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Charles Oliveira, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s all-time leader in submission wins, returns to the Octagon on Feb. 2, as he takes on rising Swedish kickboxer David Teymur at UFC Fight Night 144 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Oliveira’s exploits provide the material for this installment of The Film Room.
Oliveira already ranks as one of the greatest submission specialists in UFC history while still in his fighting prime at 29 years old. The difference between Oliveira and other submission specialists like Demian Maia and even Brian Ortega is that he has the wrestling skills necessary to get the fight to the ground. While Maia and Ortega land under 20 percent of their takedowns, Oliveira converts 42 percent of them, with an average of 2.95 takedowns per fight. He mostly goes for counter takedowns, where he ducks under opponents’ strikes and uses their momentum against them.
Oliveira favors counter takedowns, but he is adept at trips and throws from the clinch and using the cage to get the fight on the ground.
Once the fight hits the ground, Oliveira quickly looks to pass guard and generally looks to take the opponent’s back. Feinting is one of the most important aspects of combat sports, but we usually only talk about striking feints, not grappling and submission feints. Oliveira will use false submission attempts to pass guard or take back control and set up other submissions. Grapplers at the highest levels know how to chain together these submission attempts and guard passes to eventually achieve their preferred position. For example: While the opponent is focused on defending an anaconda choke, Oliveira is two steps ahead and using the choke to take the back.
When Oliveira takes the back or fully commits to a submission, the fight is pretty much over. Not only does Oliveira have the record for most submissions in UFC history, but he does it in a variety of ways. Of his 12 UFC submissions, four are via rear-naked choke, three by guillotine, two by anaconda choke, one by armbar, one by triangle choke and one by calf slicer. To put that variety in perspective, Maia has nine UFC submission victories, with seven of them being rear-naked chokes.
Oliveira does not offer anything special on the feet, but during his nine years in the UFC, he has become a proficient enough striker to hold his own against most opponents. He is generally patient and relies on the standard 1-2, but lately, he has been mixing in wild flying knees and spinning back kicks to move opponents to the cage and set up grappling exchanges.
Oliveira’s best striking comes from the clinch, where he can fire off knees and elbows before pushing opponents to the cage to set up takedowns. Since he is usually the taller and longer fighter, it is easier for him to land strikes in the clinch while being out of range of the opponent; and his knees have a shorter path to the target. At the end of the day, Oliveira wants the fight on the ground. Being able to beat up opponents in the clinch to distract them from takedown attempts just adds to his grappling mastery.