He spent two years in the hospital as a child. He took a correction by an older girl when he was just starting out. But he was able to overcome obstacles to afford a chance to become the UFC lightweight champion in his fight against Michael Chandler this weekend at UFC 262 (live from 4 a.m. on the night of Saturday to Sunday on RMC Sport 2). Portrait of Brazilian Charles Oliveira, record holder for UFC submissions and who may become the “latest” champion in the history of the organization.
Diego Lima did not expect it. But he quickly understood the strength of the symbol. Two years ago, in May 2019, Charles Oliveira’s coach and manager saw his protégé hand him a stone just before walking towards the octagon in Rochester, New York, and asking him to keep it for a while. his (victorious) fight against Nik Lentz, whom he had already beaten four years earlier. Before explaining: his father, Francisco, had given one to each of his sons several years before to represent the stone used by David to defeat Goliath. A lucky charm that follows him every time he has to climb into the cage. A nod to his fate, too.
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In our metaphor, Charles Oliveira is David. And the trials of life take the form of Goliath. Opposed this Saturday night to the American Michael Chandler for the lightweight belt left vacant by the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov, in the main fight of a UFC 262 which will be held in the full house of the Toyota Center in Houston (Texas), Charles Oliveira may become the “latest” champion in the history of the biggest MMA organization across the planet – he would win the belt for his twenty-eighth UFC fight, the record so far belonging to the Briton Michael Bisping, crowned middleweight in 2016 in his twenty-sixth appearance in the Octagon – if he beats the man who can become the second fighter in UFC and Bellator champion history after Eddie Alvarez (who had lost his Bellator belt to… Chandler before regaining it against him).
Above all, he can take the most dazzling revenge. “Do Bronx,” his nickname, should never have been there if a doctor’s promise had come true. Even before turning ten, the kid who has fun playing football in the streets of Guaruja, a stone’s throw from Santos and his legendary club which has seen Pelé, Coldoaldo, Zito Dunga or Neymar sees his life turn upside down: he is diagnosed with an abnormal heart murmur and rheumatoid arthritis which attacks his ankles. The consequences quickly turn to terrible. Staying up? Impossible or almost. Oliveira will have to spend two years in the hospital. The treatment is heavy and expensive, but her mother’s boss, Ozana, a housekeeper at a school and at the principal’s house, helps the family take care of it (dad worked in a slaughterhouse and sold eggs in the market local).
After work, Ozana comes to sleep in the hospital, on the floor next to his bed, and sometimes spends a month without coming home to take care of him. Doctors are going to make him a prediction that sends shivers down your spine. “They told my mom I couldn’t play sports anymore,” said the UFC fighter in a superb article by Guilheme Cruz for the MMA Fighting site. One of them even explains to his parents that there is “a chance” of never seeing him walk again. But Francisco and Ozana keep the faith. And Charles will prove them right. He was released from the hospital at eleven years old, has not yet fully recovered and must undergo two injections of benzathine benzylpenicillin per week and one injection per month of anti-inflammatory drugs. Doctors advise him against any overly strenuous physical activity, starting with football. But two months later, against their advice, he returned to the sport.
It will no longer be with the round ball, too dangerous for his ankles, but in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, nicknamed “the soft art” in Brazil as it uses flexibility and technique more than strength. “Two months later he won a local competition,” his father said. “When we went back to the doctor and he told us he couldn’t do it, Charles had already won two gold medals. ” Along with her brother Hermison, Oliveira pushed open the door to Bronx’s Gold Team (from which he took his nickname), where coach Ericson Cardoso offers them free lessons at the request of a close friend. Where he’s going to take a good lesson from day one. Too “green” technically, it hurts a few girls in exercises. Another, Joyce Matias, a year younger but who has been training in the discipline for a year, will take charge of making him pay. “I gave him a good correction so that he wouldn’t hurt anyone anymore, she remembers with a smile. I didn’t give him a chance.”
