UFC 262 goes down in Houston, Texas, this Saturday, and by the time the event concludes, the lightweight throne that Khabib Nurmagomedov vacated will no longer be empty.
Competing for Nurmagomedov’s former seat will be former Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler and surging submission specialist Charles Oliveira. While it admittedly still feels strange that No. 1 contender Dustin Poirier isn’t involved in this lightweight title fight—he’s tied up with a trilogy with Conor McGregor—Chandler and Oliveira are absolutely world-class talents.
Chandler (22-5) will step into the cage having recently made a splash in his UFC debut by knocking out Kiwi contender Dan Hooker in the first round. Prior to that, he picked up a pair of first-round knockout wins over Benson Henderson and Sidney Outlaw in the Bellator cage. He’s finished all but five of his 22 wins by knockout or submission.
Oliveira (30-8), on the other hand, has won his last eight fights, with just one of those victories—his December decision win over Tony Ferguson—requiring the cage-side judges. He’s also tied with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone for the most finishes in UFC history.
It’s difficult to say which of these two streaking lightweight finishers will leave Houston with the lightweight belt slung over their shoulder, but we can glean some interesting information by putting their respective games under the microscope.
Here’s how Chandler and Oliveira match up on paper ahead of their blockbuster battle in The Lone Star State.
Neither Oliveira nor Chandler is a striker by trade—Oliveira comes from a Brazilian jiu-jitsu background, while Chandler is a wrestler—but you wouldn’t know it by watching their fights.
Both men can crack.
Chandler has picked up a significant 10 of his 22 victories by knockout or TKO. His striking has looked particularly impressive in the last few years, thanks in large part to his work with renowned coach Henri Hooft at Sanford MMA.
He’s always had serious knockout power, but since he settled under Hooft’s wing, he’s bolstered his power with stance-changes and trap-setting. His recent knockout win over Dan Hooker was perfect evidence of those technical advancements: He pressured his rival toward the fence from orthodox position, disguised a stance-switch behind a long-range punch to the body and then threw a fight-ending left hook from southpaw stance.
Oliveira is no less impressive on the feet. Despite his predilection for submissions, he’s secured eight of his 30 victories with his striking. That’s thanks in part to his 52 percent striking accuracy rate, but it’s also down to his aggression. While it’s definitely in his best interest to get just about every fight to the mat, he has shown no aversion to throwing heavy leather on the feet—often with fight-ending consequences. Just ask Jared Gordon and Nik Lentz. Oh, and he’s also got some excellent knees in the clinch.
Another interesting detail of the striking side of this matchup is that neither guy is particularly sturdy. Sure, both can take a punch, but we’re not talking about Justin Gaethje or Mark Hunt here. Chandler has been put down by strikes three times, while Oliveira has fallen in that fashion four times.
All that is to say a knockout win for either man is a big possibility, but we’re going to give the striking edge to Chandler because he seems to pack a bit more power, and his striking is improving exponentially from fight to fight.
It was difficult to determine who, between Chandler and Oliveira, is the better striker. That is not the case when it comes to wrestling. That’s Chandler’s wheelhouse, and it’s not up for debate.
The American has been wrestling since he was a young teenager, and while at the University of Missouri, he was a four–time NCAA Division I qualifier, ultimately nabbing All-American honors.
Chandler has parlayed that impressive wrestling base into some pretty impressive MMA stats. On average, he completes 2.37 takedowns per 15 minutes, per FightMetric, with a respectable 41 percent takedown success rate.
The reality is that, if this were a wrestling match, he’d probably beat Oliveira 10 times out of 10.
Of course, this isn’t a wrestling match. In fact, despite his incredible wrestling skill, it’s in Chandler’s best interest to avoid spending any time on the mat with his Brazilian foe.
That brings us to our next point…
Just as Chandler clearly has an advantage in the wrestling department, Oliveira clearly—and we mean clearly—has an advantage in terms of submissions.
He has more submission victories than any other fighter in UFC history at 14. He’s also attempted the second most submissions in UFC history with 35.
He’s no specialist, either. He’s won fights with rear-naked chokes, calf slicers, D’arce chokes, triangle chokes, Peruvian neckties, guillotine chokes and anacondas. Granted, he also has a habit of diving into guillotine chokes—a weird habit for a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt of his caliber—but there’s just no two ways about it: Oliveira is operating on a different plane when it comes to submissions, and every second Chandler spends on the mat with him his potentially lethal.
Oliveira: Be the Hammer
Charles Oliveira is a classic example of being a great hammer and a terrible nail. When he’s winning a fight, he looks like a world-beater. The moment things start to go south, however, he looks average at best. Check out his losses to Paul Felder, Anthony Pettis, Max Holloway and Donald Cerrone and you’ll see what we mean.
That logic suggests that if Oliveira wants to beat Michael Chandler—who is stupendous whether he’s the hammer or the nail—he needs to be in control of the fight for as long as it lasts. He can’t let Chandler start landing. He can’t let Chandler control the grappling phases. He can’t relinquish control.
Chandler: Don’t Be Shy
Knowing what we know about Oliveira—that he deflates like a popped balloon when things aren’t going his way—it’s clearly in Chandler’s best interest to lead the dance.
While the American obviously needs to avoid being over-aggressive, he will benefit greatly if he can make Oliveira uncomfortable—or better yet, hurt him—in the early going.
He needs to start quickly, confidently and violently—all in the name of making his foe apprehensive as quickly as possible.
On paper, Michael Chandler seems to have more advantages than Charles Oliveira overall. He hits harder, he’s a marginally slicker striker and he’s definitely the better wrestler. Sure, Oliveira seems to have more options in terms of finishing the fight, but I just can’t confidently pick a guy with so many bizarre losses on his record—a guy who seems to crack so easily when things aren’t going his way.
Oliveira might start strong, but all it will take is the slightest momentum shift and then the win is as good as Chandler’s.
Give me the underdog inside the distance.
Michael Chandler, knockout, Rd. 2