Winner of eight in a row and nine of his last 10 fights, Charles Oliveira enters the Octagon for Saturday’s UFC 262 on a hot streak. Oliveira (30–8, 1 NC) faces off against Michael Chandler, a former three-time Bellator MMA lightweight champ, in a bout that will determine the new UFC lightweight champion.
Those that still cast doubt over Oliveira’s future were given plenty of reason to reconsider after he demolished Tony Ferguson last December at UFC 256, dominating his opponent and winning by unanimous decision. Oliveira now seeks to break new ground by defeating Chandler (22–5), which would put UFC gold around his waist in the process.
Speaking through a translator, the Brazillian fighter connected with Sports Illustrated before his upcoming main-event fight, discussing how he turned his career around after dropping four of six fights in a span that stretched from 2015 to '17, as well as the challenges that Chandler presents and his next goal after winning the title.
Sports Illustrated: You were just awarded your third degree on your Brazilian jiujitsu black belt, which took nine years to accomplish. What does this accomplishment mean to you?
Charles Oliveira: I am so grateful to be where I am. These past nine years, it shows my dedication to jiujitsu. It took a lot, but I am honored to compete. I never lose sight of that.
SI: You continue to find ways to make yourself a more versatile fighter. Will your jiujitsu be the difference against Chandler?
CO: Definitely. I’m a black belt and that allows me to finish a fight in seconds.
SI: After your TKO loss to Paul Felder in December 2017, you had lost four of your prior six fights, and your career appeared to be headed in the wrong direction. Since then you have won eight in a row, looking especially unstoppable in your last two wins. It seems like every one of your fights is more impressive than the one prior. How did you turn around your career?
CO: I was never afraid of being fired. I knew how much work I was putting into this. For me, everything changed after my daughter was born. I changed my life, and I changed my focus.
SI: Clearly there have been significant changes in your approach. A good example of that was your fight against Tony Ferguson, who is an icon in MMA. Did you envision winning that bout in such a one-sided manner?
CO: I was prepared to shock the world. That was my opportunity. I have a ton of respect for Tony Ferguson, but I needed to win that fight the way I did to get this opportunity at the title.
SI: Even though the Ferguson bout was your most recent fight in the Octagon, there have still been plenty of headlines about you. Reports have surfaced that you turned down nontitle fights against Chandler and even Nate Diaz. Is this accurate?
CO: A lot of what you read on the internet is not actually true. Diaz said he wanted to fight, but I was ready to fight [Dustin] Poirier. Then Poirier signed the contract to fight Conor [McGregor]. I wanted the next shot at the belt, and I got offered the fight against Chandler.
SI: Your focus is clearly on the title. How did you stay on track despite so many obstacles?
CO: That’s why I entered the UFC. I’ve stayed grounded and humble. I haven’t forgotten where I came from, but I also know where I can go. I could gain a lot more money if I were a trash-talker, but I respect and admire my opponents. I just want to do my job inside the Octagon.
SI: What do you respect most about Michael Chandler?
CO: He is a great fighter, but he will face a lot of pressure in this fight. He was brought here to win this title. I do not feel any pressure. I hope Chandler comes ready for the fight, because I’ll be ready.
SI: What will be the difference in this fight? And if you win, will your first title defense be against the winner of this summer’s Poirier-McGregor bout?
CO: This is my chance, my opportunity for the title. I am not the underdog. I am going for one more win. I will fight whoever the UFC puts against me, and I would like it to be the winner of McGregor-Poirier.
More From Justin Barrasso: