UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira took the long route to the top of what is largely considered mixed martial arts’ most competitive division.
Nearly 11 years and 27 fights after first entering the UFC in 2010, “Do Bronx” finally earned the championship belt with a second-round TKO of Michael Chandler in May. The victory marked the completion of a lifelong goal for the Brazilian-born fighter, who’s been viewed by many as a perennial underdog ever since he began training in martial arts at 12 years old.
As a child, Oliveira was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and a heart murmur, which meant his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player were efficiently out the window. After earning his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in under a decade, Oliveira joined the UFC with an undefeated 12-0 record. From there, the now-32-year-old would go on to set records for the most victories by finish (submission or knockout) in the UFC as well as the most fights within the UFC before getting a shot at the title.
Despite entering Saturday’s UFC 269 main event as the reigning champion, many (including the bookies) consider Oliveira to be an underdog once again to fan-favorite Dustin Poirier. That doesn’t bother the Brazilian though, as he’s ready to prove the doubters wrong once again, just as he has in each fight on his current nine-fight win streak. At this point, Oliveira is all too familiar with the highs and lows that come with fighting at the absolute pinnacle of mixed martial arts, and he’s prepared for every one of them.
SPIN spoke with the UFC Lightweight Champion (via a translator) ahead of his second-ever Pay-Per-View headliner.
SPIN: What should people look forward to in your championship matchup with Dustin Poirier this weekend?
Charles Oliveira: It’s going to be a war. They’re going to see Charles Oliveira just keep going forward, advancing all the time, and at the end, it’s gonna be my hand that gets raised.
Given that you took one of the longest paths to winning a championship belt in the history of the sport, did it give you a different perspective on finally earning that title?
Of course! My path was more painful. It was harder. I had to climb a lot of mountains to get to the title, but I got there.
In addition to being the UFC Lightweight Champion, you also have the record for most finishes in UFC history. What do you think it is about your style that gets you so many submissions and knockouts?
I always like to say that I come into the Octagon either to knock out or submit my opponent, and that’s it. I like to say that it’s a style of opportunity. Whenever an opportunity comes, I’ll change what you see. I’ll change my stance. I’ll change my striking. I’ll change the way I approach the fight. I’m always going to change and adapt to the fight.
Considering that you started in martial arts as a kid and just never stopped, are you able to look back at how far you’ve come from those early days?
Sure thing. I mean, my mom and my dad instilled martial arts in my life because it was a matter of fear and a matter of protection with where I came from. And to think that now with that I’m able to provide so much to them to have the life that I have, it’s a great feeling to be able to have what I have because of what I have done
What kinds of music do you listen to both during training and on the night of the fight?
A little bit of everything. During training, I listen to a lot of Brazilian Country Music, and a lot of funk and pop from the community. But when I walk out to [“O Hino” by Fernandinho], that’s Brazilian gospel music that actually inspires me in the moment for the fight. But yeah, I listen to everything from country to funk to gospel music.
You’ve always been a bit of an underdog for much of your career, and now even as champion, people are already looking at you as an underdog again. How does it feel to finally be the one holding the belt after all this time?
It’s a great feeling, because I’ve always been the one who’s knocking at the door, and knocking, and knocking, and now people have to come after him, not the other way around. It goes to show that there will always be that time when you get an opportunity, and you have to take it when it’s there for you. Life is like a ferris wheel. It goes all the way up, and then sometimes it’s going to go back down.
For those who don’t know you personally, is there any one thing that you think people should take away from your life and career?
I would like for people to go back and look at my life’s story to try to get as much information as they can about me, because I truly believe that my life’s story is beautiful. I’m someone who faced a lot of challenges growing up. By the time I was 12, I’d heard things from doctors that were not good for anyone, but my story is one of overcoming challenges and having a lot of faith. It’s faith that can make you continue when everything is against you. I think there are a lot of things that are very important for people to understand from my story. I’m just a humble person from humble beginnings who never let up on overcoming the obstacles that were put in my way. I think it’s very important to have faith that things will happen. They don’t happen in your time, they happen in God’s time — but when you work hard, they will happen.