UFC 262 started with a bang! The first fight on the main card featured the veteran contender Edson Barboza, against prospect Shane Burgos. Burgos entered the fight as a slight favorite, but after two hard rounds of fast-paced back and forth action, Barboza secured the victory with a powerful punch combination that landed flush on Burgos’s jaw. Despite this strong start to a promising card, the next three fights went to decisions, and were relatively uneventful. I was beginning to lose faith in the night until the main event began: Michael Chandler against Charles Olivera in a five round bout for the newly vacant Lightweight UFC title.
For the past few years, the Lightweight UFC division has been dominated by Khabib Nurmogomedov, who holds a perfect MMA record of 29-0. As a champion, Nurmogomedov had headlined numerous cards and dominated every fighter that came before him. It seemed like he would never lose his title, which is why his sudden retirement in October of last year was so surprising. Nevertheless, the Lightweight contenders were all leaping at the opportunity to claim the now vacant title as soon as possible. The first two fighters in line for their shot were #4 Ranked Michael Chandler and #3 Ranked Charles Olivera.
Charles Olivera has been a staple in the Lightweight division for years. He holds the record for the most submission victories in UFC history (14), but he has plenty of knockout victories to match. After his impressive one-sided defeat of perennial contender Tony Ferguson, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before he earned a title shot. As luck would have it, a title shot would be his very next fight. But his opponent would not be a pushover. Michael Chandler was new to the UFC, but he made a strong impression in his debut with a first round knockout victory over #6 Ranked Dan Hooker. Although many people did not believe he deserved a title shot after his first fight in the UFC, Chandler was determined to prove the doubters wrong.
As both men made their way to the octagon, they looked focused and intent. They had respect for each other’s abilities, but they were also confident in themselves. After pacing around just long enough to build anticipation, they met in the center and touched gloves. The bell sounded, and the fight began. Olivera landed early with a calf kick that knocked Chandler to the ground. But Chandler quickly recovered, and began to find his rhythm. He started throwing heavy shots at Olivera, who was able to dodge most of them. But the few that landed did significant damage. Olivera’s eye was bleeding, and he went for a desperate takedown against a confident Chandler.
The takedown was successful, but Chandler soon caught Olivera in a guillotine choke that seemed to be locked-in. As I sat at the edge of my seat waiting for Chandler to get the submission, Olivera was able to free himself from the lock. Olivera began to apply some pressure on Chandler, who responded by rolling to his back in an attempt to stand up. This proved to be a big mistake against submission artist Olivera, who applied a strong body lock on Chandler. Chandler was able to get to his feet, but Olivera slid his arms under Chandler’s neck, and brought him back down to the mat. For the next minute, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Olivera would secure the rear-naked choke and attain the submission victory.
But, in a display of the true fighting spirit, Chandler was able to free himself from the tight lock after some helpful cheers from the crowd. Chandler quickly stood up, and forced Olivera to follow him back into a standing fight. He went back to the formula that had worked at the beginning of the fight by throwing heavy shots at Olivera. One shot caught Olivera on the jaw, and floored him. Chandler began to swarm him with strikes, and it seemed like a knockout victory was on the horizon. But Olivera was able to survive long enough to get Chandler back to the ground, where he held on for the rest of the round. The bell sounded, both men regrouped, and prepared for round 2.
Round 2 began with a furious exchange of strikes from both men. Given the previous round, it seemed that Chandler would come out on top. But Olivera landed a powerful left-hook that cracked Chandler across the jaw. Chandler stumbled back against the cage, and Olivera swarmed him with strikes. Chandler tried to hang on, but Olivera overpowered him. As the strikes continued, and Chandler remained unresponsive, the referee was forced to stop the fight. Olivera had knocked out Chandler after just 16 seconds into the second round. Olivera leaped out of the octagon and celebrated with his family, friends, and coaching team. Chandler graciously congratulated the man, and showed true class amidst his defeat.
Despite all the ups and downs of this fight, Olivera showed a true fighting spirit. He didn’t give up after being hurt at the beginning of the round, he didn’t give up after being put in a choke, and he didn’t give up after he was nearly finished. Instead, he maintained his composure, and continued to pressure Chandler throughout the fight. His determination ultimately paid off, and he walked away from the octagon with the Lightweight belt in his hands. Whether it is with our relationships, our endeavors, or even just our homework, we can all take a lesson from Olivera’s perseverance. Always keep working hard despite the adversity, and always maintain a fighting spirit!