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UFC 262 predictions, preview, and analysis

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UFC 257: Hooker v Chandler Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) market this Sat. night (May 15, 2021) with a lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler, two top-ranked combatants with the unenviable task of filling the void left by the recently-departed Khabib Nurmagomedov.

UFC 262, booked for Toyota Center in Houston, Texas with preliminary bouts on ESPN and ESPN+, will also feature a lightweight co-main event pitting Tony Ferguson against Beneil Dariush, a compelling clash of styles that could have serious title implications at 155 pounds.

Those folks hoping for Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz, as well as Jack Hermansson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, it is with regret that I inform you those main card matchups have been packed up and shipped out to future cards. The good news is, we still have plenty of exciting fights to preview ahead of this weekend’s festivities in “The Lone Star State.”

Before we break down tomorrow night’s championship action, go ahead and take a look at what MMA whiz kid Patrick Stumberg had to say about the ESPN and ESPN+ “Prelims” contests here and here. The latest UFC 262 odds and a complete betting guide for all the “Oliveira vs. Chandler” action can be located here.

Let’s talk shop.

155 lbs.: Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira (30-8, 1 NC) vs. “Iron” Michael Chandler (22-5) for vacant lightweight title

No doubt the winner of this bout is going to have some work to do in order to convince the combat sports community they are, in fact, the “real” champion and not just the guy who was first in line when Khabib Nurmagomedov skipped town. I think defeating the winner of the Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor trilogy will go a long way in settling that debate, especially considering “The Diamond” is widely considered the second-best lightweight in the division (behind “The Eagle,” of course).

Finishing Justin Gaethje and the aforementioned McGregor had something to do with that.

There is certainly a case to be made for the merits of Charles Oliveira, who launched himself into title contention with a torrid eight-fight win streak dating back to summer 2016. It’s hard to knock anyone with that kind of run in a division as deadly as lightweight, and it sounds exciting to yell EIGHT STRAIGHT WINS! on the “Countdown” special, I’m just not sure his record holds up under closer scrutiny. His UFC 256 dismantling of Tony Ferguson is clearly the biggest victory of his career, though you can also argue that “El Cucuy,” who turned 37 earlier this year, has become a run-down, zombified version of a once-great contender. His performance against Beneil Dariush will be telling, it’s just unfortunate — at least for the purposes of this analysis — that we won’t get that answer until the UFC 262 co-main event.

Reaching beyond that we see ... well, not much. Outside of Ferguson, Oliveira doesn’t hold a win over anyone currently ranked in the Top 10. And I’m not breaking out the party hats for a submission victory over Kevin Lee, who dropped four of his last six and can’t seem to make up his mind when it comes to choosing a weight class. None of that takes away from Oliveira’s elite submission game and surprisingly effective boxing. Anyone who thinks the Brazilian is just a grappling phenom with no power should check in with David Teymur, who suffered a broken orbital bone before getting choked out in Brazil. And Jared Gordon, who took a first-round power nap when he battled Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 164. That said, I’m not sure he wants to play Miss Mary Mack with a murderous power puncher like Michael Chandler.

The former Bellator MMA lightweight titleholder is privy to the same scrutiny we gave Oliveira, because his record comes with just as many question marks. Winning three straight and six of his last seven is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but how much stock do we put into a knockout win over Ben Henderson? Or even Dan Hooker for that matter? “The Hangman” was the right test for Chandler because he’s complete fighter with a fearless approach to phone booth fighting, but you know what they say about living and dying by the sword. I’m not going to entertain that moronic “dude got knocked out by a featherweight” crap because I already yelled about it last night in this column. Chandler is a NCAA Division-1 All American who racked up 100 wins as a collegiate wrestler and never took his foot off the gas after transitioning to combat sports. If you’re new to the game or simply hate anything not-UFC branded, go watch some of his crazy wars against the likes of Eddie Alvarez and Will Brooks, among others.

I’m not a huge fan of Chandler’s laissez-faire approach to submission defense, though admittedly I don’t know how much of that is posturing. What I do know is that if “Iron” thinks he’s going to rely on his “sixth sense” as he said in this post, Oliveira is going to tap him like a keg of Milwaukee’s Best. I also won’t write off “Do Bronx” on the feet, assuming he keeps one foot out of the red zone. At the expense of waffling, you can build a solid case for each fighter in this bout. My argument swings in favor of Chandler, because I’ve watched Oliveira for over a decade and one thing he can’t handle is pressure. Let’s also not pretend that his Paul Felder beating is ancient history, it’s just over two years old. Unless Chandler does something stupid — which he’s been known to do — and gift-wraps a guillotine, I expect him to come out firing like he always does, overwhelming his Brazilian foe with the kind of power and ferocity that very few lightweights are adept at countering. Oliveira has skills, no question, but he doesn't have the perseverance.

