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Charles Oliveira emerges as leading candidate for Conor McGregor fight as Michael Chandler fades from view

“Dude, that fight gets me hard.” —Sean O’Malley

UFC 289: Nunes v Aldana Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) failed to deliver the blockbuster ratings typically associated with a megastar like former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) two-division champion Conor McGregor, so much of the blame has fallen on fellow coach and former Bellator MMA titleholder Michael Chandler.

Probably because he’s not a “big name” (according to this ex-champ).

That’s why the new leading candidate is former UFC lightweight kingpin Charles Oliveira, who blasted his way back into the win column by steamrolling Beneil Dariush in the UFC 289 co-main event earlier this month in Vancouver. “Do Bronx” seemed to be a lock for the next 155-pound title shot, but promotion president Dana White hasn’t (yet) committed to an Islam Makhachev rematch.

“Everything’s upside down,” Makhachev told reporters.

Perhaps the promotion is waiting to see what happens when Dustin Poirier fights fellow top contender Justin Gaethje in the UFC 291 lightweight headliner next month in Salt Lake City. Or the new plan could have Oliveira preparing to fight McGregor at some point later this year, assuming “Notorious” first satisfies his USADA obligations.

Top bantamweight contender Sean O’Malley has his own theory, based on Internet rumor and innuendo.

“I was thinking Charles-Islam 2,” O’Malley told his podcast listeners (transcribed by MMA News). “I would be interested in that fight even though Islam knocked him out and then finished him. I would still be interested in that fight, I would love to watch Charles vs. Islam 2. But, it’s sounding like – and I read it, and it must be true — I saw it on the internet. Charles Oliveira vs. Conor McGregor, potentially instead of Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler.”

McGregor was chasing Oliveira back when “Do Bronx” held the division strap. The fight never materialized but the Brazilian continues to apply pressure, insisting “Notorious” is “avoiding” the matchup despite repeated callouts. Perhaps the power-punching Irishman remains “in shock” at what could happen.

“I am all for it, I will watch Conor fight pretty much anyone,” O’Malley continued. “Conor vs. Charles, I would ... dude, that fight gets me hard. Conor vs. Chandler too, don’t get me wrong. That’s a f***ing sweet fight, I wanna see that one too. But if I had to pick, Conor vs. Charles. That fight gets me excited, I would love to see it.”

To be fair, everything gets O’Malley hard these days (thanks to this).

No word yet on what the promotion plans to do with McGregor but it would seem like a colossal waste of time and resources to not follow through with a Chandler showdown considering we still have eight more weeks of TUF 31 on ESPN. The sooner UFC can make an announcement on the future of the lightweight title chase, the better for all parties involved.

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