The UFC lightweight title is vacant. By all rights, former champion Charles Oliveira is should be one of the two fighters who will compete for the belt whenever the next championship bout is booked. Of course, ‘should’ is the key word, because there are no guarantees when it comes to UFC title fights—at least not until a fight date is set and the contracts are signed.
With every UFC title booking there are multiple X-factors that can come into play, eventually it always boils down to finding two fighters, a date, and a location. In 2022, the least important of those can often feel like the athletes. Hopefully ‘Do Bronx’ isn’t the next man to learn that lesson.
Oliveira, who the UFC stripped of the title when he missed weight for his scheduled defense against Justin Gaethje at UFC 274, has been fairly vocal as to when and where he’d like to fight for the belt once again. That could come back to bite him, especially with UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski getting a favorable look from the UFC powers that be.
The matchup that seems to make sense for the UFC lightweight crown is Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev. However, people around the Brazilian don’t seem all that thrilled about plans around the booking.
“Why do it in Makhachev’s turf? Look at what Charles has done,” Oliveira’s coach Diego Lima recently said, in response to reports that the UFC was targeting Oliveira vs. Makhachev in Abu Dhabi. “Look at his track record. Why not let Charles fight wherever he wants? Why not give us the chance to fight in Brazil? ‘Oh but it has to be somewhere neutral’. Fine, let’s do it in New York. If this was McGregor, we’d fight him in Ireland, because McGregor also made history.”
“Now, why would we want to go to Abu Dhabi in October? That’s much sooner than when we’re used to fighting,” Lima added. “That’s a different timing. It’s not Charles’s timing. Charles doesn’t want it (to fight in Abu Dhabi). As his head coach, I fully support his decision and agree with him.”
The UFC rarely allows a fighter, even a champion, to dictate when and where a fight takes place. With the promotion’s busy schedule and the need to have one (if not multiple) title fights on each pay-per-view card these days, that fact has become even more pronounced. With Oliveira being an ex-champion, it may be that he has far less power than he’d like to believe in this situation.
If the UFC says, the lightweight title will be on the line in October in Abu Dhabi, it just may be that that’s what’s going to happen. Just because Oliveira deserves to fight for that belt—and he definitely does—doesn’t mean the UFC will work with his wants and desires. Francis Ngannou found that out the hard way, and he didn’t even get stripped of his heavyweight title.
With Volkanovski defending his 145-pound crown in dominant fashion at UFC 276 and his desire to fight for the 155-pound title hanging in the air, Olivera’s bargaining power may just be nearing zero. UFC president Dana White recently said, if Volkanovski were to win his trilogy bout with ex-champ Max Holloway, that he could, “…do whatever he wants to do. I mean, if he wants to move up and challenge somebody at ’55 or whatever he wants to do, I’m down for whatever he wants.”
If Oliveira and his team want to fight for the lightweight title in 2022, it seems likely that the best option is for them to say yes to whatever terms the UFC dictates to them.
It may not be fair, but it may also be the best option he’ll have.
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