Prediction: Chandler def. Oliveira by technical knockout

155 lbs.: Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (25-5) vs. Beneil Dariush (20-4-1)

As I not-so-subtly alluded to in the prediction above, we have to look at a couple of different scenarios when it comes to the trajectory of Tony Ferguson. It’s easy to get spoiled by a fighter who does nothing but win and to his credit, “El Cucuy” spent the better part of his UFC career kicking ass and erasing names (from the title hunt). It’s possible that he got stuck in cruise control and failed to adjust against Justin Gaethje, just as it’s equally possible that Ferguson — who once held the interim title — could not accept his “Highlight” loss and went into his subsequent Charles Oliveira fight with more ego than strategy. Fighters lose, it happens at this level of competition, but “why” they lose is more important than “if” they lose. Anyone watching Ferguson eat power shots against Gaethje should not have been surprised, particularly if you look back at some of his previous fights. Just counting his wins over Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Kevin Lee, “El Cucuy” absorbed over 150 punches to the head.

Ouch.

It’s also worth mentioning those same three opponents are just 4-11 over their last five bouts, so you can argue that his wins have aged very poorly. In fact, Ferguson has just one victory over a fighter currently ranked in the Top 10, and that was his 2016 decision over Rafael dos Anjos. The Brazilian, meanwhile, is just 6-6 since losing his 155-pound title to Eddie Alvarez at UFC Fight Night 90. I don't want to take away what Ferguson has done in this division, but not having a Poirier or a McGregor win on his record — coupled with losing to Gaethje — hurts his position as one of the greats.

Speaking of good, but not great, we must also consider what Beneil Dariush will bring to the table after 19 fights under the UFC banner, 14 of which were victories. The Californian is following in the footsteps of both Ferguson and Oliveira, recently putting together a six-fight win streak over solid (but not otherworldly) competition, which includes two knockouts and two submissions. Historically, Dariush has struggled to stay consistent and was finished in all four of his losses, which brings us to the challenge of analyzing fighters: How far back do we go? Any contender worth their salt will continue to improve, assuming they come from a good camp and take lessons from their losses. Based on what we’ve seen from Dariush over his last six, I’d say the 2021 version would toe-tag the 2016 model, who was often criticized as being an off-brand Tony Ferguson based on his skills in both striking and jiu-jitsu. This fight may tell us if the pendulum has finally swung in the other direction and to be honest, I’m excited for it.

I think this matchup came at the perfect time for Dariush. He’s riding a six-fight win streak in the prime of his career while Ferguson, five years older than his lightweight counterpart, is falling apart at the seams. I do think the prolonged punishment he absorbed at the hands of Gaethje marked a turning point in his career, the same way Junior dos Santos was never the same after his near-death experience at the hands of Cain Velasquez. Both Ferguson and Dariush can hit hard and have slick submission skills, so for however long it lasts I predict a very entertaining fight. To his detriment, “El Cucuy” can no longer withstand the punishment, so expect him to deteriorate — rapidly — once the action gets hot and heavy.

Prediction: Dariush def. Ferguson by technical knockout

125 lbs.: Viviane “Vivi” Araujo (10-2) vs. Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian (15-4)

UFC is hurriedly trying to groom Viviane Araujo for a spot in the 125-pound title race, which is understandable when you consider “Vivi” turns 35 in November and probably won’t get a second chance to make a legitimate run at the strap. The final hurdle in that mission is defeating veteran bruiser Katlyn Chookagian, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the division. That might seem like a generous position for a combatant who is a good (but not great) 7-4 under the UFC banner, but it’s worth pointing out “Blonde Fighter” holds decisive victories over two former title contenders in the form of Jennifer Maia and Alexis Davis, while also halting the rise of flyweight up-and-comer Antonina Shevchenko. Simply put, Chookagian is a very tough out and capable of beating anyone in the division on any given day, assuming it’s not 125-pound titleholder Valentina Shevchenko, who continues to treat flyweight contenders the same way Jason Voorhees treats camp counselors.

I think it’s fair to say Araujo has enjoyed a more consistent run as of late, but I’ll stop short of calling it “better.” I guess that depends on how much value we’re willing to assign decision victories over tenacious but fairly unspectacular veterans like Roxanne Modafferi and Montana De La Rosa. The Brazilian’s UFC 245 loss to Jessica Eye stands out for all the wrong reasons, because that’s exactly the kind of fight she could be facing against Chookagian. I know some of my fellow pundits like to tout the hands of Araujo after she starched Talita Bernardo at UFC 237, but I think that was more about placement than power, which is why it has yet to be replicated in four subsequent trips to the cage. I don’t want to make a big deal about “Blonde Fighter’s” five-inch height advantage because both athletes hold a 68-inch reach. My bigger concern is Chookagian’s horrendous takedown defense, which saw her grounded 17 times over the last five years, and likely the reason Araujo steals the decision on Saturday night.

