There may not be a title on the line when Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler meet at Madison Square Garden, but expectations are sky high as two of the lightweight division’s biggest crowd-pleasers go head to head at UFC 281.

Both men have championship ambitions at 155 pounds. For Poirier, it’s the unfinished business of winning the undisputed title that twice eluded him in prior matchups, while for Chandler, it’s the chance to reach what he believes is his destiny after arriving in the UFC as a former three-time Bellator lightweight champ.

Both men have the power to end a fight in an instant, and both are well rounded enough to cause problems on the feet and on the ground. It’s a fight that will likely split the pundits, and one that might just steal the show on a stacked card in New York City.

The form guide

Poirier has lost just twice since 2016, with both defeats coming in title fights, as he fell agonisingly short against Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira at UFC 242 and UFC 269, respectively.

That loss to Oliveira was also Poirier’s most recent UFC outing, and the Louisiana native will be looking to bounce back to the form that earned him that shot. Prior to facing “Do Bronx,” last December, Poirier had outpointed Kiwi Dan Hooker, then handed Conor McGregor back-to-back TKO losses.

He may have held the interim belt back in 2019, but the only thing missing from Poirier’s stellar resume is an undisputed title. Victory over Chandler could push him one big step closer to another shot at that goal.

Chandler, meanwhile, has been all gas, no brakes, since his headline-grabbing arrival from Bellator in 2021. He’s fought four times in the UFC octagon so far, winning two and losing two, but he wasn’t dominated in any of his losing efforts, and indeed was close to winning both.

His octagon debut saw him blast past Dan Hooker in just half a round at UFC 257, and he looked to be within seconds of winning the vacant lightweight title when he had Oliveira in big trouble at the end of the first round at UFC 262. Oliveira survived the round, then turned the tables on Chandler to capture the belt. But it proved that the former Bellator man belonged at the lightweight top table.

Another loss followed, but it came in 2021’s Fight of the Year against Justin Gaethje, a scrap that will stand the test of time as one of the very best ever seen inside the octagon. But, despite the plaudits that followed, his record showed another defeat, and back-to-back losses for the first time since 2014.

Chandler needed to right the ship, and he did so in the most spectacular way imaginable, with a stunning front-kick knockout of Tony Ferguson at UFC 274 in May.

Now Chandler will face Poirier in a battle between fighters from two of the biggest, best gyms in Florida, Chandler’s Kill Cliff Fight Club (formerly Sanford MMA) and Poirier’s longtime home at American Top Team.

What’s at stake?

The UFC lightweight division is absolutely stacked, and there’s a bunfight at the top of the division as the contenders jockey for position to challenge newly-crowned champion Islam Makhachev.

With the Russian looking set to face featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski in early 2023, the task for the remaining contenders at 155 pounds is simply to make sure they’re at the head of the queue heading into next summer.

With the likes of former interim champ Justin Gaethje still very much in the mix, and Beneil Dariush’s eight-fight win streak propelling him into the middle of the title picture, both Chandler and Poirier, who have recent title fight losses on their records, will need to make a real statement to leapfrog their rivals.

While a win will put one of them right in the mix, the chances are they’ll need to win one more before they land a title shot next summer. Victory is a must, while defeat will put them behind the eight ball in a division that offers no room for error.