Jon Anik has no issue putting Charles Oliveira in the same sentence as Khabib Nurmagomedov when it comes to all-time greatness.
Anik will be calling the action, alongside Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier, this Saturday at UFC 274, which takes place at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. In the main event, Oliveira will put his lightweight title on the line against Justin Gaethje. While the longtime play-by-play voice for the UFC can get excited for any bout, this championship headliner certainly takes things to another level.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Anik told MMA Fighting. “Charles is so under appreciated given the body of work and the greatness. For the first time this week, people are starting to invoke the name Khabib Nurmagomedov in trying to somehow compare these legacies and I’m not sure you can do it. Khabib was 13-0 in the UFC, Oliveira is already at 20 UFC wins, he’s riding this unbelievable double-digit winning streak, and if he wins this weekend, he will have those names Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje on the resumé that Khabib had to close out his career.
“Certainly, you can’t take away the 29-0 of Khabib Nurmagomedov, but he didn’t have that longevity in the UFC that Charles Oliveira can lay claim to, and stylistically, he’s never been in a boring fight — even when people have questioned certain versions of Charles Oliveira.”
Oliveira captured the title after a comeback stoppage win over Michael Chandler in the main event of UFC 264 in May 2021. “Du Bronx” went on to finish Poirier seven months later for his first title defense at UFC 269, again overcoming adversity in victory, for his 10th straight win.
In Anik’s eyes, after Oliveira’s last two victories, the narrative that Oliveira can’t deal with being in trouble in his fights should no longer be a thing.
“I would say that when he made his UFC debut when he was 20 years old and he filled out his UFC fighter bio, and the column was there for strengths, all he listed was ‘heart,’” Anik told MMA Fighting. “I do believe that he has always had heart and that [this narrative] is entirely overblown. He got a bad rap from the Max Holloway main event that ended quickly due to injury, and there are other times where, maybe, he lived to fight another day and some people classify that is quitting.
“I love Charles Oliveira. I love his mental state, I think he has a championship aura not unlike Alexander Volkanovski — I don’t want to say an aura of invincibility, per se — but here’s the deal: if you want to bet on the main event, power to you. If you want to have action, I get it. If you see value on Justin Gaethje [as a betting underdog], have at it. But to me, as someone who bets on sports every day, can’t you find something better in the book than to bet against Charles Oliveira right now? I mean, look at him, I think most of us would agree he has more ways to win — not to short change Justin Gaethje — but Charles Oliveira is on fire right now, and I would fade him at your own peril, I really would.”
This will be Gaethje’s second opportunity to become the undisputed UFC lightweight champion. The former interim titleholder faced Nurmagomedov in a unification bout at UFC 254 in October 2020 where he was submitted in the second round in what turned out to be Nurmagomedov’s final fight. “The Highlight” returned to action 13 months later and defeated Chandler in MMA Fighting’s 2021 Fight of the Year via unanimous decision at UFC 268.
While Anik is certainly high on Oliveira’s ability to make things happen while in danger, he also believes that Gaethje has a great chance to do what Poirier and Chandler could not — put Oliveira away if he smells blood in the water.
“For Justin Gaethje, I don’t think any sales pitch is needed,” Anik explained. “He’s your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter. If the body of work for him was [mostly] in the UFC, he’d be first ballot hall of famer just like Charles.
“I’m just fascinated to see the early portions of this fight. One thing I will say on the Gaethje side: it’s crazy how close Michael Chandler was to winning a world championship in the UFC. I think if Gaethje gets Oliveira on the ropes, he’s got a good chance to put him away. He doesn’t miss a lot in those situations.”