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​How Charles Oliveira's Impressive Title Defense Shakes Up UFC's Lightweight Division

All signs point to Justin Gaethje for the undisputed champion's next bout, but the future for the rest of the division is full of uncertainty after Dustin Poirier's defeat.

​Charles Oliveira removed all doubt this past Saturday.

In the main event of UFC 269, only moments after Julianna Peña tapped out Amanda Nunes, Oliveira executed a flawless game plan and removed Dustin Poirier from title contention.

Next up for Oliveira is Justin Gaethje. Unlike this past fight against Poirier, Oliveira will not be an underdog in that title defense.

After a long, uneven UFC journey, Oliveira now stands alone as the single best lightweight in the world. The blueprint for his past two fights–winning the vacant title against Michael Chandler and then the successful title defense against Pothier–both included Oliveira getting his face smashed in the opening round. Yet his chin withstood a number of vicious strikes, and he then preyed upon a tired, vulnerable opponent. Oliveira’s striking was too much for Chandler (a claim Gaethje cannot make) in the second round. He also showed versatility against Poirier in the second round, changing the trajectory of the matchup by taking the fight to the mat and wearing him out. Come round three, the silent assassin Oliveira struck again, locking on a vicious standing rear-naked choke. That submission seized hold of the fight world’s attention, and Oliveira does not intend to let go of that hold any time soon.

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For Oliveira, the path is linear. His next opponent is Gaethje, another matchup that favors the champ. The future of the rest of the division, especially the top contenders, is not nearly as straightforward.

Another fight with title implications is Islam Makhachev against Beneil Dariush, which takes place in February. If Makhachev steamrolls his way past Dariush, there is every reason to believe he will be next in line for a title shot following Gaethje. Dariush has less of the marketing machine behind him, but he will be just as deserving if he defeats Makhachev.

Of course, more goes into title shots than merely a winning streak. A fighter needs to draw, and there is no more spectacular draw than Conor McGregor.

McGregor challenging Oliveira for the belt would draw pay-per-view buys, and it could be a spotlight to showcase Oliveira’s brilliance. While he is no doubt the most elite lightweight in the world, Oliveira is a quiet champion. Silent, however, is not an accurate description for McGregor. The caveat is that McGregor should be nowhere near a title shot. But Poirier losing is more good fortune for McGregor. There would have been all kinds of criticism had McGregor jumped the line for a title shot had Poirier won the belt (or against Oliveira, for that matter), but now another fight/grudge match against Poirier puts the winner back in contention for another title shot.

McGregor should also steer clear of Tony Ferguson. Considering McGregor would be a heavy favorite, that is a dangerous fight with no real reward. A fight against Michael Chandler would be exciting, and likely one that McGregor would win–but the same issue applies -- why step into the Octagon against a great wrestler when the reward is so minimal? That is another dangerous fight with not nearly enough incentive. The best bet for McGregor is either Poirier, Jorge Masvidal, or Nate Diaz. It is in McGregor’s best interests to hold off on the Diaz fight just a little longer, and a fight against Masvidal would be an enormous draw. Masvidal–as talented as he is–has only a slight chance at beating McGregor, but the build would be enormous. It could also have some added stakes with the ceremonial BMF title on the line, and they could hold that fight at 155 or 170.

But change is blowing in the division. It no longer belongs to McGregor. Poirier tapped out before he could be crowned. Khabib Nurmagomedov is retired, and Gaethje and Chandler watch from afar. Oliveira now sits comfortably in the throne. And while winter is coming, the weather is picturesque in Oliveira’s home of Guarujá back in Brazil.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.