With Charles Oliveira now holding the UFC lightweight title, the question becomes who is he likely to face in his first defense?
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of options for Do Bronx, as the UFC lightweight division is one of the most stacked in the sport.
With that in mind, here are five options for Charles Oliveira’s first title defense.
#1 Conor McGregor (UFC record: 10-3)
Naturally, the most bankable title defense for Charles Oliveira would be against the UFC’s biggest star, Conor McGregor.
And a clash with the Irishman, who never officially lost the UFC lightweight title, could actually be on the cards should The Notorious One get past Dustin Poirier in their rematch at UFC 264 in July.
Intriguingly, it seems that a fight with the new UFC champ also interests McGregor, despite Oliveira’s largely soft-spoken style.
Minutes after Oliveira had defeated Michael Chandler at UFC 262, McGregor was on hand on Twitter to offer the Brazilian his congratulations on becoming the UFC’s 11th lightweight champion.
However, he also stated, “wonder who Twelve is," which could easily be taken as a reference to the Irishman’s Proper Twelve whiskey brand.
If McGregor does beat Poirier then, despite it being his first win at 155lbs since 2016, it’s highly likely that the UFC will quickly look to match him with Oliveira in what would be a huge clash.
#2 Dustin Poirier (UFC record: 15-5)
Of course, for Conor McGregor to be given a shot at Charles Oliveira’s newly-minted UFC lightweight title, he has to get past another potential challenger in Dustin Poirier.
And based on the fact that Poirier smacked McGregor around in January and knocked him out, that might prove a step too far for the Irishman.
If we’re frank, Poirier – not Michael Chandler – probably should’ve been fighting Oliveira for the vacant title at UFC 262.
But The Diamond chose the “money fight” with McGregor rather than a title shot. And while it’ll definitely make him richer, it may not move him closer to the title.
With a second win over McGregor, it’d be tricky for the UFC to deny Poirier a title shot. But based on his previous behavior, there’s every chance he prices himself out of the fight.
However, if he were to beat The Notorious One and then focus on the UFC title again? He’d be the clear-cut first challenger for Oliveira’s throne.
#3 Justin Gaethje (UFC record: 5-3)
If the UFC wants to book Oliveira in a quick title defense, they could do much worse than turn to the last man to face Khabib Nurmagomedov in the octagon.
Justin Gaethje was defeated in largely one-sided fashion in that fight. But prior to that, he’d knocked out four straight opponents, including former interim UFC champ Tony Ferguson.
With his brutally heavy hands, fantastic takedown defense and iron chin, The Highlight may well represent the trickiest stylistic test for Do Bronx in the UFC right now.
The UFC might want Gaethje to pick up a win to bounce back from his loss to Khabib before a title shot, which might scupper any plans of this fight being signed.
But Gaethje is still ranked highly in the division at #2 right now, and so that’d probably be enough to justify making the fight.
If nothing else, he’d almost certainly be a cheaper option than McGregor or Poirier.
#4 Beneil Dariush (UFC record: 15-4-1)
A UFC lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush might not sell many pay-per-views. However, it might actually make more sense than you’d initially think.
Dariush is somewhat unheralded, but he does possess a lengthy winning streak at 155lbs – seven fights to be exact.
And he hasn’t been fighting bums either, with the likes of Drew Dober, Diego Ferreira and now Tony Ferguson all falling victim to him.
The win over Ferguson was definitely the biggest of Dariush’s UFC career. While it’s fair to suggest that El Cucuy has fallen on hard times recently, there’s a lot to be said for a victory over a former UFC champion.
Both Dariush and Oliveira are fantastic grapplers and improving strikers. Therefore, there’d definitely be some intrigue to this fight, even if it might not be as alluring to the casual fan.
The likelihood is that Dariush needs at least one more big win before taking a shot – but stranger things have happened in the UFC in the past.
#5 Islam Makhachev (UFC record: 8-1)
Arguably the most dangerous man in the UFC’s lightweight shark tank right now is Islam Makhachev.
A training partner of former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev shares more than just his Dagestani heritage with the Eagle.
Like Khabib, he physically dominates practically every fighter he comes up against in the octagon. And right now, Makhachev on a seven-fight UFC winning streak.
Sure, Makhachev hasn’t beaten any huge names yet – his biggest win is Drew Dober. But the honest truth is that those big names are probably looking to avoid him due to his dangerous nature.
But if he continues to win in impressive fashion, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to ignore Makhachev for much longer.
Makhachev is apparently signed to fight Thiago Moises next, but the fight won’t do a lot for his ranking. However, if he looks dominant, the UFC – in their quest to replace Khabib in the Russian market – may well thrust Makachev directly into a surprising title fight.
And based on their grappling skills, a clash between Makhachev and Charles Oliveira could be a genuine classic. It could act as the closest thing UFC fans could have to a fight between Oliveira and Khabib.