Despite weight miss, Charles Oliveira puts on staunch display of MMA mastery vs. Justin Gaethje

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·Combat columnist
·6-min read
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It’s virtually unforgivable to miss weight in a world championship fight. Charles Oliveira missed weight on Friday by a half-pound. That normally would earn him a well-deserved roasting from UFC president Dana White, particularly since he’s a multi-time offender.

Oliveira, though, earned himself a bit of a reprieve from the tongue lashing by what he did during the 202 seconds he was in the Octagon with Justin Gaethje on Saturday in the main event of UFC 274 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

He put on a memorable show, dropping Gaethje and getting dropped in a frenetic three minute, 22-second bout that ended with his arms squeezing the life out of Gaethje in the first round with a rear naked choke.

Oliveira was stripped of the title when the bout began, but earned the right to be the No. 1 contender in his next fight for the now-vacant title.

Gaethje’s known as “The Highlight,” but Oliveira is doing enough to share that nickname with him as he not only reels off impressive win after impressive win, but does it in jaw-dropping style.

Gaethje came out aggressively as per usual, only to be clipped on the chin and wobbled by an Oliveira right hand seconds into the fight. If Gaethje thought he was going to be able to steamroll Oliveira like a bull charging a weapon-less matador, he found out in the first 15 seconds of the fight that wouldn’t be the case.

“He’s a guy who pushes forward and I always push forward,” Oliveira said. “I knew this was going to happen. I’m like a war tank. I keep on moving forward. I knew that I was going to get hit and I knew I was going to hit him. As I said a couple of times, ‘Who wants it more?’ It all came down to who wanted it more.”

Oliveira isn’t just the greatest submission specialist in UFC history. He’s a complete, though still evolving, mixed martial artist and his striking is now as much of a weapon as his submissions.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 07: (L-R) Charles Oliveira of Brazil secures a rear choke submission against Justin Gaethje in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Charles Oliveira of Brazil secures a rear choke submission against Justin Gaethje in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 7, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Though he scored only one official knockdown, Gaethje put Oliveira down twice in the first minute of the bout.

Years ago, that might have been enough to finish Oliveira. But this version of Oliveira is giving off a distinct Anderson Silva-in-his-prime vibe. The former middleweight champion was a dangerous finisher who could win fights in a variety of ways. Similarly, Oliveira not only has the best submission game in the UFC, his striking has become a danger in and of itself. He has been blessed with as many weapons as an MMA fighter could dream of having.

His adventures at the scales have been discussed ad nauseam by this point. He weighed in on an unofficial scale on Thursday, tweeted that it hit 155 pounds, said he didn’t eat or drink a thing after that but when he officially weighed on Friday, he was a half-pound over.

He, and many of his supporters, tried to point to a problem with the scale. But if Oliveira was on weight Thursday night, as he claimed, why was he the last fighter to weigh in, rather than the first? If he really was on weight, he could have weighed in first and rehydrated much sooner. Gaethje weighed early and tweeted a photo that showed he’d already put on 10 pounds before Oliveira had even weighed.

The UFC puts out an unofficial scale for fighters to check their weight before the weigh-in, which happens on a calibrated scale. White said that’s where the weight problems began.

“We have this issue where guys come out and they start checking the scale the night before,” White said. “All the Europeans and guys from other parts of the world do kilos, so they all start f***ing with the scale to look at kilos. But who knows? There’s so many moving parts to this beast of a machine we run every week, but we’ve got to have a security guard in there where the scale is now.”

As it turned out, though, it didn’t matter.

The UFC announced Friday that he’d be stripped of the title when the bell rang Saturday, but that if he won, he’d be the No. 1 contender to fight for the vacant belt.

At the end of the day, the extra half-pound was costly — he was fined 30 percent of his purse and he won’t keep the belt if it’s a draw the next time, as a champion would do — but he’s still in great position.

Oliveira has now won 11 fights in a row over four years and has finished all but one of them. In his last three fights, he knocked out Michael Chandler in the second, submitted Dustin Poirier in the third and submitted Gaethje in the first.

He’s got to be closing in on welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in the mythical pound-for-pound race.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 07: Charles Oliveira of Brazil reacts after his submission victory over Justin Gaethje in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Charles Oliveira of Brazil reacts after his submission victory over Justin Gaethje in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 7, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

He also took a bit of satisfaction after forcing Gaethje to tap out in his second consecutive title fight. Gaethje submitted to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254.

Before the fight, trying to hype the sales of the PPV, he taunted Oliveira.

“I believe deep down, he knows his way out, and that's to quit whenever he gets hit too many times too hard,” Gaethje said at media day. “Deep down, once it happened once, it will happen again. And I'm the perfect guy to show it to him.”

Oliveira wasn’t the one to quit and he’s showing no signs of slowing.

Whether he fights Islam Makhachev, Michael Chandler or Conor McGregor next, you can count on two things: It’s going to be one of the best fights you ever saw and Oliveira is going to do something to shock and amaze you.

This guy who once lost four bouts in a six-fight span has morphed into a near-perfect fighter. He’s won 11 in a row, most of them spectacularly, and he’s only getting better.

He went through a lot before this fight, but he delivered a lot, as well.

He’s established himself without doubt at this point as one of the greatest lightweights in history. And he’s still on an upward assault.

Who knows how far this thrill ride will go, but count me in for the rest of it.

It’s damn fun to watch.

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