“I’d rather die”
Cardoso thinks the episode will turn him off. But Charles returns to the room, motivated by the idea of training to… beat Matias, who will become his friend and even a little more and that he will even face in intersex fights in local tournaments. He will end up “kicking his ass”, says Matias herself. Oliveira is ambitious. He wants to “make a career” in combat sports and “become a champion”. But MMA is not yet in its sights, occupied by jiu-jitsu. He will appear at the age of sixteen, when he follows a Cardoso to Curitiba invited by Jorge “Macaco” Patino to come and train with the stars (Wanderleu Silva, Mauricio Rua, etc.) from the Chute Boxe hall. If he has to train away from the elite group of coach Rafael Cordeiro, the boy impresses. He ends up being convinced to get into MMA.
The first amateur fight, in November 2007, just after his eighteenth birthday, ended with a submission – a nod to his training and his future – via an arm lock in a few seconds. Only concern? Unaware before their return from the fight, mom Ozana gets angry and does not speak to Charles and his father for a few days. A few trips to the gym to see him train will convince her that the path chosen by her son is the right one. At eighteen, he also made a strong decision: to stop the injections he had been undergoing since childhood. And to launch to his parents: “I would rather die than to continue like this and not to do the things that I like”. A few months later, in March 2008, he replaced a teammate on short notice and made his pro debut at Predator FC, a welterweight tournament – when he weighed much less than the category limit – scooped up with three wins in one night. .
He would win two more similar tournaments with multiple fights on the same night in a perfect start to his career that took him to the UFC in just over two years with a 12-0 record. His love for MMA has grown and Oliveira is aiming for the top. It will take a long time to reach it. Then tenth youngest fighter to join the UFC at the height of his twenty years and two hundred and eighty-eight days for his debut in the organization in August 2010, the Brazilian begins again with a submission, via an arm lock, as a symbol of the sequel. Thirteen more will come to the UFC in ten and a half years to make him the man with the most submissions in the history of the organization. He also sits at the top of the ranking for the most “evening performances”, with ten (sixteen bonuses in all), and the most “finishes” (submission or KO / TKO) tied with Donald Cerrone with sixteen .
But his journey is marked by ups and downs, started in the feather category where he misses four times the weight. His final move to the lightweight, in April 2017, will be a game-changer. Oliveira has since posted a 9-1 record, including an ongoing streak of eight straight wins, including seven consecutive “finishes”. In short, he deserved his chance for the title. Everything comes at the right time to who knows how to wait, and to who has the talent… If he beats Chandler and covers himself with gold, he says that success will not change him, that he will remain this “simple and humble” man. . But it has already enabled her to make a difference. As soon as possible, he allowed his parents to quit their jobs to buy them a farm in Vale do Ribeira, four hours from Sao Paulo, and fill it with animals: llamas, cattle, chickens, pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese, cattle, ostriches, emus, ponies and horses.
With the latter, the relationship goes further: Oliveira competes in trotting races with his horse Nelson, a passion born from his friend Gia Santos who accompanies him to his corner to fight while he has no experience of high level combat sports. A hobby which costs but which does good to the one who is too “fat” to be a real jockey but still manages to win some local races. He also opened his own training room in Guaruja, Centro de Treinamento Charles Oliveira Gold Team, where his Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner wife Talita Roberta Pereira (they have a daughter, Tayla, born in 2017) also serves as a coach. He has achieved goals, what, but not yet that of being a champion in the UFC. It may be for this Saturday, in the most dense category of the organization. Far from the predictions of doctors.
“I’m a kid from a very poor neighborhood who the doctors said he couldn’t play sports anymore, and look where I am now,” he says. “Look at everything that’s happened in my house. life. On May 15th, I can become UFC champion. How can I not say that the favela has won? ” And to conclude as a message to those who go far away like him: “I remember when I walked for hours to come home after jiu-jitsu tournaments because we had no money to take the bus. I remember to share a sandwich at noon so that I can take the bus. If your life is easy, you are too soft. If your life is hard, it pays in the end. I want to show everyone that you can get things if we work hard, even if we come from a favela. You don’t have to steal, deal drugs or do bad things. I want to show the children that they can win in life. Imagine being able to come back. in Brazil with the belt and allow the kids in the favela to touch it. It’s priceless. ” With his David stone in his pocket, he will also be able to visit his former doctors. To remind them to never say never.