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Editorial: Dustin Poirier and his myriad of potential dance partners

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With all the options available for Dustin Poirier to face for the soon-to-be-vacant lightweight title, is there really a bad choice of the obvious candidates? No, but there is a RIGHT choice.

UFC 256: Ferguson v Oliveira Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Trying to think of an article I could put together for this week, the easiest topic to throw out there was who Dustin Poirier would fight for the UFC title. Coming off his upset win over Conor McGregor, it’s clear Poirier will be one half of the title picture once the UFC has declared Khabib is no longer the champion. As I began working on it, I came across an article put out there by my colleague, Zane Simon. While Zane makes some solid points, I totally disagreed with who he believes is the right choice. Given that, I said screw it, I’m going forward with the article since we came to different conclusions.

There’s a solid list of potential opponents for Poirier. I’ve heard some suggest Poirier rematch Conor, but I’m not even going to consider that. Poirier should be fighting for the title and given I strongly believe title shots should be earned, Conor shouldn’t be given that he’s coming off a loss. Plus, Conor only has one win in the last four years. Forgive me if I like the idea of an active champion, but until Conor proves he has rededicated himself to MMA, I’d rather him be an attraction than anywhere in the titlesphere. Let him finish his long unfinished business with Nate Diaz.

With Conor out of the running, there’s three reasonable candidates that I’ve chosen to focus on, including Zane’s choice, Michael Chandler. Given that’s Zane’s choice, I’ll start with Chandler.

Zane pointed out Chandler successfully built up a steady following outside of the confines of the UFC, a highly impressive feat. His dominant win over Dan Hooker over the weekend proved he deserves to be right at the top of the division. Throw in the fact that he’s 34 and he’s either at the tail end of his prime – or perhaps even just out of it – and the UFC should capitalize immediately by inserting Chandler into the title slot. A very sound argument.

However, I’m also of the opinion that the most deserving fighter should be awarded the title shot. Needless to say, I’ve been very unhappy with many of the choices the UFC has made recently in terms of who fights for the title, but that has nothing to do with Chandler. The former three-time Bellator champion’s recent run, though strong, isn’t the best. Before his win over Hooker, his last Bellator wins came over a well-past-his-prime Benson Henderson and Sidney Outlaw. If you haven’t heard of Sidney Outlaw, that’s kind of my point. Outlaw is a solid fighter and a quality win, but it doesn’t move the proverbial needle Uncle Dana is always talking about. I’m not blaming Chandler – I don’t think he was ducking any fights – but his strength of schedule hurts him in his case for a title shot. As for his age, Chandler could have made the move over to the UFC earlier if the opportunity to become UFC champion meant that much to him. I’m not crapping on him as he built an incredibly impressive resume in Bellator, but he chose this path. Should he be getting special treatment for being late to the UFC party? I lean towards no.

If we’re going strictly off of resume, that probably belongs to Justin Gaethje. Prior to his loss to Khabib this past fall, he ran through four ranked opponents in James Vick, Edson Barboza, Cerrone, and Tony Ferguson. All but Ferguson were defeated in the first round and Ferguson was on the receiving end of one of the most brutal beatdowns in recent memory at the hands of Gaethje. It could be argued Gaethje did more than just beat them’ he’s become the new Robbie Lawler and stole their souls. Their combined record in the time since Gaethje was done with them: 1-8, 1 NC.

However, Gaethje isn’t my pick either for two very simple reasons: he’s coming off a loss and has a previous loss to Poirier. I understand where many would put little stock in those reasons as the loss he’s coming off of was to Khabib – everyone who faced Khabib ended up coming off a loss – and the first contest with Poirier was a barnburner, regardless of who won or lost. Who in the hell wouldn’t want to see that fight again? I admit I’m anxious to see it again. But Gaethje is fresh off a loss for the title. Given the crowded situation at the top of the division, I’d like to see him go pick up a win before getting another crack at the belt. So how about pitting Gaethje with Chandler in a title eliminator? Put them on the same card as Poirier and Charles Oliveira and allow one to slip into the title picture should an injury occur.

Yes, Charles Oliveira is who I believe deserves a title shot. Do Bronx is on an eight-fight win streak, all but the last one achieved before the final bell. That one decision saw him do extreme damage to the arm of Ferguson, leaving El Cucoy to fight with a single arm for the rest of the contest. I understand the argument that many of the names during Oliveira’s win streak weren’t exactly impressive – Christos Giagos and David Teymur for instance – but that streak was also compiled in the span of two-and-a-half years. That’s indicative of Oliveira living up to the oft-spoken mantra of “any time, any place, anywhere,” a phrase that is rarely backed up. Given how much fans and Uncle Dana have both declared they appreciate that type of attitude, why wouldn’t they want to reward a fighter willing to live up to it? Plus, Oliveira’s win over Ferguson, depending upon how much you value the quality of a win over Ferguson post-Gaethje, is more impressive than any of Chandler’s recent wins. The same might even be said of his win over Kevin Lee.

Regardless of who ends up getting the title shot opposite Poirier, it’ll be one hell of a contest. There’s easy enough promotion for each. Poirier already laughed off the idea of facing Chandler, stating “That doesn’t really interest me at this point. I’m going to sell hot sauce if that’s the case.” No doubt Chandler didn’t receive that well, nor should he. However, it also makes for excellent promotional material. By making that comment, Poirier may have inadvertently made that contest more likely. Gaethje and Poirier was fire the first time around and I don’t see how it wouldn’t be the second time around. And Oliveira… well, he’s the most deserving as far as I’m concerned. He doesn’t cut a promo like Chandler. He doesn’t elicit the bloodlust in fans the way Gaethje does. But he plugged away, put his opposition away – often times in style – and owns the most impressive win streak in the division. Besides, given all Poirier has done for the company, why shouldn’t they throw him a bone? He doesn’t want Chandler. Let’s give him Oliveira. After all, do we really want the fate that befell Tony Ferguson to come upon Oliveira? I’ll state an emphatic NO!!!