep waters with championship-level, high-level caliber guys. Two former UFC champions—Eddie Alvarez, Benson Henderson."
Chandler's point is well-taken. The five-round fight is an advantage to him as he's shown a great gas tank over his career. His power wrestling will be an interesting matchup with Oliveira's slick wrestling game, but his striking could be the advantage in a tight contest.
Prediction: Chandler via decision
Dariush Preparing for Unique Challenges of Fighting Ferguson
Tony Ferguson is one of the most unique fighters in the sport. "El Cucuy" doesn't do anything the usual way. His training, striking and grappling are all unorthodox, and he's put together a strong resume by doing things his way.
His 12-fight winning streak that spanned from October 2013 to June 2019 featured wins by TKO, submission and decision. His ability to set a blistering pace, sink in submissions from multiple positions and wear down opponents with his striking made him one of the top fighters in the division.
The code might have been cracked on Ferguson, though. Justin Gaethje stopped him in the fifth round of their fight at UFC 259, and he followed it up with a decision loss to Oliveira to close out 2020.
Dariush believes he'll be the next to solve the Ferguson puzzle.
"If things get crazy, you just have to be ready to get crazy with him. You can't be scared to play his game. If you have to, you gotta do that. But ultimately you want to bring him back into your own territory and don’t allow him to control the rhythm," Dariush told Farah Hannoun and John Morgan of MMA Junkie.
Dariush is on his own hot streak entering the fight. He's on a six-fight run, albeit against competition below Ferguson's level. In those fights, he's utilized his own slick submission game, tapping out two of his opponents and knocking out another two.
His confidence and a fading Ferguson could have him emerging as a title contender.
Prediction: Dariush via decision
Chookagian Attempting to Shed Gatekeeper Label
In a division that is desperate to generate interesting challengers for reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko, Katlyn Chookagian is in a tough spot.
The American is clearly better than most in the division and is a long fighter for the weight class at 5'9" with a 68" reach. But she was blown out in her own title shot against Bullet and since then, her only loss to Jessica Andrade resulted in a title shot for Andrade.
For now, that puts Chookagian in the dreaded gatekeeper role, helping sort out real contenders. But it's something she hopes to work her way out of.
"I'm super realistic on my position right now," Chookagian said, per John Morgan and Ken Hathaway of MMA Junkie. "I think I'm kind of almost like, 'If you beat Katlyn, then you can get a title shot' type of thing. But I don't care. If I keep winning, then I'll get the title shot, which is obviously always the goal."
The 32-year-old enters as a slight favorite over Viviane Araujo on Saturday, but it's going to be tough. Both are strong strikers but with very different games.
Chookagian is better from range and sets a strong pace. Meanwhile, the Brazilian is the more powerful striker but will have to find a way to close the distance at 5'4". If she can turn it into a grittier fight that's fought in the clinch and boxing range she holds the advantage.
Prediction: Araujo via decision
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