There’s something quite magical about a big under-dog success story coming to fruition in MMA and UFC 262 saw one of the bigger ones we’ve seen in recent years. Whilst Oliveira was the slight favourite heading into the fight, the trajectory of his career only a few years ago would not have had many of us imagining a world title to be possible for him and whilst I was rooting for the former Bellator champion and new kid on the block in the UFC’s lightweight division Michael Chandler, seeing Oliveira complete the ultimate goal for any professional MMA fighter was a truly beautiful moment and it’s not just that he done it, it’s how.
The 35-year-old Bellator veteran Michael Chandler made his long awaited UFC debut in January and done it in perfect fashion, a first round KO of always dangerous and usually extremely durable Dan Hooker. In classic Michael Chandler fashion he piled on the pressure early, feinting and level changing to draw out reactions from Hooker. The single shots to the body for the opening two minutes made Hooker completely oblivious to the powerful shifting left overhand that followed a straight right to the body. Following that he dropped one of the best post fight interviews you’ll see, and what better time to do it than the co-main event of one of the most watched PPVs of all time. The ‘Dana White privilege ‘, as Tony Ferguson called it, was for me more earned than many gave him credit for. Whilst of course Dana and the UFC seem to have heavily invested in Chandler, he seized his moment in spectacular fashion that night and thus thrust him in to a LW title shot in only his second fight under the UFC banner. Oliveira on the other hand could not have had a more different route to UFC 262’s main event. Growing up fighting in the fiery favelas of Brazil, dinosaurs were still roaming the earth when Charles made his UFC debut and after 7 years of mainly fighting at FW he made the smart choice to return to LW where his career really took off. An 8 fight win streak in which Oliveira showed clear technical and mental improvements fight-to-fight booked him his well-deserved place across the cage from Michael Chandler for the lightweight championship.
I was very interested to see who managed to be the forward fighter early on, both love to pressure but both do it in different ways. Chandler, being a super athletic powerhouse employs a very overwhelming in your face pressuring style, he loves to come forward with a ton of feints level changes and load up big overhands which he can pull off from either stance, often times switching into them off of feints and body work like we saw vs Dan Hooker. Oliveira however is slightly subtler with it, he doesn’t try to charge you down, but push you back with long strikes, cutting the cage extremely well and often times make his opponents run into strikes when they reach the fence or punching his way into the clinch where he can be extremely dangerous. Immediately we see Chandler doing exactly what many expected him to, get in Oliveira’s face, work the body and come up top with big shifting power shots. Oliveira however had some slick ideas to combat the immediate pressure, taking advantage of Chandler’s wide stance he attacks the lead leg early, one kick even took Chandler completely off his feet 10 seconds into the fight. What I did find more impressive was the way he would use his lead leg as Chandler closed the distance, lifting his knee up whenever Chandler got too close to make Chandler wary of running in to an intercepting knee. The main concern I had for Oliveira heading in to this one was his boxing defence, we’ve seen many times in the past that he can be very hittable and outside of taking Chandler’s back and keeping him there for short amount of time he did prove to be very hittable in that first round, nearly getting finished by leaping left hook followed by a right straight that saw Oliveira drop to the mat and be a second or two away from being stopped, but he does a great job of pulling guard and seeing out the rest of the round there, albeit taking some more damage in the process as Chandler attempted to ground and pound his way to the lightweight title. Now this is where Oliveira’s mental improvements were really put to the test, we all know that in the past Oliveira has had issues with overcoming adversity, often times he looks good until something goes wrong for him and then he tends to wilt, and wilt quickly. It must be said that we haven’t seen this happen for quite some time but we definitely had not seen his new mental toughness tested to this extent. The Oliveira of old would have quite frankly died in the first round, he was hurt multiple times by huge shots and had to fight his way out of the submission attempt too, and even if the Oliveira of old was to somehow survive that round, he would not have been able to come out the way he did in the second fight. His improved ability to stay calm in the face of adversity meant he could come out of his corner for round 2 ready to claw his way back in to the fight in a way that may not have been possible for him only a few years ago, and it didn’t take long for him to find his moment.
Meeting each other in the centre of the cage yet again, Oliveira goes straight back to his first round tactic of using the knee to try and dissuade Chandler’s pressure but the big mistake comes from Chandler the first time he manages to get past the lead knee and initiate a pocket exchange. Off the back of an attempted right straight which hits Oliveira in the chest, Chandler hops back in a straight line with his hands down making absolutely no attempt to close the counter window with a left hand. Doing that against any competent striker is dangerous but against a great counter striker like Oliveira it is simply asking for trouble, and Oliveira was happy to give Chandler plenty of that. A picture perfect lead left hook found the chin of Chandler which momentarily dropped him and was followed up by a flurry of shots against the cage and despite Chandler’s best Alexander Gustaffson impression of simply turning and running from your opponents when in trouble he was shortly finished on the ground because, well, you can’t do that in good weight classes (sorry, I couldn’t resist at least one dig at LHW). Fairy-tale complete for the now 40 fight veteran, who broke yet another record that night, surpassing Michael Bisping as the champion with the most UFC fights prior to winning a world title, with 27. A truly beautiful moment for anyone watching, even the most die-hard Chandler supporters that night could not have stopped themselves from being extremely happy for Oliveira, and now after years of grafting to get to the top, he finally sits on the throne of the UFC’s 155lb division. If anyone deserved to have that career defining moment, it was Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira.
What’s next for both men? Well, for Oliveira it looks to be the winner of Poirier vs McGregor, and for Chandler I’m sure another top 5 LW will be happy to book their place in a future title fight by being the second UFC fighter to hand Chandler a loss since making the move from Bellator. But for now Oliveira will have a lot of well-earned celebrations back home I’m sure, with video’s already recently emerging of his homecoming party that even managed to warm my cold, black heart. I am a sucker for these kinds of stories, and they don’t come much better than this one, a huge well done to the now champion and I’m sure he will relish being the guy that everyone wants to test themselves against after dreaming of being in this position for so long. As for Chandler I’m sure a lot of reflection is in order, a big mistake early in the second spelt the end after a very promising first round, I’m sure he will be keen to fix those defensive holes and get back in line for a shot at the title that was so close to belonging to him but at this level, it really is a game of inches and yet again we’ve seen how fine the margins can be. An amazing fight, and an amazing story closed out UFC 262 and I’m sure it’s a night that will not be soon forgotten by the MMA world.