Charles Oliveira wears black and gold silks when he guides standardbred racehorses around the track in his time away from the Octagon. This weekend, he’ll don the same colors inside the Octagon as well.
“It’s great,” said Oliveira when asked about the symmetry that comes with wearing the black and gold befitting a champion when he defends the lightweight title against Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 269 at T-Mobile Arena this Saturday night.
The pairing is not only a matchup of the top two competitors in the lightweight division, but a meeting of two tenured veterans that are still just 32 years old and took the long road to the reach the summit of the 155-pound ranks.
Oliveira made his UFC debut against Darren Elkins as a gangly 19-year-old with go-go-gadget limbs, a megawatt smile and boundless energy. He had already won a dozen pro fights without a loss and submitted the future featherweight stalwart in less than a minute, earning the first of the 17 post-fight bonuses he’s collected during the course of his career.
Just two fights later, however, he lost to Jim Miller, than an emerging contender, in a bout that felt like “too much, too soon” for the promising Brazilian. His next seven years were inconsistent — brilliant outings followed by ugly losses, a move to featherweight accompanied by several instances where Oliveira missed weight, with the 145-pound weight class remaining something he fixated on even after he returned to lightweight.
“I always stayed focused,” offered the Brazilian champion, who claimed the title with a second-round stoppage victory over Michael Chandler in May. “I knew there would be obstacles and hard times, but I knew to stay focused and work harder and my dreams would come true.”
After losing to Paul Felder at UFC 218 in Detroit four years ago, Oliveira’s record inside the Octagon stood at 10-8 with one no contest verdict, and 2-4 over his last six fights. He had a reputation for stumbling against top competition, and despite his abundant talents, seemed destined to be another in the long line of gifted fighters that never quite put it all together and reached their full potential.
Even when he pushed his winning streak to three by submitting Miller in their rematch at the end of 2018, few people anticipated the run would continue the way it has, nearly three years later, as Oliveira still hasn’t lost. As he readies to face Poirier on Saturday night, “Do Bronx” has won nine consecutive contests, all but one of them inside the distance, with his finish of Chandler giving him the record for the most career stoppage wins in UFC history with 17.
He has 19 UFC wins overall.
“It has, but it took a long time,” he said with a laugh when asked if his championship victory has sunk in now that he’s set to defend his title. “It was a dream that came true. It’s an achievement that shows that hard work and staying focus pays off.
“Nothing beats experience,” continued Oliveira, who has made 28 trips into the Octagon, two more than Poirier. “I have been in the UFC since I was 19. You always have to keep learning to stay competitive in the UFC, and the obstacles that I had early in my career have helped me to be where I am today.
“You have adversity all the time,” he added, reflecting on his journey. “You know it’s coming and you just have to handle it when it comes.”
Poirier arrived in the UFC with less fanfare, but made an even greater splash in his debut, registering a unanimous decision win over Josh Grispi at UFC 125.
At the time, Grispi had won 10 straight and had been slated to face then-champion Jose Aldo before the Brazilian titleholder was forced off the card with an injury. Coupled with his featured role in the acclaimed documentary Fightville that tracked his journey to mixed martial arts and rise through the regional ranks, the victory put Poirier on the fast track to contention, but like Oliveira, “The Diamond” initially stumbled as well.
Each time he got close, the Louisiana native suffered a setback, losing marquee assignments against Chan Sung Jung, Cub Swanson, and Conor McGregor during a seven-fight run to close out his time competing in the featherweight division. After amassing four straight victories to kick off his lightweight run inside the Octagon, Poirier once again seemed primed to enter the title conversation, only to suffer a first-round knockout loss at the hands of Michael Johnson in Hidalgo, Texas.
He’s been locked in ever since.
“Dustin is a great fighter; we have both been in the UFC for a long time,” Oliveira said of Poirier, who has won eight of his last 10 appearances, including an interim title victory over Max Holloway and three straight since suffering his long loss during that stretch in his title bout with retired former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242.
“He has a big name and big skills, and it will make for a very exciting fight,” continued the champion, who welcomes the chance to share the Octagon with the undisputed No. 1 contender and test his skills against someone as well-rounded and experienced in marquee fights as Poirier. “He is a complete MMA fighter — great at everything — and he has big wins in big fights.
“I have to be ready for a great fight.”
And that is precisely what Oliveira is expecting.
“This fight will be very exciting,” he began, offering his thoughts on how Saturday’s main event will play out. “I believe (it will be) a very high-level MMA fight with great striking, takedowns, and grappling.
“The fans will see it all.”
After 54 combined appearances inside the Octagon, 39 combined victories, and 30 combined finishes, Oliveira and Poirier have certainly already seen it all, and done just about everything possible as well.
The only thing that remains is to step into the cage this weekend and determine which one of them is the best lightweight on the planet.
Don't miss a single strike of the final pay-per-view of the year at UFC 269: Oliveira vs Poirier , live from T-Mobile Arena on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 6pm ET/3pm PT. Main card begins at 10pm ET/7pm PT.