Adversity is something that Charles Oliveira has been associated with during his initial run through the featherweight ranks of the UFC, and more often than not for the Brazilian — when forced to tackle that adversity, we would witness him wilt, crumble, and succumb.
The last time we witnessed such an occurrence was back in December of 2017 at UFC 217. Starting brightly against lightweight mainstay, Paul Felder, the 31-year-old eventually diminished and ultimately faltered in the second without much if any resistance whatsoever.
The curious case of Oliveira’s certain career resurgence and groove establishing winning run ever since should be something worth paying huge attention to.
Prior to UFC 262, Oliveira had embarked on a division best, eight fight undefeated streak — earning him the #3 rank in the division, however, it was mostly plain sailing for him in regards to resistance, or lack thereof from opposition.
Last night — for the first time since December of 2017 — he was faced with certain adversity once again. And instead of wilting, crumbling, and succumbing, he persevered, rallied, and overcame.
Ahead of the vacant lightweight title showdown against Michael Chandler, I had major questions as to if Oliveira could put prior woes of adversity and failure behind him if the #4 ranked, Chandler managed to force those questions onto him. And as with his evolution as a mixed martial artist, there’s come a definite evolution in regards to his mental approach.
Simply put, there’s no contender at lightweight today, apart from let’s say Dustin Poirier more deserving of sitting atop the lightweight throne than Oliveira. And while he’s deserving of the championship spoils which are now his — he turned in a performance last night that deserves just that.
Back in January, Chandler had more or less steamrolled Dan Hooker in the opening round, however, he ate a notable couple of calf kicks, and implementing that approach from the opening exchange, Oliveira — with his high-guard, head in the air, Muay Thai approach, gave Chandler some cause for concern early with that kicking offence.
Notably, every time Chandler landed meaningfully, he was getting the attention of Oliveira in abundance, and a counter left hand forced a rushed double-leg from the Brazilian, which Chandler read expertly to threaten with a guillotine.
Giving up his own back in an attempt to get to a vertical position, Chandler found himself with Oliveira, the most prolific submission artist in the history of the UFC, on his back with a body triangle restricting him thoroughly. I can’t envision a worse position to find yourself in, less than two minutes into an opening round against Oliveira.
Ultimately switching and winding up in guard for a mere moment, Chandler managed to revert to a standing position and had Oliveira on all fours at the fence via a clipping right hand.
The moment appeared to be there for Chandler to finish the fight and crown himself. However, as soon as the moment appeared — it vanished, with Oliveira cleverly pulling to his guard and tangling up Chandler’s hands with his legs. Adversity.
I gave Chandler the opening round, but only just. There was no real sense of panic or urgency from either corner after the first, with Sanford MMA leader, Henri Hooft pleased with his student, Chandler’s display so far.
Fast forward just nineteen seconds, and Oliveira is peeled off Chandler in resounding fashion, via a barrage at the fence. It’s not the biggest rallying effort in the history of the sport by any means, however, it may be one of the quickest changes in the perceived trajectory of a contest in recent memory.
Whilst the above-mentioned, Poirier lays claim to the statement, “Paid In Full” — I get the same sort of feeling of meritorious when I look at Oliveira. This is a guy who has been competing in the promotion since 2010, and despite having his fair share of eye-catching moments, inconsistency haunted him dearly.
All signs point toward July 10th. for the next challenger to lightweight spoils to emerge, with both Poirier and former two-weight champion, Conor McGregor poised to challenge the reign of Oliveira with a victory.
Chandler’s insertion into title contention so early into his promotional stint had its fair share of critiques. And prior to his booking against Oliveira, I hoped to see him stand opposite former interim lightweight champion, Justin Gaethje. And that fight should be next.
Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier – Conor McGregor III Winner:
Regardless of who emerged victorious between Oliveira and Chandler last night — the winner is all but set to meet with the victor of UFC 264’s headliner between former division gold holders, Poirier and McGregor.
Chandler himself already had his next path paved before even traversing his route with Oliveira, planning his first attempted defence of the lightweight title opposite McGregor this winter. It may be wishful thinking that he overcomes Poirier following his January knockout loss to the Louisianan for Chandler, but he’s ultimately counted his chickens before they’ve hatched so to speak.
From a stylistic standpoint, Oliveira vs. any combination of Poirier or McGregor promises, to me at least, a really intriguing matchup. The adjustments and evolutions made by Oliveira make him not just a standout in regards to grappling, but now also a technical puncher and kicker with his improvements in Muay Thai.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler:
The writing on the wall appeared to read, Gaethje vs. Chandler following the latter’s January victory over Hooker. And if it hadn’t have been for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s official title vacation, or the promotion’s bid to capitalise on the newfound character of Chandler — we more than likely would have witnessed Gaethje tangle with Chandler.
Former interim champion, Gaethje has made it abundantly clear that he’s not open to the prospect of competing for a title off the back of a loss, and prior to Saturday night — he appeared to be in limbo in regards to his next opponent upon his Octagon return.
Dropping a title unification loss to Nurmagomedov last October on ‘Fight Island’ — the timeline for a showdown, whilst incredibly interesting, against former undisputed champion, Rafael dos Anjos doesn’t look too favourable. And I’m all for a clash between Gaethje and Chandler next, and whether you put it atop of a stacked Fight Night billed card, or as the co-main event of a pay-per-view — possibly with Oliveira vs. Poirier/McGregor headlining, you really can’t go wrong with either.
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.
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