Last Saturday, two top 10 Lightweights faced off with a disappointing outcome. Unfortunately, this contributes to the consistent deadlock seen at the top of the 155 division. With Charles Oliveira contending for the belt again and Justin Gaethje the next likely contender, the rest of the division needs matchups to determine the next wave of title challengers. Today we'll look at 5 possible fights to be made at Lightweight.
Diego Ferreira is one of the most underappreciated fighters at Lightweight and has been battling top-ranked UFC contenders since 2014. From 2016 to 2020, he embarked on an impressive six-fight win streak that was capped off by a win over former UFC Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. With six finishes, two Fight of the Night bonuses, and three Performance of the Night victories, he’s rarely in a boring fight. After a tough three-fight skid, Ferreira has bounced back with a KO win over Michael Johnson and has once again cracked the top 15. With no ranked wins since 2020, Ferreira isn’t ready to jump into the deep end and is best off facing someone close to him in the rankings.
His perfect matchup is three spots ahead of him at #12: Jalin Turner. He has already faced four ranked opponents in ten fights with the promotion and has amassed six finish victories. An enormous Lightweight at 6’3 with a well-rounded skillset, he provides problems for anyone he faces. He first reached the rankings following a five-fight win streak from 2020 to 2022 but has since suffered two consecutive losses. With both men needing a ranked victory and a possessing a penchant for finishes, this would likely turn into an all-out war. With 155 somewhat deadlocked at the top, the division would massively benefit from fresh contenders, and either would fill that role nicely.
Dan Hooker has consistently proved to be one of the most exciting and willing fighters in the Lightweight division. He has faced the best, with six fights against fighters in the top 5 of their respective weight classes. Training at one of the premier gyms in MMA in City Kickboxing, he’s known for his brutal striking style, particularly his devastating knees and elbows in the clinch. After a tough run from 2020-2022, winning just one bout and losing four, Hooker is now riding a two-fight win streak. Rapidly approaching his tenth year in the promotion, he’s still inside the Lightweight top ten at #9 and needs to pick up ranked wins to keep climbing the ladder. His safest and best bet would be another veteran contender looking to climb up, and Renato Moicano is the perfect option. He is similarly coming up on a decade in the UFC and has faced nothing but top talent in his promotional tenure.
Unlike Hooker, he does most of his work on the mat and possibly has the best rear-naked choke in the sport, finding all ten career submissions with an RNC. Moicano has rounded out his game significantly over the years and most recently pulled off a victory over seasoned striker Brad Riddell, earning himself the #12 spot at Lightweight. Both fighters have oddly similar career paths despite their vastly different fighting styles; both entered the promotion in 2014, spent time at Featherweight, moved up, and are now in their early 30s, looking to make a serious run at the title. Neither has the quality of wins to get launched into a top-five fight yet, but both are solid enough names that either would benefit from a win over the other. No matter who wins this matchup, it would significantly boost and place them closer to the title picture.
Rafael Fiziev is one of the sport's most technical, dangerous strikers and has quickly made a name for himself in the UFC. Already the recipient of three Performance of the Night bonuses and three Fight of the Night bonuses, he has established himself as one of the most entertaining fighters in the division. After a loss in his debut, he would go on a 6-fight win streak with three KOs and skyrocketed up the rankings, ultimately being rewarded with a bout against top-contender Justin Gaethje. Despite losing the bout, Fiziev showed he deserves to be at the top and can go with anybody. Now nursing a knee injury suffered in his fight with Mateusz Gamrot, his timetable for a return is unknown, but he will probably have to fight down in the rankings next.
Thankfully for him, there is an excellent matchup in the man right behind him, Arman Tsarukyan. He was thrown directly into the fire from the start, facing now-champion Islam Makhachev in his debut, but would lose a hard-fought decision. Since this loss, he’s gone 7-1 in the promotion and has finished three of his last five opponents. At the ripe age of 26, Tsarukyan is constantly improving and evolving, always adding new skills to his arsenal. While they’re technically trending in opposite directions, with Fiziev on a two-fight losing streak and Tsarukyan on a two-fight winning streak, this is the perfect time for this matchup. Tsarukyan must prove he can hang with elite-level strikers, while Fiziev would greatly benefit from a win over a strong grappler. With both seeming to need one win to crack open the title picture, this would be a massive matchup for both men.
In just two years, Mateusz Gamrot has risen to the top of the Lightweight division with excellent wrestling and efficient striking. After reigning as the Lightweight champion in the Polish promotion KSW for over four years, he made his way to the UFC. Following a debut loss to Guram Kutateladze, he’d find victory in six of his next seven bouts, winning Performance of the Night and Fight of the Night bonuses twice, respectively. Gamrot has never been finished and makes every fight competitive to the very end, suffering just two losses in over ten years. Due to his risk-averse style and regular decision victories, he’s never quite gotten a victory significant enough to get him into the top five. Fortunately, just above him is Michael Chandler, who does not have a fight scheduled, regardless of what Dana White will have you believe.
One of the few promotional stars who made their name outside the UFC, he was a multiple-time Bellator Lightweight champion with multiple legendary fights under Scott Coker’s banner. After over a decade outside of it, he joined the UFC in 2021 and has been a massive factor at Lightweight since. After a wild debut victory over Dan Hooker, Chandler was thrown directly into a title fight with Charles Oliveira, which he lost by second-round TKO after nearly finishing Oliveira in the first round. With a 2-3 record in the promotion, Chandler needs to prove he belongs in the top five but has to fight outside of it, making Gamrot the perfect option. With incredibly similar skills and career paths, this is a mirror match on paper. Often, when fighters are even skill-wise, fights turn into wars, and that’s precisely what I’d expect in this matchup.
Beneil Dariush has quietly amassed one of the best records in the Lightweight division, having never lost back-to-back and going on an impressive eight-fight win streak from 2018 to 2022. Despite being in the UFC since 2014, he didn’t truly step into his own until 2018 and has proven to be an exceptionally well-rounded fighter. Holding black belts in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he’s dangerous anywhere and at all times. To back up his 16 promotional victories (3rd most ever at Lightweight), he has four Performance of the Night bonuses and one Fight of the Night bonus to his name. Despite his numerous accolades, he’s yet to fight for a title and is coming off a loss to #1 contender Charles Oliveira. His biggest detraction currently is a lack of big names on his resume, and Dustin Poirier, one of the biggest names in the sport, let alone the Lightweight division, needs a matchup.
One of the most popular and credentialed fighters in UFC history, Poirier has fought and largely defeated the best of the best. In his over 12-year career in the promotion, he’s collected 8 Fight of the Night bonuses, 8 Performance of the Night bonuses, and 21 victories, the sixth most all time. He’s made it clear he’s not interested in fighting prospects at this stage in his career and has already faced every other member of the top five. With two losses in his last three outings, a big win could reinvigorate his title aspirations, and he won’t find that outside the very top of the division. With both men at 34 years old, now is the time to push for the belt, and a win in this matchup would put either fighter exactly where they need to be.