Move Aside Charley Olives, Arman’s Ready for His Close-Up

December 6, 2023
6 months

Arman Tsarukyan has rotten luck. The Georgian-born lightweight contender has the misfortune of being in a logjam of contenders seeking an opportunity to fight for Islam Makhachev’s UFC lightweight championship. Despite being arguably more deserving than former champion Charles Oliveira and former interim champion Justin Gaethje, it looks like Tsarukyan will have to wait in line.

But there are plenty of reasons to suggest he shouldn’t have to wait. Tsarukyan starched Beneil Dariush in the first round at UFC Austin and has won eight of his last nine fights to improve to 21-3 in his career. The only loss during that stretch was a controversial decision loss to Mateusz Gamrot when Tsarukyan was given a Performance of the Night bonus.

But earning a championship opportunity goes beyond winning in the octagon. Tsarukyan is No. 4 in the rankings, behind three popular veterans who were undisputed or interim champions. There may still be some maneuvering for Tsarukyan to do before he is able to have his big moment, according to MMA breaking news.

Injuries Have Slowed Arman’s Momentum

Image of Arman Tsarukyan in Octogon

But it wasn’t an injury to Tsarukyan that changed his possible path forward. Originally, the plan was for Makhachev to fight Oliveira at UFC 294. However, Oliveira suffered an injury in training and was replaced by featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.

Makhachev would end up winning by head-kick knockout in the first round. Since Makhachev won the championship by submitting Oliveira at UFC 280 in October 2022, he has only defended the belt twice, both times against Volkanovski. While the superfight with Makhachev and Volkanovski was appealing to fans, it held up fights for the rest of the division.

Oliveira is next up on the list for Makhachev. The first fight between Oliveira and Makhachev wasn’t an exciting one. Makhachev dominated the wrestling in the fight before landing a second-round submission.

BMF Would Like to Keep His Place in Line as Well

Gaethje, the No. 2 contender, has a lot of options. Like nearly every fighter who is still alive with a heartbeat, he has been called out by Conor McGregor. Gaethje has said in many interviews that he only wants to keep fighting if he is capable of contending for a championship. Despite that, the McGregor fight would be a big payday for whoever finally gets it and could change Gaethje’s mind on his goals. 

Gaethje won the interim lightweight championship when he knocked out Tony Ferguson in May 2020. During Gaethje’s attempt to unify the belt against Khabib Nurmagomedov, he was submitted in two rounds at UFC 254.

Gaethje had a second opportunity to win the championship at UFC 274 but again lost by submission, this time to Oliveira. While it appeared Gaethje’s time in the title picture may be done, he changed that perception with two fights. Gaethje earned a controversial decision win over Rafael Fiziev and followed that up with a head-kick knockout of Dustin Poirier at UFC 291 to win the most ceremonial “BMF” title.

MMA latest updates show that Gaethje hasn’t been booked for a fight yet. Gaethje is a hard hitter who would test Tsarukyan’s striking distance with the power he builds through the volume of his strikes.

Tsarukyan Has Shown He’s a Tough Opponent for Makhachev

Image of Islam Mackhachev silencing crowd

When Tsarukyan made his UFC debut, he didn’t come in gifted with a matchup with a low-level veteran or middling prospect. Tsarukyan, then 22, took a bout with Makhachev on short notice in April 2019 to fight in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Makhachev already had eight UFC fights under his belt when they met.

Tsarukyan lost in a decision that wasn’t controversial. The more experienced Makhachev was able to record four takedowns and frustrated Tsarukyan with his superior wrestling. However, Tsarukyan was able to land a takedown of his own. 

Neither man landed many punches that would make their career highlight reels. Combined, the two men only landed 27 significant strikes. Tsarukyan attempted over twice as many significant strikes but only landed 30 percent, while Makhachev landed 70 percent of his significant strikes thrown.

Poirier May Be an Option for Tsarukyan

The lightweight division has many exciting possibilities for the UFC. Tsarukyan will likely be looking at one more bout before he gets a shot at the champion. The unfortunate thing for Tsarukyan is that McGregor’s presence looms large over the top contenders.

No one knows when or if McGregor will return. There is little doubt that if the Irishman comes back, there will be a number of people who want that fight. After being a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, McGregor was supposed to fight his opposing coach, former title challenger Michael Chandler, but that fight is up in the air.

Poirier, the No. 3 contender, would be an interesting matchup with Tsarukyan. Poirier is a former interim champion who has fights with the likes of Max Holloway, Oliveira, Gaethje, and others under his belt. Poirier is a dangerous striker who would put Tsarukyan’s total skill set to the test.

Green Could Be an Outside Option

American Bobby Green and Tsarukyan could be slotted for a fight together if none of the other top contenders will fight, and he wants to stay active. Green and Tsarukyan got into a shoving match in the hotel before UFC Austin, according to MMA news sites. After the event, Tsarukyan said he was happy to watch Green’s head bounce off the canvas during his KO loss to Jalin Turner.

While Green is not a championship-level fighter, it could be an interesting grudge match type of fight. However, due to the nature of Tsarukyan’s position in the rankings, he may not be interested. Tsarukyan has a difficult line to walk. Colby Covington sat out for over a year to wait for a welterweight championship shot against Leon Edwards, but there is no guarantee the UFC would give Tsarukyan the same leeway.

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