Charles Oliveira was confident that a one-sided win over Tony Ferguson would lead to a shot at the UFC lightweight belt, but Dana White’s recent comment suggesting a fight between “do Bronx” and Justin Gaethje could happen indicates that the company might have other plans for the Brazilian.
Oliveira’s team, however, is still hoping that the submission ace will compete for gold next.
“I honestly think he deserves to go straight for the belt,” Oliveira’s manager and coach Diego Lima said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “He’s coming off eight wins in a row, beat Kevin Lee in great fashion and then dominated Ferguson all around—and Ferguson is one of the best of the division, won 12 straight before losing a title fight—so I think Charles is ready and has enough credibility to fight for the belt.”
Gaethje was on a roll in the octagon before losing via submission to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a title unification bout at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. Gaethje is still ranked No. 1 in the official UFC list, with Oliveira sitting at No. 3 behind Dustin Poirier.
The UFC has yet to make a decision regarding what to do with the 155-pound belt after Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from the sport after defeating Gaethje. Oliveira’s team has a suggestion, and it involves UFC 257 headliners Poirier and Conor McGregor, who meet Jan. 23 on Fight Island.
“With all due respect, Khabib ran over [Gaethje]. That must count, and a lot,” Lima said. “I believe Charles’ next fight has to be for the belt against the winner of Poirier and McGregor, not Justin Gaethje. But we know this fight between Poirier and McGregor involves a lot of things. We know that Poirier winning means one thing, and McGregor winning changes the whole scenario. I think there’s a lot at stake in this fight.”
Oliveira currently has one bout left in his current deal with the UFC, but won’t consider fighting out the contract. Instead, they hope for a good bump in pay in negotiations after going 8-0 since June 2018, breaking the record for most submissions in UFC history (14) in the process.
“We absolutely want to renew the contract and book Charles’ next fight - and God willing, it will be for the belt,” Lima said. “The position he is right now, the amount of wins he has, what he’s done in his last fight, I think he deserves an upgrade in his purse. It’s more than deserving. Not only for his position in the ranking, but also his history in the organization.
“Most bonuses, most finishes, most submissions… He might break two or three records in his next fights. All that, plus his win over Ferguson, will be very important when we renew the contract.”
If his wish isn’t fulfilled and Oliveira has to share the cage with Gaethje in a non-championship contest next, his coach believes he has the perfect skill set to hand the former interim titleholder another defeat.
“Justin is a tough opponent and I think tough opponents make good fights, like we saw in Charles against Kevin Lee and Ferguson,” Lima said. “Charles is ready to win against anyone in the division. Everybody knows Charles’ ground game already, everybody can see his evolution in the wrestling and on the feet.
“With all due respect to Gaethje, a tough guy, I see Charles winning in all areas. If this fight gets booked, we’ll study Gaethje’s game hard and go for the win.”