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LAS VEGAS — Charles Oliveira wasn’t much different than any young boy when he was growing up in Brazil. He was playing one sport or another during nearly all of his waking hours. In his quiet moments, he’d dream of himself as the big star in one of them.
For as long as he could remember, Oliveira would imagine himself scoring a dramatic victory, having his arm raised skyward and a title belt wrapped around his waist.
Now that he has won the UFC’s lightweight championship and become a big star in mixed martial arts, he has a slightly different dream. He has his arm raised skyward in a token of victory regularly now, 11 times in his last 11 fights, including in the main event of UFC 274 in Phoenix, Arizona, when he submitted Justin Gaethje.
He’s adored by millions in his homeland, just like he dreamed he’d be. But now when he thinks of the dramatic changes in his life, he’s shocked.
“I think about the kid I was coming up with nothing in the favelas, and it’s hard to believe that here I am and that I’ve done it,” Oliveira told Yahoo Sports. “In Brazil, people help each other and now I’m in a position to help.”
He smiles as he speaks, which he does a lot these days. Oliveira, though, will be the first to tell you smiling is part of his make-up.
He’s a goal-oriented person and he wants to set records, to leave a legacy that will be recounted long after he’s gone. He lists a number of things he’d like to accomplish while he’s still at the peak of his powers, and one of them is a bit surprising.
He brings up the so-called “BMF Belt,” which the UFC created in 2019 to honor the winner of the fight between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. That fight was, theoretically anyway, to determine the “baddest mother f***er” in the UFC.
“They did the ‘Baddest MF’ fight so it might be nice to have the BMF fight the ‘Nicest MF,’” he said, referring to himself.
When he’s told that there are many who refer to UFC welterweight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson as the ‘Nicest MF,” Oliveira sits back in his chair and laughs. He does, though, defend his position.
“C’mon!” he says with mock indignation. “I’m the nicest MF. Look at me. I’m the nicest, calmest guy there is.”
Though he missed weight at UFC 274 and was stripped of the lightweight title, he didn’t throw a hissy fit. He never thought of not competing, even though he believes the Arizona Athletic Commission conspired against him.
He said he’d weighed himself on an unofficial scale the night before the weigh-in and was on weight. On weigh-in day, Oliveira said all of the fighters received a call from the commission telling them there was a discrepancy between the unofficial scale and the official one and that they may have an issue with their weight.
That gave them, he said, the opportunity to start the weight-cut again early on Friday morning. Oliveira said he is the only fighter who didn’t receive such a call. He said he arrived at 9 a.m. and planned to be one of the early fighters to weigh-in during the two-hour window the fighters have to get onto the official scale.
When he showed is when he learned of the discrepancy between the two scales. He stepped on the unofficial scale again and this time he was over. So he had to go back and begin the weight-cut process again, which is always difficult.
He ultimately couldn’t make it. He was fined a percentage of his purse and stripped of the title, though he was assured he’d be the No. 1 contender if he won, which he did when he submitted Gaethje with a rear naked choke.
“For 20 minutes [after being told he’d be stripped], we cried a little bit and were upset, then it was over and we moved on,” Oliveira said.
Since he’s no longer the champion, he’ll have to fight again for the belt, most likely against Islam Makhachev. It’s hard to believe he’d walk away from a chance to regain the title, but Oliveira said he’s seriously considering a fight at a catchweight with former double champion Conor McGregor.
McGregor is just 1-3 in his last four fights, 1-4 if you consider his TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather in boxing. Oliveira said if he fights McGregor, it wouldn’t be for a title but at a catchweight.
During a half-hour interview with Yahoo Sports, Oliveira used the word legacy no fewer than 15 times. An online sports book made Makhachev a 4-1 favorite in a theoretical fight with him. A win as that big of an underdog would go a long way toward securing his reputation as one of the greatest to ever step into the Octagon.
But Oliveira was quick to say fighting McGregor is about something other than legacy.
“They can put whoever in front of me and I’ll say yes,” he said. “I always say yes. I don’t choose my opponents and I don’t care about the odds or things like that, which don’t matter. Look at the 11 names [of the fighters I’ve beaten in a row]. Of those, only one fight went to a decision. So I’m proving them wrong and if they want to make me the underdog, OK. It’s fine. Underdog or [favorite], it doesn’t matter. I still have to do my job and if I do, I know I’ll win.
“For most of my career, what I was doing was all about legacy, and building my legacy. To become the champion, it costs money. And to continue to be the champion I am today and to build on my legacy, it’s going to cost money. And a fight with Conor McGregor is the one that will bring the most money and help me to continue to get better.”
He wants the check a McGregor fight would bring. Part of it, of course, is because he needs to take care of his family and wants to give his child a better life than he had growing up, when he was extremely poor.
He said one of the best things about having money now is being able to order what he wants at a restaurant and not worry about how much it costs.
But his money also enables him to fulfill one of his long-time ambitions of serving the less fortunate.
“It means a great deal to me to be able to help people who are struggling and in need,” he said. “The best part of having money now is my ability to help people and give them some of the things that I didn’t have. But it’s nice to be able to go to a restaurant and eat what I want and not have to think about the check at the end.
“I’ve been able to buy shoes and clothing for children that I didn’t have when I was young. That’s gratifying to me to be able to do that. It’s very rewarding to see someone be so grateful to get something they need so much, like a pair of shoes or clothes that fit them. By working hard and what we have accomplished in this sport, I’m in a position now that I can change the lives of other people. I’m a man of faith and that means a lot to me.”