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Oliveira stops Chandler, claims lightweight title at UFC 262

HOUSTON (AP) — Charles Oliveira claimed the UFC lightweight title Saturday night, stopping Michael Chandler with a barrage of punches early in the second round at UFC 262.

Oliveira (31-8) earned his ninth consecutive victory in dramatic fashion, finishing Chandler (22-6) with a series of precise strikes to claim the belt vacated by Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement.

After both fighters traded big shots in a back-and-forth opening round, Oliveira abruptly dropped Chandler with a left hook in the opening seconds of the second round. The Brazilian veteran pursued Chandler around the perimeter of the cage before dropping Chandler again with a left hook and finishing with punches on the ground just 19 seconds into the round.

“I told you I was going to knock him out, and I came and knocked him out,” Oliveira said through a translator. “I’m proving to everybody I’m the lion of lions.”

Oliveira appeared to be in serious trouble in the first round from Chandler’s relentless attacks, but he recovered and then finished in spectacular fashion. Oliveira, who has stopped eight of his nine opponents during his winning streak, ran across the mat and hurdled the cage to celebrate his first title belt after 11 years in the UFC and his record 17th UFC finish.

“Michael, you’re a great champion,” said Oliveira, who already held the UFC record with 14 victories by submission. “But today is my day.”

Oliveira is the UFC’s first new undisputed lightweight champion in over three years. Nurmagomedov held the belt from April 2018 until this year, when UFC President Dana White finally accepted the unbeaten Russian star’s decision to retire in the prime of his career late last year.

A mid-career renaissance led Oliveira to a title fight, while Chandler got his shot only eight months after signing with the UFC following a decade in Bellator, where he won the 155-pound title three times. Chandler’s UFC debut was an impressive stoppage of Dan Hooker in January, and the promotion fast-tracked him to a title shot.

“You can never get too aggressive,” said Chandler, who vowed after the bout to become the UFC lightweight champion before he retires. “Aggressive is my style. Aggressive is me. You just zig when you should have zagged, and Charles Oliveira is getting the belt wrapped around his waist instead of you.”

Oliveira showed off his ever-improving striking game alongside his already formidable jiu-jitsu skills in a career-capping performance. Oliveira joined the UFC as a 20-year-old prospect and went through several down stretches when the promotion appeared to overmatch him against veteran opposition, but the now-31-year-old lightweight has added formidable striking to his skills as arguably the top submission artist in the promotion.

The UFC packed the Toyota Center for its second pay-per-view event in front of a full crowd since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the penultimate bout at UFC 262, former interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson took his third straight defeat, losing every round on every scorecard to Beneil Dariush.

Ferguson (25-5) had an eight-year, 12-fight winning streak that ended last May. He couldn’t figure out a strategy on the ground or on his feet against Dariush (21-4-1), who has won seven straight bouts.

Dariush nearly finished Ferguson with a heel hook in the second round, but Ferguson improbably kicked his way out of it. Dariush still controlled the bout until the final bell, and he basked in cascades of boos from the Ferguson-supporting crowd.

“I wanted to get wild so bad,” Dariush said. “I felt better in my speed, I felt better in my power, and I was just like, ‘Let’s get wild.’ But then I remembered I want to be a champion. I’m not trying to be a bonus fighter. Actually, it was the fans that helped. They were yelling his name. I was like, you know what? It’s all noise. I just need to do my job. I just stuck to the game plan.”

On the undercard, André Muniz finished fellow Brazilian veteran Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza in the first round, and he appeared to break Souza’s arm in the submission hold when Souza refused to tap out. Muniz’s victory was his fifth straight since joining the UFC, while the 41-year-old Souza has lost four straight.

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