The UFC lightweight title is on the line this Saturday in Justin Gaethje‘s (23-3-0 9-3-0 UFC) backyard of Phoenix, AZ. Charles Oliveira (32-8-0 20-8-0 1 NC UFC) will hope to make his second title defense and extend his win streak to eleven against “The Human Highlight Reel”.
Forged in the Favelas: Charles Oliveira
As the UFC company record holder for most finishes (18), most submissions (15), tied #1 with Donald Cerrone for most Fight Night Bonuses, and quickly approaching Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s record win streak at Lightweight, a win on Saturday will put Oliveira just one shy of two of the greatest Lightweights of all time.
Born in a poor family in Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazil, Oliveira developed a heart murmur at age seven, and was told he may never walk again. Finding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu through a social program at age twelve, he now reigns supreme in the Lightweight division of the UFC, also holding a third-degree black belt in BJJ.
Oliveira has suffered criticism for his eight losses, which came to Jim Miller, Donald Cerrone, Cub Swanson, Frankie Edgar, Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas and Paul Felder. To say he has great strength of schedule is an understatement, and for a guy that didn’t find his place at 145 pounds, he is often overlooked.
The nickname “Do Bronx” is a reference to his poor upbringing in the favela in Brazil and how the wealthy kids in their nice gi’s would scoff at him for not being able to afford one. They compared him to someone from the Bronx, as this was pre-gentrification, so Oliveira decided to roll with it. One can only assume that this stopped once he choked them all out.
Oliveira is obviously a boa constrictor on the ground but he has shown his ability to hang with some of the most violent men on the planet in Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, and Tony Ferguson. His variety of stances and strikes makes his route of attack so unpredictable and allows him to be dangerous absolutely everywhere. In the clinch, he’ll cut you with elbows and knees, where his BJJ gives him unparalleled control On the feet, he loves to throw kicks to measure range and attack the opponent’s leg, or go straight up the middle with a teep reminiscent of Anderson Silva.
In fact, this center channel of attacks is almost a bait for his hooks and shoots, as he will straight jab, teep, jab, cross, knee, all up the middle, and then deliver his power shots from standing in guard, or shoot under an arm in an attempt to scoot around to take his opponent’s back. However, he has a slight read on that, because he will typically stand heavy on his back leg while he’s rangefinding before settling down into a wider, lower stance when he’s going for the kill.
The Human Highlight Strikes Again
Gaethje has long been known as one of the most violent men on the planet, as his only losses came to Eddie Alvarez, Dustin Poirier, and Khabib Nurmagomedov. The All-American wrestler will make his second attempt at a UFC Title. Gaethje holds the UFC Lightweight records for sig. strike accuracy (60.1%), strikes landed per minute (7.5), and is tied 10th-most fight night bonuses with 10 bonuses (in less than half the fights as Oliveira). Gaethje is one of four-time Coach of the Year Trevor Wittman’s three disciples and believes he is destined to claim a third UFC title for Wittman.
An absolute monster on the feet, Gaethje loves to chop down his opponent’s leg as he gauges distance to set up his boxing, favoring his hands more than elbows. However, he’s at a four-inch reach disadvantage to Oliveira, and so if he is in striking range, he’s also within Oliveira’s clinch and knee range, Thus, he’s going to have to try and attack from angles or make sure that when he is in range, he’s not giving Oliveira the chance to clinch. If Oliveira can wrap his hands around Gaethje, things might be over.
Gaethje’s mother once shared a story about her son that speaks to the kind of unique fight inside him. She told the camera: “When he was a kid, there was a pretty nasty dog in our neighborhood that would bite all the kids. One day the dog bit Justin. Well, instead of crying, he chased the dog down, and bit the dog back – and the dog never bit another kid again”.
Gaethje has accused Oliveira of having “no dog in him”, but he out-dogged Poirier and Chandler. Only time can tell if Gaethje’s claims are true.
Main Event Fight Breakdown
The current rhetoric is that if the fight goes to the ground, Oliveira has the advantage thanks to his unparalleled BJJ, but he will struggle to take down the All American Wrestler in Gaethje. However, Oliveira has shown time and time again that his stand-up grappling is also absolutely world class, most especially in his most recent defense against Dustin Poirier. He shot for the double, went off to the side under the arm, took Poirier’s back, and slowly sank in the rear-naked choke after wearing down Poirier for the entire second round with absolutely filthy work from guard. Elbows, grinding pressure, and of course that fear of having one of the best BJJ practitioners of all time in your guard will do that to even the most dogged opponent.
Gaethje will in all likelihood have to finish the fight early if he wants to earn the title because the longer the fight goes on, the more opportunities that Oliveira will have to wear him down with his wrestling. Gaethje has also shown deficiencies in his Jiu-Jitsu, so Justin won’t want to follow Oliveira to the ground unless Oliveira is severely compromised.
Even then, we’ve seen how the Brazilian can survive even the heaviest onslaughts. We saw an extremely patient and calculated Gaethje against Tony Ferguson, ending the man’s legendary streak in the brutal silence of the Apex.
Most likely, this fight will be a war, and should go down as one of the greatest fights of all time at 155 pounds. Who do you think will walk away with the belt? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images