Charles Oliveira is still the UFC lightweight champion.
Even though he technically is not in possession of the belt, Oliveira is still undoubtedly the best fighter in the division. He defeated Justin Gaethje with an emphatic first-round submission in a very impressive, yet brief, title fight.
Oliveira and Gaethje brought the house down despite only sharing the octagon for just under three and a half minutes. They landed a combined 51 significant strikes, and each registered a knockdown before Oliveira finished the fight with a rear-naked choke.
But, unfortunately, all everyone will be talking about is the fact that Oliveira does not hold the title after that performance. Because the champion missed weight by a staggering half a pound, he was forced to vacate the title. It was known that Oliveira would not receive the title even if he won, but it did not stop him from leaving it all in the octagon in Phoenix.
Oliveira showed off his world-class ground skills when he got Gaethje to the ground finally. Gaethje knew how dangerous Oliveira could be on the ground and demonstrated that knowledge by refusing to engage the Brazilian when he was on his back. It was a wise strategy considering what Oliveira did to him on the ground. He slithered around him like a deadly snake before cinching in the rear-naked choke and forcing Gaethje to tap out.
Despite not holding the belt, Oliveira is still the man to beat in the division. Whoever he faces next for the “vacant” lightweight championship better watch out because Oliveira is incredibly dangerous and should not be overlooked.
The other two big fights on the card were the polar opposites of each other. The co-main event and strawweight championship fight between Rosa Namajunas and Carla Esparza was very underwhelming and the battle between Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson was very entertaining.
Namajunas and Esparza really let the crowd down. The expectation was a very tightly contested and competitive fight but the reality was an uninspired sparring match.
I hate to criticize people for doing something that I am not capable of doing, but it is hard to find anything complimentary in this fight. There were 68 total strikes landed in the entire 25 minutes of the bout and just 32 combined seconds of control time.
The result was exciting, with Esparza earning a historic strawweight championship reign, but the way we got there was no fun. Congratulations are in order for Esparza but she will have to step it up in her first defense if she wants to send fans home happy next time.
On the other hand, Chandler and Ferguson provided fireworks in the third bout of the night. The biggest firework was the front kick from Chandler that knocked Ferguson out cold. It was one of the best knockouts of the year and might be worthy of more praise. I haven’t watched the UFC for that long but I’m sure that someone literally punting someone in the face is not a common occurrence.
Even before that knockout, the fight was holding up very well. Both fighters were exchanging hard strikes and making them count. Chandler was his usual aggressive self while Ferguson was staying calm and landing calculated punches every time Chandler would come in. The first round turned in favor of Chandler when he managed to get Ferguson to the mat with a beautiful takedown. Both guys were still landing big blows while on the ground, but Chandler did manage to rack up two minutes and 29 seconds of control time.
Chandler put on an exclamation mark on his night with a perfectly delivered post-fight interview. He showed off the charisma and personality that makes him one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. He ended his promo by calling out Connor McGregor, which I am all for. Who wouldn’t want to see those two guys go at it in and out of the ring? Book it Dana.