2020 will go down as a year that forced a lot of realizations about just about every topic imaginable. In the world of mixed martial arts (MMA), however, fight fans have been slapped in the face with a very simple fact: Charles Oliveira is excellent.
Two fights ago, Oliveira’s status as a world-class Lightweight wasn’t just debatable, it was a fringe belief at best and pipe dream at worst. Sure, a six-fight win streak at 155 pounds is cool, but when none of the wins stand out as particularly amazing victories, experienced viewers will remain pessimistic.
If you’ve followed the sport for the last decade, there are at least six clear instances where “Do Bronx” looked real sharp, took a step up in competition, and promptly revealed that his old problems still exist. Glaring holes seldom change in MMA. Certain fighters can exploit those weaknesses, others cannot, but rarely does a fighter actually fix what’s holding him back.
Oliveira proved himself the exception against Kevin Lee. He didn’t bend under the wrestler’s pressure or power shots. Instead, he kept the pressure on, kept hurting his opponent, and eventually found his finish in a dominant victory. Rather than give him full credit for his growth, a large portion instead decided to write off Lee.
It’s just easier that way.
Make no mistake, some may try to do the same here. Fortunately, Oliveira was so undeniably dominant that it will be more difficult. Even the most reactionary fan, the guy who thinks Tony Ferguson sucks after losing to Justin Gaethje, cannot deny that Oliveira took apart the former interim champion masterfully.
“Do Bronx” won in every area ... he pitched a shutout. When Ferguson tried to pressure and strike, he ate some heavy counter punches, and Oliveira’s whipping low kicks were giving him real problems. Ferguson was never able to build momentum either, because he was soundly out-wrestled. Oliveira is no small Lightweight, but he seems incredibly strong for his lanky frame — he picks up everyone with apparent ease!
His mat work was beautiful. Ferguson gave Oliveira interesting looks from his back, but the Brazilian repeatedly stacked Ferguson until the pass became available. Once in dominant positions, Oliveira not only controlled his opponent, but he put Ferguson in deep submission danger on two separate occasions.
Ferguson’s primary selling point vs. Khabib was his grappling defense, and Oliveira cut through it like butter. What reason is there to believe his grappling won’t work against other elite Lightweights?
With the Lightweight title seemingly vacant, it’s time to look at the divisional rankings with clear eyes. Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will collide in a few weeks, and I would not at all be surprised if it manages to end up a title fight before the cage door closes. Otherwise, Justin Gaethje is in the immediate mix, as (apparently) is Michael Chandler.
Oliveira deserves to fight more for a title than any of those names mentioned. Regardless of whether a champion is named between McGregor and Poirier, put him vs. the winner with a title on the line. It may not be the most stylish match up, but Oliveira is fighting like a genuine destroyer, and there’s every chance he carves through any of the names mentioned in similar fashion to his victory last night.
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