All the MMA media has cared about at LW has been Khabib/Tony/Conor and to a lesser degree Poirier and Gaethje. They also deemed Kevin Lee as the next big thing.
This whole time though a few dark horses have quietly been climbing the ranks, Oliveira, Makhachev, Dariush and Ferreira.
Gilbert Burns is now the #1 contender at WW and everyone raves about how good he is but he was just another LW dark horse a few years ago. Was not even ranked in the top 20 (fightmatrix) when he left the division.
2020 was the year Oliveira was able to finally able to get some big fights and he finished Lee and destroyed Tony. Because he arrived in the UFC so young (21) and was fed to the wolves like prime Cub and Frankie, lots of fans had written him off as some sort of journyman but if you were following his development, you knew that was bullshit.
Ferreira might just be the 2021 dark horse of the year as Oliveira was in 2020. Ferreira is riding a six fight win streak with recent wins over Khabilov, Taisumov and former LW champ Pettis. He is set to fight Dariush, a LW dark horse in his own right who is riding a five fight win streak with four finishes. In his last fight he crushed Holtzman with a spinning backfist that got everyone's attention. The winner of this Ferreira Dariush fight should have set themselves up to be in a position Oliveira was in prior to getting the Tony fight. Their crack at top five/top six ranked LW should be next.
Makhachev is another dark horse on the rise. Has his own six fight win streak and he is set to fight Dober who has a three fight/three KO win streak of his own and is 8-2 in his last 10 UFC LW fights. Its a big fight as well. Makhachev's first crack at a top 15 ranked LW.
Chandler is a new arrival and just had a tough loss a couple fights ago but showed he is still game in his last fight with his KO of Bendo.
RDA is a former champ and took his lumps vs the top three WWs but he has returned to LW in a big way with a win over a top ten fighter. Does he have another run in him despite his age? He don't look like we should count him out yet.
Leo Santos is still undefeated at LW and despite being 39 he just beat an undefeated Russian this summer.
With Khabib retiring or doing only one more fight and Tony declining with age and injury.... all of a sudden the Khabib/Tony era of LW seems to be over.
2021 will be the year some of these dark horses start to get some big fights and in the case of Oliveira... they might be able to grab the gold. If Khabib does not return I expect Oliveira to challenge the Conor/Poirier winner for the title. If Khabib does return for one more... I think it should be Khabib Oliveira as its a fresh matchup for Khabib and much more interesting than watching a rematch with Khabib vs the Conor/Poirier winner.
Aside from the dark horses... 2021 will also be the story of the comeback. Gaethje, Gillespie, Tony, Hooker, Taisumov, Iaquinta and Felder all have big loses to bounce back from. Lee does as well and he must also return from knee surgery.
Hopefully Khabib Oliveira is the first title fight of 2021. Whether that happens or not though, Conor Poirier will have everyones attention at the start of the year but thats just the tip of the iceburg. 2021 is gonna be fireworks at LW.