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Charles Oliveira Is Anything but Quiet Inside the Octagon

The Weekly Takedown: A man of few words outside the cage, UFC's lightweight champion plans to let his power do the talking against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Charles Oliveira on UFC 269 title bout against Dustin Poirier: “I’m going to show him what he’s not expecting”

It was only a month ago in Madison Square Garden that Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler traded ferocious blows at UFC 268.

Gaethje won the bout by unanimous decision. He landed 116 significant strikes, 83 of which were delivered to Chandler’s head. None of those strikes were a knockout shot, only further solidifying Chandler’s toughness. Yet striking was exactly how Charles Oliveira finished Chandler last spring, defeating him by TKO and giving a new home to the previously vacant lightweight championship.

“My fight against Chandler, that showed the power in my hands,” said Oliveira, speaking through an interpreter. “That was a war between Chandler and Gaethje at Madison Square Garden. I know I will need to keep evolving to beat these types of fighters. But I also know I have power in my hands.”

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Oliveira (31–8, 1 NC) defends his lightweight title in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 269 against Dustin Poirier. Currently the top-ranked opponent in the lightweight division, Poirier (28–6, 1 NC) has been on a dominant stretch. He won seven of his past eight fights in convincing fashion, with the only blemish a loss against Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Poirier is the favorite in this bout at 269. Once an interim champ, this marks his opportunity to finally win the lightweight title. Yet standing in the way is Oliveira, who has been unstoppable over his last nine fights—so someone’s hot streak is going to be put on ice this Saturday.

“There is a lot to respect about Dustin Poirier,” Oliveira said. “He’s a tough guy. He has good boxing and good wrestling. To me, this is all about what I’m going to do to him. I’m going to show him what he’s not expecting.”

The narrative will change if Oliveira can knock off a string of top contenders, but right now he is simply overlooked as champion. His presence at the Poirier–Conor McGregor fight last July drew no major headlines, and there was already discussion six months ago of Poirier winning the belt from him.

A silent champion, Oliveira makes his noise in the Octagon.

“People love to trash-talk, and that gets people’s attention,” said Oliveira. “But I sell my fights when I’m in the cage. I don’t talk too much. That’s not me. I am focused on what I do in the Octagon.

“You won’t see me picking a fight to sell the fight before. I take pride in showing what I’m made of in the Octagon.”

When he defeated Chandler to win the belt, Oliveira broke the UFC record for most finishes with 17. He now looks to make another emphatic statement, seeking No. 18 this Saturday against Poirier.

“I’ll take whatever opportunity I can,” Oliveira said. “If that means I can knock him out, I’ll knock him out. If I can submit him, I’ll submit him. I’m prepared, and I am ready to do anything to win.”


Dominick Cruz has sights set on one more run with the bantamweight title

Dominick Cruz is one of MMA’s all-time greats.

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A two-time UFC bantamweight champion, he holds the most wins in UFC/WEC bantamweight history, and he has overcome multiple debilitating injuries to repeatedly reclaim his spot atop the profession.

Title aspirations still fill Cruz’s mind. Now 36, and healthy, Cruz is ready to make one more run at the bantamweight title.

“There’s no reason I keep competing other than to go for a championship,” said Cruz, who is currently ranked ninth in the division. “I’m not here to play gatekeeper and collect checks. I make more money broadcasting. The amount of money I’ve lost to give up those shows so I can compete, it’s a lot. But I’m not here to play a f------ game. I’m here to win.”

Cruz (23–3) will not be competing on the main card this Saturday at UFC 269, instead meeting Pedro Munhoz on the second-to-last bout of the ESPN prelims, the earliest he will have ever fought on a UFC card.

A victory against the eighth-ranked Munhoz would be significant. That would give Cruz two wins in a row since he returned in 2020 from a four-year absence, which is when he lost to then bantamweight champ Henry Cejudo.

“That Henry fight, I had like 10 sparring sessions and took that fight on short notice in a pandemic with no training partners,” said Cruz, who had looked sharp against Cejudo. “That doesn’t make an excuse, but he was training for [José] Aldo and had a full training camp. I was doing the best I could to step in. You get a title shot; you take it.”

The loss to Cejudo was ruled a second-round TKO but looked like an incredibly premature stoppage from the referee. Cruz returned in strong fashion from that defeat, defeating Casey Kenney by unanimous decision this past March.

“That was a premature stoppage from my perspective,” said Cruz. “But I put myself in that situation, and now I have that L on my record. I used what I could learn from that loss in my fight with Casey Kenney, and I went and got that win against a young, strong southpaw. Casey is no chump and he’s going to be successful, and now I have to face Pedro Munhoz, who is no slouch.”

Munhoz has dropped three of his past four, but they were all tough bouts against elite competition, including reigning bantamweight champ Aljamain Sterling. The most recent loss for Munoz was against Aldo, who defeated him by unanimous decision in August.

“Munhoz has been very active,” Cruz said. “People say he lost the Aldo fight, but he went all three rounds with Aldo and learned a lot about himself. I think he’s going to come into this fight very confident. But I’m ready. This is the vintage me.”

A healthy Cruz is a rare sight. He has made endless trips to the disabled list over the past nine years, including tearing his ACL in 2012, tearing his groin as well as his other ACL in '14 and breaking his arm in '17. Yet he reemerges from injury in elite form, further cementing his standing as UFC’s greatest bantamweight.

“It means a lot to still be fighting, both for me and for other people,” Cruz said. “It shows what the human body is capable of. I’ve been through more injuries in this sport than anybody.

“I’m still competing at a high level. If you want something bad enough, if your intentions are clear, you can keep going—and hopefully people can see that for themselves.”

Prelims or main card, the defining moment of UFC 269 for Cruz is whether he executes in the cage. If he defeats Munhoz, then he is right back in the hunt.

“I don’t really care where I am on the card,” Cruz said. “Other people are mentioning it more than I ever have. I’m in a great spot. I’ll get seen more than anyone on the main card, and I’m getting paid the same.

“Whether people are overlooking me or not, I don’t know. People want to watch a burning house. The more drama and nonsense, the more people want to see it. I can’t control what other people think of me. I’m focused on showing up and getting my job done.”


The Pick 'Em Section

After a disappointing weekend, here are my picks for UFC 269:

UFC lightweight title bout: Charles Oliveira (c) vs. Dustin Poirier

Pick: Charles Oliveira

UFC women’s bantamweight title bout: Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Julianna Peña

Pick: Amanda Nunes

UFC welterweight bout: Geoff Neal vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio

Pick: Santiago Ponzinibbio

UFC flyweight bout: Kai Kara-France vs. Cody Garbrandt

Pick: Cody Garbrandt

UFC bantamweight bout: Raulian Paiva vs. Sean O’Malley

Pick: Sean O’Malley

Two weeks ago: 1–5

Current record: 53–34

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.