Prediction: Araujo def. Chookagian by unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Edson Barboza (21-9) vs. Shane “Hurricane” Burgos (13-2)

So far, Edson Barboza the featherweight doesn’t look much different than Edson Barboza the lightweight, and now that the Brazilian is 35, I’m not expecting any miraculous changes moving forward, particularly against Shane Burgos on the UFC 262 main card. Barboza made the change in weight after after losing four of his last five in the 155-pound division, only to split a pair of bouts against Dan Ige (loss) and Makwan Amirkhani (win). It’s worth pointing out that “Mr. Finland” was replacing Sodiq Yusuff on short notice, so I won’t be putting a ton of stock into that decision victory. Barboza is a dangerous striker with underrated power, racking up some of the most celebrated highlight-reel knockouts in the history of the promotion over fairly big names, like Dan Hooker and UFC 262 co-headliner Beneil Dariush. That said, both Kevin Lee and Khabib Nurmagomedov reinforced what we already knew about Barboza; namely, his ground game is what you would expect from a newborn calf. Getting him to the floor has proven to be a difficult task for anyone outside of the grappling elite, so Shane Burgos will have his work cut out for him.

Especially considering “Hurricane” hasn’t shot for a takedown in nearly four years.

Burgos, a product of the Tiger Schulmann franchise, cut his teeth in Cage Fury Fighting Championships, putting together seven straight wins after an impeccable run on the amateur circuit. In eight trips to the Octagon, the 30 year-old featherweight has amassed an impressive 6-2 mark, though both losses have come against Josh Emmett and Calvin Kattar, two gritty veterans who’ve been hovering in or around the Top 5 for the last couple of years. Without a definitive win over competition of that caliber, it’s difficult to give him the nod in this fight, particularly against an opponent with the experience of Barboza. The Brazilian has also been tested by Tier 1 fighters and in many cases, has passed those tests. No doubt “Hurricane,” no stranger to “Fight Night” bonuses, will bring the storm against Barboza. I just don’t think it’s going to be anything the former lightweight hasn't already seen — or conquered — after more than a decade of UFC competition.

Prediction: Barboza def. Burgos by unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Matt “Danger” Schnell (15-5) vs. Rogerio Bontorin (16-3, 1 NC)

The jury remains deadlocked when it comes to the trajectory of Matt Schnell, which is never a good sign for a combatant who is already nine fights into his UFC career. The Louisianan crossed over from Legacy Fighting Championship with a ton of hype — and a seven-fight win streak — only to get summarily destroyed in his first two fights for UFC. To his credit, “Danger” quickly rebounded and put together four straight wins before getting knocked out for the third time in his UFC career. Like he has before, Schnell was able to shake it off and jump back into the win column, I just don’t know how excited we should get for a split-decision victory over Tyson Nam, who turns 38 in October and sports double-digit losses.

Rogerio Bontorin, two years younger than his opponent at 29, impressed the right people with a submission victory on the Brazilian version of Dana White’s “Contender Series,” then proved he belonged on the UFC roster with back-to-back wins over Magomed Bibulatov and Raulian Paiva. Since then, the former Pancrase fighter has run aground, coming up short in consecutive stints against Ray Borg and Kai Kara France. Those losses may be forgivable when you consider Borg is a former flyweight title contender and France is ranked No. 7 at 125 pounds. It’s also unreasonable to expect every contending fighter to just cruise through the ranks without losing, I just get a little skittish when guys dominate the regional circuit then migrate to UFC and get laid to rest.

If you look at what Schnell and Bontorin have done over the last couple of years, they’ve followed a very similar path: flashes of greatness that are rudely interrupted by decisive losses. What makes this such an exciting fight is that Schnell has finished 10 of 15 opponents, while Bontorin has stopped 14 of 16. You don’t typically see those kinds of numbers at flyweight, where power is a rare commodity, so this contest may be a question of who fights smartest — or who lands first. Based on their respective bodies of work, Bontorin stands out as the more consistent fighter and for the purposes of this column, the more reliable pick.

Prediction: Bontorin def. Schnell by technical knockout

Remember, UFC 262 “Prelims” predictions can be found here and here.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 262 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 262: “Oliveira vs. Chandler” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the entire UFC 262 fight card and PPV line up click here.