The UFC lightweight division will finally have a new king after the company acknowledged Khabib Nurmagomedov’s desire to retire and booked Charles Oliveira versus Michael Chandler for the undisputed gold on May 15, a decision that “do Bronx” didn’t see coming.
As soon as Dustin Poirier beat Conor McGregor earlier this year, Oliveira said the UFC should book him against “The Diamond” to crown the new 155-pound champion, but Oliveira-Chandler was the matchup that was made official for UFC 262 in Houston.
“I thought I was going to fight Dustin Poirier, but then I realized he was angling for the Conor trilogy, so I was cool,” Oliveira said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I can’t say I knew I was going to fight [for the belt], we never know for sure, but I was very hopeful that this opportunity would come for me.”
Oliveira earned his chance after racking up eight straight victories under the UFC banner dating back to June 2018, capped off by a dominant decision victory over former interim titleholder Tony Ferguson. Chandler entered the title picture with a devastating first-round knockout over Dan Hooker in his octagon debut in January.
The Brazilian lightweight was “the last to know” about the title fight, however. With rumors of a potential Chandler-Justin Gaethje fight popping online, Oliveira decided to go to his parents’ farm for the weekend to relax. There’s no cellphone reception there and his father’s phone is the only method of communication, so the very environment that helped him relax also prevented him from knowing the fight was on.
A number of missed calls from Oliveira’s coach Diego Lima on his father’s phone got him curious, so he hopped in the car with his father to drive to the nearest town to get good reception. His phone started ringing on the road, and manager Jorge Patino gave him the good news.
“Congratulations, my son,” Patino told Oliveira. “Your dream has arrived.”
Oliveira pulled over and started crying, and so did his father.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. Now let’s bring this belt home on the 15th,” he said. “It’s a title fight, the opportunity of my life, something I’ve promised to my community and my parents. It’s time. I don’t care if it’s by knockout or submission or decision, I just want to have my hands raised.”
The Chute Boxe talent promises “boldness and joy” as his motto for the championship duel, respecting Chandler’s abilities inside the cage.
“I’ll respect him, but I’ll walk forward the entire time,” he said. “If he comes to hit me hard, he’ll eat a counter. We both walk forward all the time. It will be two trucks colliding. I’m not afraid of getting hit. Hit me. If he takes me down, I’ll be doing what I love the most, which is jiu-jitsu. I’m not worried if I stay on the feet or get taken down.
“All he has is a heavy hand, a heavy punch. I’m complete on the feet and complete on the ground. The only thing he has better than me is wrestling, but I’ll use my jiu-jitsu if he tries to wrestle me so it makes no difference to me.
“Every wrestler that took me down, I made it happen. Will Brooks came from Bellator as the man and I took him down and caught him. I fought David Teymur, who had how many kickboxing matches, and I beat him on the feet before he took me down and I tapped him. Brother, I respect him a lot, but this is my time.”
Chandler has won his last three fights via first-round knockout, including his last Bellator appearance against former UFC and WEC champion Benson Henderson. Yet, Oliveira says that doesn’t impress nor scare him. Do Bronx holds the record for most submission victories in UFC history, but has also shown evolution in the striking area.
“That’s his strongest round, he comes for all or nothing in the first round,” Oliveira said. “He has great power with his hand. If you walk forward and don’t have the right strategy he’ll drop you on your butt because his first round is strong. We have to respect him, he was the Bellator champion and has fought great names, but I’ve also fought great names, I’ve had my highs and lows, and won my last eight.
“I’ve fought great wrestlers and showed how good I am. I’ve fought strikers and made things happen. It will be a good fight. The key in this fight is being bold and happy.”
Chandler has been stopped with strikes twice throughout his career, losing the Bellator title to Patricio Freire and Brooks, but never tapped to a submission. In fact, “Iron” has seven submissions to his credit in MMA.
“There’s always a moment and time in life,” Oliveira said. “Anderson Silva was a phenom and many people said he’d never lose, and that unfortunately happened. Jose Aldo stayed undefeated for how many years, beating everybody up, and ended up losing. [Israel Adesanya] was undefeated and moved up in weight and lost. I was undefeated when I got in the UFC and ended up losing.
“There’s a first time for everything in life. He has good wrestling, good jiu-jitsu, has a good hand, but everybody knows my power and how much I’ve evolved on the feet and how good my jiu-jitsu is, so I’ll bring boldness and joy into the octagon. I’ll be bold.”