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Ahead of his first title defense against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269, lightweight champ Charles Oliveira talked to Sherdog about his long road to the top, the missed chance to face Khabib Nurmagomedov and whether it’s more stressful to win a belt or defend it.
You’ve been fighting professionally since at least 2008. Since the start, you’ve had wins over high-quality opponents such as Viscardi Andrade, Mehdi Baghdad, and Alexandre Bezerra. Who were you as a fighter early on, during your first dozen fights or so? Did you feel you could one day be a world champion?
"I was still very young; I believe it was very important for my maturity. I always had great faith in God. I wanted to be world champion, but as I was starting, I knew it was a dream that would take time."
Once you got into the UFC in 2010, most bouts were wins, but there were also losses to top fighters such as Jim Miller, Donald Cerrone, Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar. Even in losses, you often managed to score bonuses. Who were you as a fighter from your UFC debut, until your last loss, to Paul Felder in 2017?
"I've always fought really tough guys. I never chose opponents, and I always entered to give my best. Certainly, on the times I didn't win, I learned a lot."
In 2018, you beat former WEC champ Clay Guida. Later that year, you avenged your loss to Miller by submission. You kept up your streak against top opponents such as Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson, ultimately beating Michael Chandler for the belt. What can you say about your current success? What changes did you make?
"I started training daily at Chute Boxe [Diego Lima]. We are a real family there. Everyone there wants me to win, and everyone believes in me. It made me very strong. The training sessions are very hard. They’re real fights. I became more and more confident for the wars that came."
Do you ever think about the missed opportunity of facing ex-champ Khabib Nurmagomedov?
"He was definitely a great champion. I would have loved to fight him, but today he is retired. I don't think about it anymore. I know that like him, there are a lot of tough guys in the division. If he ever comes back, it would be a pleasure to face him."
Many successful Brazilian fighters end up moving to America. Why have you remained in Brazil, and how have your many bonuses helped improve your life?
"I’ve trained my whole life in Brazil. I never did a training camp outside my country. I have everything I need here. Here is my home. I earned a lot of bonuses. Today, I own my house, I have a farm, and my own gym. I focus on being happy and making those I love happy too."
Is it easier to chase the belt, or to defend it? Or is the stress level the same?
"Every fight I'm going into is the most important of my life. In our profession, we depend on results. The belt was a dream come true, and its defense will be another dream."
What can you say about your next opponent, Dustin Poirier, who chose to face Conor McGregor even though he could have instead fought you for the belt?
"Dustin's a really tough guy. I'm training hard to win in any situation, both standing and on the ground. He chose to face Conor [McGregor] for financial reasons. Everyone makes their own choices. Now we're going to fight, and I'll be ready, same as always."
How does your training change once you’re booked?
"We train every day, regardless of whether a fight is scheduled or not. When a fight is booked, we continue training normally. My coaches then take care of how the training will be focused, and my training partners help me by simulating my opponent."
Can you provide more details about your training sessions? What have you been working on, and with whom?
"My workouts are always as complete as possible. I train muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and we spar twice a week. Everyone helps me a lot. Diego Lima is the head coach. Julio “Juliao” Rodrigues, Cicero Coutinho, Daniel “Willycat” Santos, and all other training partners are always willing to do their best for me.
How do you enjoy life, outside of the fight world?
"I have fun training. I love what I do. I love being with my family, and with my training partners. Plus, I have a passion for my horses. Practically every weekend I take care of them."
Who would you be if you hadn’t gone into martial arts? Have you thought about it?
"I started training very early. Opportunities kept appearing. I had great faith that God would help me find my path."
Anything else you’d like to share?
"Thank you so much to everyone who cheers for me. I'll give it my best Dec. 11. The show is for you all."
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