Outstanding Oliveira brings light to Brazil in dark times after recent failures from men’s stars on UFC world stage
Given disappointments from their countrymen on this stage in recent times, Charles Oliveira's sensational lightweight title win over Michael Chandler at UFC 262 last night was the comeback and feelgood story all Brazilians need.
Just in case you didn't catch the main event, it went something like this: in the first round, 'Do Bronx' tried and failed to impose expert jiu-jitsu on his foe, who foolishly showed the UFC's all-time submissions leader (14) his back.
Chandler got up on his feet first, as Oliveira pedaled away a series of kicks laying down. Yet as soon as he joined the American standing up with two minutes to spare, he was almost immediately sent into survival mode when big hitter Chandler landed a series of heavy left and rights.
Returning to the canvas with the fight about to be called in Chandler's favor, Oliveira used slick head movement Canelo Alvarez would be proud of to somehow evade further hammer blows that would have crowned the former Bellator king the first owner of the strap since the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Regrouping on his stool after a good 100 seconds of hanging on for dear life, those of us watching at home weren't privy to what Oliveira's corner told him as commentators salivated over replays of what they had just seen.
The next we saw of him was Oliveira muttering something to himself and looking up into the rafters of the roaring 16,000 capacity crowd at the Toyota Center giving both fighters a standing ovation.
Just seconds into second round, though, he feinted a pair of straight lefts - one of which seemed to partly connect - then took advantage of an opening created by a failed right jab to drop Chandler with a sweet left hook.
Also utilizing Muay Thai with a knee to the head, Oliveira needed just 19 seconds in total to finish off the job, as Chandler shimmed across the octagon and then met another hook and a string of finalizers before the referee bookended the evening.
Surpassing Donald Cerrone's record for most finishes (17), Oliveira also pipped Michael Bisping for the latest UFC championship winner by becoming the ruler of the 155 lbs division in his 28th fight.
He also prolonged his reign for the most Performance of the Night bonuses (11), and has his second-to-last victim Tony Ferguson, a win over who got him the title shot, to thank for boosting that from $50,000 to $75,000 when demanding the increase of Dana White in a foul-mouthed press conference leading up to fight night.
Going over to White after sealing victory, Oliveira told the head honcho in front of the world moments later: "Hey, Dana. Believe in me. I did what nobody thought I would do. I did the opposite."
"You brought me a monster from Bellator. I told you I was going to knock him out and I knocked him out."
"I’m proving to everybody, I am the lion of lions."
As is always the case when a fighter from South America's largest country wins on such a platform however, a good chunk of Oliveira's words were an impassioned addresses to his 212 million countrymen and women back home.
"Favela, we won again!" Oliveira proclaimed.
"You can cry, but you cry with joy which is ours! It can rain stones, brother. Because when the stones are thrown back...Brother, they're all going to fall."
It’s absolutely insane how quick things change in the @ufc@MikeChandlerMMA was cruising and :19 secs later @CharlesDoBronxs is the champion!!! What a fight! Congrats to the new king. 🇧🇷 You got another champion!!! #ufc262— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) May 16, 2021
Understandably, the victory has been well-received by Oliveira's compatriots and is the lift that the nation needs in one of the most difficult moments of its troubled history.
Locked in a social, political and economic crisis since the dust settled on the catastrophic home World Cup in 2014, there has been little to smile about in a land where the locals were previously known for their generosity and showing off their pearly whites at any given opportunity.
It is polarized by the battle between left and right, and while one has always had to look over their shoulder when walking down the street, rampant crime runs at unfathomable levels while widespread inequality is worsened by the complications brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thanks to the bungling of president Jair Bolsonaro, only the US with over 50% more people has struggled worse than Brazil from the coronavirus, which up to the present has killed 430,000 in the continent-sized country.
VIDEO: Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro leads a massive motorbike rally in the capital Brasilia in a new mobilisation of his supporters to back his government, under pressure for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left nearly 420,000 dead pic.twitter.com/w9O05VBGAV— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 10, 2021
Lest we dismiss the success of champ champ Amanda Nunes, of course, who is undoubtedly MMA's greatest female combatant of all time.
