Fresh off of becoming the new UFC lightweight champion at UFC 262, questions have already begun to circulate regarding Charles Oliveria’s first title defense. Despite being on an 8-fight win streak in the division, Oliveira is yet to face many of the division’s other top contenders. With some of the biggest wins on his record being over fighters who are no longer at the top of the division, like Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson, this creates lots of fresh and exciting match ups for the 155-pound king.
After stopping Michael Chandler in the second round to win the vacant title, this leaves Oliveira free to take on some of the top 15s more established contenders. That being said, there aren’t a whole lot of options for his first title defense when you look past one upcoming fight. The clear contender for Oliveira’s crown will be whoever wins the trilogy fight between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor. Both have incredible legacies in this sport and division and are set up for one of the biggest fights of the year at UFC 264 on June 10th.
If Poirier gets his hand raised on June 10th, he will be riding a three-fight win streak (Dan Hooker and Conor McGregor x2) since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242. For McGregor, though he will be 2-2 in his last four, he will be guaranteed to get the title shot. For all parties involved, getting McGregor into the mix makes the fight astronomically bigger than without him and it’s clearly the most attractive option for Oliveira. Despite campaigning at featherweight at the same time as Poirier and McGregor, he has never faced either of them and has opened as the betting underdog in both potential match-ups.
Outside of this fight, Oliveria’s options are slim if the winner of the trilogy wants to take time off before setting up the title fight. With Chandler making quick work of Dan Hooker before facing Oliveira, Justin Gaethje is the clear omission to the title defense talk. Gaethje was the last man to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov before he retired and vacated the belt. After losing to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, Gaethje evolved as a fighter and went on a three-fight first-round KO streak. After beating Tony Ferguson to become the interim lightweight champion, Gatehje found himself on a run of four great wins and was clearly the second best lightweight on the planet at the time.
Yet to fight this year, it seems very unlikely that Gaethje will be involved in title fight conversations until he fights again. With Beneil Dariush now ranked 3rd following his win over Tony Ferguson in the co-main event of UFC 262, he would have a claim as the next viable contender if it wasn’t for Poirier and McGregor already having a date booked.
Oliveira vs Poirier or Oliveira vs McGregor are not just incredibly exciting match-ups for the fans, they’re huge fights in their own regard. If McGregor can beat Poirier and avenge his loss, Conor fighting for a world title again will be massive for the UFC. In the same vein, if Poirier can finish the trilogy off by beating ‘The Notorious’ for a second time, he will have so much momentum behind him going into a fight with Oliveira. It’s these two reasons that make it impossible to look past the winner of this fight as Charles’ first title defense.