And it's pretty remarkable that Charles Oliveira (30-8) or Michael Chandler (22-5) will be the one to take Nurmagomedov's throne. When they square off at UFC 262 on Saturday in Houston, it will be the first UFC lightweight title fight since July 2016 to not feature either Nurmagomedov or Conor McGregor. Instead, it will match up two of the best, but often overlooked, lightweights of the past decade.
Oliveira was 20 years old when he made his UFC debut in 2010. When he steps into the Octagon this weekend, he will be making his 28th UFC appearance -- the most it has taken any fighter in the promotion's history to reach a title fight.
Chandler won Bellator MMA's lightweight title in just his ninth professional bout in 2011. In reality, he wanted to fight in the UFC from that moment on, to test himself against the premier organization's best. He went on to sign four more contracts with Bellator, in part because the promotion treated him so well, before finally signing with the UFC late last year. Saturday is just his second UFC fight.
It's a pairing of two title challengers who have dealt with very long but very different waits to reach this point. And to add to that theme, in the co-main event, former interim champion Tony Ferguson, who won 12 consecutive fights in the UFC but never fought for the undisputed championship, will try to end a two-fight losing streak and prove his title hopes aren't dead when he faces Beneil Dariush.
Nurmagomedov's decision to step away has opened the door for a lot of lightweights to take advantage. Saturday will see the first domino fall in determining the best 155-pounder on the planet post-Khabib.
By the numbers
28: Fights in the UFC for Oliveira (including Saturday's), who made his Octagon debut in August 2020 as a 20-year-old. If he wins the title, he would surpass Michael Bisping for the most fights in a UFC career before capturing an undisputed championship. Bisping did it in his 26th appearance.
6: Techniques Oliveira has used to secure his 14 submissions: guillotine choke (UFC-record five), rear-naked choke (four), anaconda choke (two), armbar (one), triangle choke (one), calf slicer (one of just two in UFC history).
8: Consecutive victories by Oliveira, the longest active winning streak in the UFC's lightweight division. Islam Makhachev is right behind with seven wins in a row, one more than Beneil Dariush, who also fights on Saturday's card.
2:30: Time it took Chandler to win his UFC debut, a knockout of Dan Hooker in January. It was the fourth-quickest win in a UFC debut against a top-10 opponent since rankings began in 2013. If Chandler wins the title this weekend, he would become the 14th fighter to do so in their first two UFC fights. The list includes Ronda Rousey, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
When Oliveira made his UFC debut on Aug. 1, 2010 ...
Oliveira was the 10th-youngest fighter in UFC history at 20 years, 288 days old.
Seven of the 12 weight classes currently in the UFC did not yet exist: strawweight, men's flyweight, women's flyweight, men's bantamweight, women's bantamweight, men's featherweight and women's featherweight.
No women had fought in the UFC.
The No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was "Love the Way You Lie," by Eminem featuring Rihanna.
The No. 1 movie in the world was "Inception," starring MMA fan Leonardo DiCaprio.
A look back
Five vs. five
Charles Oliveira's most recent results
Win: Tony Ferguson (UD, Dec. 12, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Kevin Lee (Sub3, March 14, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Jared Gordon (KO1, Nov. 16, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Nik Lentz (TKO2, May 18, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: David Teymur (Sub2, Feb. 2, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Michael Chandler's most recent results
Win: Dan Hooker (TKO1, Jan. 24, 2021; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Benson Henderson (KO1, Aug. 7, 2020)
Win: Sidney Outlaw (KO1, Dec. 29, 2019)
Loss: Patricio Freire (TKO1, May 11, 2019)
Win: Brent Primus (UD, Dec. 14, 2018)
Dom & Gil's film study
Gilbert Melendez on Oliveira's big push:
Dominick Cruz on Chandler's big power:
And the winner is ...
"I think it's going to be a surprisingly close fight," said former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks, who fought both men, Oliveira in the UFC. "If there's anything we've learned about Oliveira, it's that outside of his jiu-jitsu and abilities on the ground, the dude can take a shot, man. He doesn't have a glass chin. He's one of those guys that the more you beat up on him, the longer he lasts almost -- the stronger he gets. You see it sometimes, guys get tired of punching him. They get tired of hitting him."
Check out how Brooks and other fighters and coaches break down the main event.
Saturday's fight card
PPV (via ESPN+), 10 p.m. ET
Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler | Lightweight
Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush | Lightweight
Matt Schnell vs. Rogerio Bontorin | Men's bantamweight
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo | Women's flyweight
Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza | Men's featherweight
ESPN/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Jacare Souza vs. Andre Muniz | Middleweight
Lando Vannata vs. Mike Grundy | Men's featherweight
Jordan Wright vs. Jamie Pickett | Middleweight
Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko | Women's flyweight
ESPN+, 6:30 p.m. ET
Gina Mazany vs. Priscila Cachoeira | Women's flyweight
Kevin Aguilar vs. Tucker Lutz | Men's featherweight
Christos Giagos vs. Sean Soriano | Lightweight
How to watch the fights
Watch the PPV and all other fights on ESPN+. Get ESPN+ here.
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Purchased the fight on your phone and want to stream on your TV? Find out how here.
There's also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Four more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. The co-main event also features lightweights, with former interim champion Tony Ferguson looking to snap a two-fight losing streak as he takes on Beneil Dariush, a winner of six straight. Ferguson, an underdog (+145) for just the second time in his 19-fight UFC career, has an 81% finish rate, with 12 knockouts and nine submissions in 26 wins. Dariush's 14 wins at lightweight are the most in the division since his 2014 debut (Ferguson is tied for third with 11).
2. Hot flyweight Matt Schnell, who has won five of his last six fights, faces a 125-pounder looking to get back on track, as Rogerio Bontorin has lost two in a row. Schnell lands 4.23 significant strikes per minute, fourth best among active flyweight men, and has the division's second-best significant strike defense, avoiding 65.7% of what's thrown his way.
3. Katlyn Chookagian, just over a year removed from a challenge for the women's flyweight championship, will be looking to get back in the title picture when she takes on the surging Viviane Araujo, who has won two straight and four of her five UFC fights. Chookagian has just three finishes among her 15 UFC wins (20%), while Araujo has a 70% finish rate (four submissions and three knockouts in 10 wins).
4. Shane Burgos, who has landed the fourth-most significant strikes per minute in UFC history (7.31), faces another high-action featherweight, Edson Barboza, the only UFC fighter with knockouts by head kick, body kick and leg kick. Barboza's spinning wheel kick KO of Terry Etim in 2012 remains one of the most viral knockouts in Octagon history.
ESPN's Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.