After 28 fights that spanned over a decade in the UFC, Oliveira finally saw gold wrapped around his waist at UFC 262 in May. After the great Khabib Nurmagomedov retired following his victory over Justin Gaethje last October, and relinquished the belt earlier this year, “Do Bronx” faced relative promotional newcomer Michael Chandler for the lightweight title.
Dominant victories over Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson in 2020, which had extended his winning streak to eight, secured Oliveira his place in the championship bout. He certainly made the most of the opportunity. After surviving first-round adversity, the Brazilian fought back in the second and finished Chandler by way of a TKO.
But Gaethje, who was the last fighter to challenge the dominant reign of “The Eagle,” doesn’t believe Oliveira is truly the best in the weight class. “The Highlight” has previously expressed his dismay at the vacant title fight pairing, especially given that he had held the interim title in 2020.
In an interview with ESPN MMA, Gaethje suggested Oliveira can’t be considered the division’s kingpin until he defeats Poirier, whom the champ is expected to defend his title against at UFC 269.
“As soon as Poirier fights Oliveira, if Oliveira beats him and really solidifies himself as the best…right now, he’s not the best. Right now, he’s still got some quit in him, and he hasn’t been tested by the best guys. I think Chandler did do that, but it’s a very favorable matchup for Oliveira, so we’ll see.
“I can’t give him credit now, but if he goes out there and beats Poirier, I’ll have no other choice but to give him the respect he deserves.”
When reminded of Oliveira’s lengthy winning streak, Gaethje discussed the opponents the Brazilian faced. He suggested they weren’t of a high enough quality to warrant Oliveira’s place in the UFC 262 headliner. But despite not believing “Do Bronx” has the credentials to be classed as the #1 or #2 lightweight, Gaethje admitted that the 31-year-old grafted hard to get to where he is today.
“Look at the fights that he won and got on this streak. Tony Ferguson’s a good win. Nik Lentz is probably the next biggest win on that streak. So I didn’t think he deserved it. That was me as a fan from the outside. When it comes to credentials, sure, you have eight wins in a row. And he’s been around forever. This guy deserves it if I’m a fan (and) I’ve been watching this forever. The guy’s been around since I was in college. So yeah, he put that time in and he deserves it. But when it comes to credentials, I didn’t think he was the #1 or #2 guy on the list.”
While Oliveira gets set for the first defense of his lightweight gold, Gaethje will return for the first time in over a year at UFC 268 on November 6. Looking to stake his claim for another shot at the belt, the 32-year-old will face former title challenger Michael Chandler inside New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Do you agree with Justin Gaethje? Or is Charles Oliveira already the legitimate champion in your eyes?