Yet were it not for her achievements, Brazil would have had little to shout about since Anderson Silva fizzled out in 2013 and Jose Aldo was dethroned by Conor McGregor in 2015, in a sport where it has always been the most dominant force alongside the Americans.
The losses that pair suffered, with Silva beaten by Chris Weidman, were symbolic of Brazil's struggles on the big stage over the past decade.
And these have also carried over to its pride and joy national football team, at grave risk of having its standing as the most successful team at the World Cup with five wins ripped up thanks to failures in 2014 and 2018.
Too arrogant or too emotional. Or a mixture of both.
Jose Aldo’s career turned in one fight:25-1 B.C. (Before Connor) 3-6 A.D.Connor McGregor baptized him and a different Aldo walked the earth sincepic.twitter.com/KLEn7pA8yu— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 12, 2020
While Silva bafflingly taunted his younger foe beyond the point of reason and was knocked out, we can also throw Paulo Costa's limp challenge to Israel Adesanya's middleweight crown in the cocky category.
Evidently spending the build up focusing more on trash talking than honing his tactics, Costa was punished for showing the New Zealand-Nigerian a lack of respect by dropping his hands and was deservedly terminated then dry humped.
Later blaming his meek display on drinking wine to get to sleep, he has been ridiculed by not just the MMA community and pundits such as Daniel Cormier for the claims, but also his fellow Brazilians.
Far more reserved, Aldo allowed McGregor to get inside his head with a range of insults over the months before they finally met, and went steaming in only to get knocked out just like Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198.
Unable to keep the passion of performing in front of 45,000 in Curitiba under control, in the most-attended event in Brazilian UFC history, 'Vai Cavalo' went the way of the Selecao in the 7-1 World Cup semifinal in being dismantled by a colder, calculating opponent such as Germany - this time in the form of Stipe Miocic, who snatched away the heavyweight championship.
Clearly bothered by facing his former training partner, Gilbert Burns was the last Brazilian to fall short of a taste of glory when Kamaru Usman mauled him in February and TKO punches stopped their clash in the third round causing him to sob after.
Deiveson Figueiredo offered some flicker of pride by becoming the flyweight champion last year. But there was something far more symbolic about Oliveira's triumph.
Having his heart questioned throughout his career, by Chandler in the run-up and even by the UFC punditry team when attempting to keep him at bay, Oliveira demonstrated something that had been lacking in the national DNA recently by lifting himself off the canvas and powering through.
Skill and flare is something expected of every Brazilian whether they are rocking a pair of gloves or a ball at their feet.
But Oliveira showed that the never-say-day spirit still soaks yellow and green fabric.
What say? Hard work paid off. A dream came true. Now I'm UFC lightweight champ. Thank you to my fans for all the support. You're special.O que dizer? Meu esforço valeu a pena. O sonho se tornou realidade, me tornei campeão leve do UFC. Fãs, obrigado pelo apoio. #AFavelaVenceu— Charles Oliveira (@CharlesDoBronxs) May 16, 2021
"Michael said I couldn't take pressure, and he hit, hit, hit," Oliveira also said post-fight. "And I'm still here."
Though Brazil's past 17 champions before him are mostly from humble beginnings, few of them have embraced their favela roots more than he.
Hailing from Guaruja, a beach town an hour away from the state capital, which has become increasingly more dangerous in past years for the reasons listed above, Oliveira provides hope to those growing up in difficult conditions.
Those in Paraisopolis, the second-largest favela in the Southern Hemisphere's biggest metropolis São Paulo of 100,000 inhabitants, which is just a short walk down Avenida Giovanni Gronchi from the world-famous Chute Boxe gym where Oliveira trains, will be particularly inspired.
Escaping a gang-controlled neighborhood where just a fortnight ago weapons and 50kgs' of explosives capable of blowing the community up were found in an apartment building, youngsters can stroll past the Diego Lima-run establishment and yearn for an existence beyond police raids and harassment, discrimination and poorly paid minimum wage jobs.
As Oliveira put it himself while holding the newly-acquired gold strap aloft: "Look at this here. I'm Brazilian but this belt is for all of us.
"I said I was a boy among the lions. [But] I'm a slum dweller that won in life. Never give up on your dreams. If you have faith, it will happen."
By Tom Sanderson
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.