Charles Oliveira doesn’t need UFC belt to be world’s best

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Charles Oliveira is the best in the world, and he doesn’t need a belt to prove it.

The Brazilian walked into the octagon Saturday night in Phoenix as the UFC titleholder at 155 pounds. He left the “No. 1 contender,” even after tapping out challenger Justin Gaethje via first-round rear-naked choke to close out UFC 274.

Blame his half-pound loss to the scale 36 hours earlier for causing the first defending UFC champion to lose his crown by missing weight — which did not officially happen until he stepped into the cage at Footprint Center.

“There’s something missing here,” the belt-less Oliveira declared through an interpreter in the octagon. “The champion has a name, and it’s Charles Oliveira.”

Oliveira (33-8, 30 finishes) knew what his job was the day before his third championship fight inside of 365 days. He had to hit 155 pounds or less, and he didn’t. When he first whiffed, he tried to cut more weight. The gambit failed.

The whole idea behind weight cutting is to come into the cage heavier than the opponent, with a perceived advantage with increased mass. Championship-level 155ers frequently come to the cage between 170 and 178 pounds.

Fight-night weights are not made public by the Arizona commission, so there’s no official word on who held the edge. The only official record lists Oliveira with an 0.5 pounds on Gaethje (23-4, 20 finishes). But check the images and film of a sucked-out Oliveira on the scale, failing to hit the mark, and tell yourself those additional ounces would be an advantage a day later.

Can you really say that? I sure can’t.

The erstwhile UFC champion certainly didn’t look notably more massive than the ultra-violent Gaethje, clearly the crowd favorite fighting within three hours of his hometown of Safford. And while Oliveira had his moments throughout the early goings of what amounted to a sensational 3-minute, 22-second scrap, Gaethje sure inflicted more damage early on with his brutal kicks and heavy hands.

But bloody Oliveira never wilted — time to stop pairing “Charles Oliveira” and “quitter” together. He did what he’s done in each of these five-round combat bonanzas: took a lickin’ and kept asskickin’.

“[Gaethje is] a guy who pushes forward, and I always push forward. I knew this was gonna happen.” Oliveira told reporters hours later through an interpreter. “I knew that I was gonna get hit. I knew that I was gonna hit him.”

“Do Bronx” damaged Gaethje, he of the all-action reputation, with a laser of a right hand. You knew what was in store for the challenger next; the UFC’s all-time submission leader was bound to pad his record against the Arizonan. First fishing for an arm and then a triangle, Oliveira quickly pounced on an opening to sink in the mata leão.

Make that 16 subs in the NFL of MMA. Good luck chasing down Charlie Olives’ mark.

Immediately after the tap, Oliveira sprung to his feet and signed a belt around his waist that he would not have wrapped around him Saturday night. Such a shame, as there’s no question whatsoever who’s the top dog in the UFC lightweight division.

Beating Gaethje is impressive on its own. Doing so five months after stopping Dustin Poirier, a former interim champ? Marvelous.

Factor in wins over Tony Ferguson, also a one-time interim champion, and ex-Bellator titleholder Michael Chandler before those two title defenses? Stupendous.

Oliveira said he’s “here to make a legacy and make history.” Mission accomplished.

Ferguson, Chandler, Poirier, Gaethje. That’s a murderer’s row the likes of which the UFC has not seen at 155 pounds. Khabib Nurmagomedov retired an unbeaten champion just months before Oliveira won the newly-vacated belt, but even “The Eagle” can’t boast as impressive a four-fight run as the current gold standard.

Indeed, the UFC has deigned Oliveira merely its top lightweight contender, with his next fight deciding the promotion’s champion. But fight fans aren’t fools. They know what’s up. They know who’s the top 155er on planet Earth, and he’s got platinum blond hair and a hell of a squeeze.

“He’s the guy,” UFC president Dana White told reporters afterward. “He didn’t make weight. We have rules. He didn’t make the weight. The belt is vacant. But I’m sure, in the minds of the media and fight fans, Oliveira is the champion.”

Damn straight.

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