ABU DHABI — Charles Oliveira will take on Islam Makhachev for the vacant lightweight title at UFC 280 because that’s what’s next, although the former champion doesn’t necessarily believe it should’ve been made.
“I think Islam deserves all the respect in the world,” Oliveira told MMA Junkie and other reporters during UFC 280 media day Wednesday, “but I think he should’ve fought somebody maybe in the top five like I did, not just surf on someone else’s wave and skip the line like he did.”
Oliveira’s remark was exactly what it seemed: A thinly veiled shot at the fact that Makhachev is the star pupil of UFC Hall of Famer and former lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“For sure, this fight is only happening because of him,” Oliveira said.
For what it’s worth, Makhachev (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) is on a 10-fight winning streak heading into Saturday’s main event at Etihad Arena and hasn’t tasted defeat but once seven years ago. What Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) takes umbrage with is the fact that not one of Makhachev’s victories has come against an opponent ranked in the top five. His two most notable wins were first-round finishes in his two most recent fights — a submission of Dan Hooker in October 2021 and a TKO of Bobby Green in February.
Compare that to Oliveira, who was on an eight-fight winning streak and had just defeated then-top five and former interim champion Tony Ferguson in dominant fashion when the UFC gave him a vacant title shot against former Bellator champ Michael Chandler. Oliveira went on to TKO Chandler to claim the 155-pound title and subsequently submitted Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje. The only reason Oliveira isn’t champion right now is because he missed weight by half-a-pound under questionable circumstances before the Gaethje fight in May, which forced him to vacate.
So the way Oliveira sees it, Makhachev’s relationship with Nurmagomedov is what earned him the favor of this title shot.
“It’s for the history and for everything (Khabib has) done,” Oliveira said. “If it was any other guy, he would’ve had to walk the walk that I had to walk, knocking on people’s doors trying to get into a top-five (matchup). The reason why this fight is happening is because of him. That’s the real.”
Makhachev would leave no doubt about his belonging with a win at UFC 280. He said he wants to use his wrestling to beat Oliveira on the ground, which would be something special considering Oliveira — a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt — holds the record for most submission victories in UFC history.
If that’s where Makhachev wants to go, it’s all good with Oliveira.
“I’m ready. I think anyone needs to believe and want whatever is best for them,” Oliveira said. “If we go down to the ground, he’s basically facing the biggest finisher in the UFC. If he wants to stand up, we’re gonna stand up. I’m here to make history again.”