Charles Oliveira partied for a week upon returning to Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the new UFC lightweight champion after knocking out Michael Chandler at UFC 262 in Houston. As he resumes training at Chute Boxe Diego Lima, “do Bronx” sets his focus on what comes next in the 155-pound division.
In an interview with MMA Fighting days after becoming the second Brazilian to ever claim UFC lightweight gold, Oliveira discussed the lightweight title picture, said he expected to face the winner of Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 3, whether or not he believes the shadow of Khabib Nurmagomedov looms over his reign, and much more.
Check the complete interview below.
You’ve always said how special it was for you to get a shot at the UFC belt, and you’ve managed to return to Brazil with it. Was it better than you ever dreamed?
Better than I expected, brother. Way better. I’m super happy with everything that’s going on in my life, the way things are happening. I’m thankful to God for giving me everything. Imagine this, people are calling me the new Ayrton Senna. To hear that, man, it’s fantastic. People calling you the new Ayrton Senna. Older people saying they’ve never felt so much joy and emotion. I’m really grateful and happy.
To have a championship parade on top of a fire truck is a classic celebration we usually see in Brazil when we win the World Cup of soccer, but we don’t see it very often in MMA. Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva reigned as UFC champions for a long time, Amanda Nunes is a two-division champion, but they never had anything like this. Why do you think you’re different?
Guilherme, I’ll be honest with you. I knew a lot of people liked me because I was always close to the people. I’m the one that answers messages on Instagram and Facebook, but I never expected it to be like this. I’ve gotten messages, people saying they’ve never seen their fathers cry before and they were crying like kids. I’ve always heard [coach Diego] Lima say I was like a new Ayrton Senna for the man I am inside and outside the octagon, but that’s Lima talking. To hear other people say it… I remember being on the fire truck and talking to my brother, “Look how many people, man.” I just sat down and started crying. The parade stopped in front of my gym and everywhere I looked, there was more and more people. I only have to thank God for this opportunity and for allowing me to give this back to Brazil in such a delicate moment we’re going through, to write my name in the UFC history books, and to have something that other great names never had. Some people came to me and said, “Man, you’re the people’s champion.”
Do you lament that this is going on during a pandemic so the UFC can’t actually hold an event in Brazil with you as champion at the moment?
I don’t think like that. Everything happens in God’s time and it happened in this difficult moment so I could give them a little bit of joy — not only for the Brazilian people but everybody around the world that is going through this difficult moment. I believe we’re very close to being back to normal again and we will definitely be able to fight in Brazil and pack the arenas again.
What’s the next step for you? Many fighters decide to take some time off as soon as they become champions. Do you plan on doing that, or you just want the UFC to say who’s next and line them up?
Man, for real, I’ve waited many years to get here, and here I am. We will work hard to maintain this reign for a long time. I think everybody knows we’ll wait for Conor and Dustin [to fight] and the next challenger will be whoever wins. I’ll go back to training eyeing that, waiting for the next opponent. I’ll enjoy the moment, a unique moment in my life, and wait for this fight to happen to see who’s next.
Dana White hasn’t come out and officially announced that the winner of that fight on July 10 will be the next in line but it’s pretty clear that’s the next step considering the business aspect and also that Poirier was offered a title shot first but opted for the McGregor trilogy.
I think so. There’s not much they can do [other than that], there’s nowhere to go. I think that’s the fight to make, so I’ll wait and see what happens. I’m enjoying the moment, but I won’t stop training.
You’ve been calling for a fight with McGregor for many years now, and he went on social media to tease a fight with you as soon as you beat Michael Chandler. Did you get that feeling, like, “Oh, how the tables have turned?”
No. Brother, I have no feeling whatsoever [laughs], I’m just enjoying the moment. Everybody knows I’m a faithful kid. You see, the world is like a Ferris wheel. One day you’re at the top, next day you’re down. I’ve called them all out when I was down and nobody wanted it. They’re all calling me out now. Like I said, it’s my time. Let’s wait and see what happens and where we go from here.
Do you think he beats Poirier at UFC 264?
Man, it’s going to be a great fight. Honestly, to me, it doesn’t matter. Whoever wins, I know it’s going to be a great fight. It makes no difference to me. Let’s wait. Like I said, the world is a Ferris wheel. Let’s see them fight and see who wins.
