BRASILIA — Kevin Lee has beaten some of the world’s best strikers and grapplers in the UFC, from Edson Barboza to Michael Chiesa to Gregor Gillespie, but is he a better fighter than Charles Oliveira?
“Do Bronx” doesn’t think so.
The lightweight duo headline UFC Brasilia on March 13, a shot that Oliveira has been awaiting for a long, long time.
“I’m really happy with this fight, this opportunity the UFC gave me against Kevin Lee,” Oliveira told MMA Fighting. “We have a great opponent in front of us, but I have all the weapons to beat him.”
This is Oliveira’s first main event in the UFC since 2015, when he suffered a freak injury in the opening round against featherweight Max Holloway. The Chute Boxe fighter “doesn’t even consider” that to be a true fight, guaranteeing he’s “a completely different Charles now” since he joined Chute Boxe Diego Lima in Sao Paulo.
Lee returned to lightweight with a bang in November, sleeping Gillespie in less than three minutes after an unsuccessful trip to welterweight. Oliveira is on a roll himself, finishing six straight opponents in less than two years.
“I think Kevin Lee is an excellent fighter who fights well on the feet, has evolved in that area,” Oliveira said, “but his strongest weapon is wrestling, not jiu-jitsu. He puts so much pressure that people end up breaking, giving their backs, so he goes there and do what he does best, which is submit.
“I think I’ll be able to show how much I’ve evolved on the feet in this fight. I can show him that. We’ll make sure he gets lost on the feet and I score a great victory.”
“Motown Phenom” fought once before in Brazil, and he incited the Fortaleza crowd at the weigh-ins by showing them the finger. A night later, Lee submitted Francisco Trinaldo with a rear-naked choke.
Lee wants to once again silence the Brazilian crowd, so Oliveira sees their matchup as being personal.
“We want to shut this guy up and defend our country, defend Brazil,” Oliveira said. “The only thing Kevin Lee does better than me is talk and sell fights like that. I sell fights my own way, inside the cage. Let’s fight and show what I got. Brazil, let’s shut this guy up. He does his show outside [the cage] and I’ll put on a show inside the Octagon. Let’s make some noise so we can shut this guy up.”
Lee’s win over Trinaldo was one of his eight by submission in MMA, but going to the ground with a grappling wizard like “do Bronx” is no easy task. The Chute Boxe team has its DNA in the Muay Thai world, but Oliveira holds the absolute record for most submission wins in UFC history.
“This fight is a great matchup for me,” Oliveira said. “I’m better than him on the feet. If he takes me down he’ll put me where I am best (with my) jiu-jitsu. This fight favours me on the feet and on the ground. We have to respect who’s on the other side, of course, he has a big name and has fought other big names, too, but I have everything to come out of this fight with my hands raised.
“I’ll be aggressive and look for the finish as quick as possible. That’s the idea. Wherever he makes a mistake, I’ll capitalize on it. Like I told (coach Diego) Lima, I’ll fight like I never fought before. No rush, hit and move, and then we’ll make Kevin Lee make a mistake.”
If he manages to stop Lee in the main event, Oliveira believes “there’s no debate” he should be ranked in the top-10 of the 155-pound weight class.
“It’s gonna be seven wins in a row with no decisions,” he said. “It will open doors for me in the division. After that, it will be one more win and then my long-awaited title shot. After this, they have to give me a top-5, a top-3, and then I’ll fight for the belt by the end of the year or early next year.”