(Reuters) – The UFC is set to crown either American Michael Chandler or Brazil’s Charles Oliveira as lightweight champion in Houston, Texas on Saturday, filling the void left by the retirement of undefeated Dagestani Khabib Nurmagomedov last October.
Nurmagomedov, 32, announced his retirement in the cage following his submission victory over American Justin Gaethje in October 2020, prompting a rush to replace him at the top of one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC.
Former Bellator champion Chandler quickly dispatched New Zealander Dan Hooker in his UFC debut in January and will fight for the UFC belt in only his second bout with the promotion.
He defended his right to the fight.
“These days the word ‘deserve’ is a hard one to quantify, (but) I’ve been in this sport for over a decade – 13 years in August. My resume does speak for itself,” Chandler told a media conference on Thursday.
His opponent Oliveira is on an eight-fight winning streak and staked his claim to a title shot with a unanimous decision victory in December over American Tony Ferguson, former interim title holder who will meet Beneil Dariush in the co-main event.
As the fighters shared a stage to speak to the media, Ferguson accused Chandler of dodging him as he sought an easier route to the UFC title and suggested his compatriot was being given preferential treatment by the UFC.
“You said no, I’m going to be real. You got this handed to you. You got (UFC president) Dana White privilege,” said Ferguson.
Former champion Conor McGregor had his sights on winning back the belt he lost to Nurmagomedov but defeat by American Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi in January saw him leapfrogged in the queue.
Irishman McGregor is slated to meet Poirier in a rematch in July, with the winner likely to be back in title contention.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)