The biggest difference between the two would be the payday, right? A fight with McGregor probably sells a lot more.
Yes, absolutely. Everybody knows it. Anyone that fights Conor [gets] more money in the end, but I’ve never fought in the UFC thinking about money. I’ve always thought about fighting and making things happen and I won’t change my head now. To me, whoever comes [to fight me], great. If Conor comes, everybody knows it’s going to be a great fight and a lot of money coming in. If Dustin comes, it’s also a great fight and good money coming in — not as much money, but also good money. It makes no difference to me.
Do you have a preference in terms of a challenge style-wise for your career?
I don’t because they are both big names, they are both strikers. I have to be careful and work on my stand-up. They are both good fighters and we’ll fight to make history. We know Conor sells way more, Conor brings in more business and all that glamour, but, like I said, I’ve never fought for money. I won’t change my humbleness and respect now.
The oddsmakers released the odds for potential fights against Poirier and McGregor, and you’re the underdog in both scenarios. Does that bother you? Do you feel they still don’t give you the respect you deserve?
No, that makes me happy. I like being the underdog. I go there and prove it. Brother, I’ve made history ever since I got in the UFC. Every time people said I couldn’t do something, I went there and proved them wrong. When they gave me someone and said they would knock me out, I proved them wrong. Every time they said someone would knock me out, they ended up beat up on the feet and shooting for takedowns. I show my firepower, my knockout power. I’ll tell you this, being the underdog or “the man of the hour” makes no difference to me. What matters is what you can do in there. Every time you get in there is 50-50 and whoever has the best strategy and is better prepared will win.
The good thing about being the underdog is that it gives more profit to those who believe and bet on you, right?
It’s about courage. Whoever believes and has the courage to place a bet makes it happen. People call me asking [about it] and I say, “Man, if you have the courage to bet, do it.” Every time I have to bet, I bet on the underdog. You have to be brave.
Do you get many calls from friends asking if they should bet on you?
All the time. My friends call me saying, “Brother, I’ll bet on you. Are you going to win?” I always say, “Man, let me tell you this, it’s a bet and it’s about courage. Are you brave enough to bet? If you are, do it.” Brother, nobody bets on me and then gives me money. For this fight, [a friend] said he was betting one, two thousand dollars on me and said he would give me money if I won. Has anyone ever given me money? No. If you win, you win by yourself. Betting is a game of courage. Look at my horses. I bet when they race. I have the courage to do so even if they are the underdogs. The name of the game says it all, it’s a gamble.
And you’re probably going to make more money in the UFC as a champion now since champions usually have a higher purse and get a share of the pay-per-view. Have you discussed a new deal with the UFC already?
Charles is only worried about fighting, training and working hard. About money and career, I leave all that on my manager’s hands, [Jorge Patino] “Macaco,” and I trust him 100 percent. That’s why it’s working, nine in a row, because I don’t worry about money, how much I’m going to make, if there’s pay-per-view or not… They are always getting the best deals for me.
You’re the new UFC lightweight champion but many people still see you under the shadow of Khabib Nurmagomedov for everything he’s done and the way he walked away from the sport, the fact that Dana White insisted he would come back. Do you think you have to do something to make them start seeing you as the rightful champion?
Many people told me to wear a shirt taking shots at [Nurmagomedov] or say something about him in the end. Khabib is a great champion, 29-0, and deserves all the respect in the world. He came in and was always dominant with his style. He retired because his father passed away, and he deserves more respect because of that. He swore over his father’s grave he wouldn’t fight again and if it has to be up to me to say something for him to come back, he’ll stay retired. Everybody would love to see this fight, of course. I would also love to see this fight, but I don’t see myself under his shadow. He said he’s beaten everybody in the division but he never fought me, so he can’t say he’s beaten everybody. But he’s beaten everyone he fought. He deserves all the respect in the world. [But] the new lightweight champion is Charles Oliveira, someone who comes in to finish people. A new legacy has begun in the lightweight division. What Khabib has done until now was 100 percent wonderful, a respectful man, but a new era has begun. A new legacy. Charles Oliveira.