Charles Oliveira entered the Octagon on Saturday as the lightweight champion. He left it without a belt, but also with the recognition that he is clearly the best 155-pounder on the planet.
In a wild, spectacular fight, Oliveira submitted Justin Gaethje with a rear naked choke at 3:22 of the first round in the main event of UFC 274 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Because Oliveira missed weight at Friday’s weigh-in by a half-pound, he was stripped of the title when the bell rang. The UFC stipulated that if Oliveira had won, he’d be the No. 1 contender.
Both men were down and both were rocked in the brief fight, but it was a shootout that Gaethje didn’t have the bullets to win. He dropped Oliveira twice, but because of the excellence of Oliveira’s jiu-jitsu, he didn’t follow him to the floor and try for a ground-and-pound finish.
Oliveira, by contrast, had no such issue. In the finishing sequence, he put Gaethje down and first got him into a triangle choke. Gaethje managed to slip away, but Oliveira, the UFC’s all-time leader in submissions and finishes, quickly got his neck. He put the rear naked choke in and for the second time in a lightweight title fight, Gaethje tapped.
Each man was officially credited with one knockdown, but both went down multiple times. Oliveira’s ability to fight in all positions was what made the difference.
“There’s something missing,” Oliveira said in the Octagon after the win. “The champion has a name and it’s Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira.”
The fight was action from the opening bell. The bell rang and seconds later, Oliveira blasted Gaethje with a straight right that hurt him. Gaethje recovered and dropped Oliveira. But instead of following the Brazilian to the mat, Gaethje backed off and allowed Oliveira to get up.
They were trading punches, elbows, knees and kicks and seemingly taking turns hurting the other. But when Oliveira dropped Gaethje the last time and Gaethje was not able to get up immediately, that was essentially a wrap.
“This is a message for the entire division,” said Oliveira, who immediately after winning leaped over the Octagon and spoke to UFC president Dana White. “I’m a problem for the entire division. … I am the champion. This is my title.”
He said he didn’t care who he fought next, but did say he’d like a crack at ex-champion Conor McGregor.