The Charles Oliveira who was preparing to defend his lightweight championship against Islam Makhachev in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at UFC 280 oozed with confidence. Talk to him for a few minutes and, though it was clear he respected his opponent, the sense came through loud and clear that he didn't believe there was any way he could lose.
There was good reason for such confidence.
Oliveira entered the Oct. 22, 2022 bout with Makhachev on an 11-fight win streak that was, without question, one of the greatest runs in UFC history. Among his victims in that span were luminaries like Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson.
Few fighters in UFC history have run off 11 consecutive wins against the type of opposition he faced.
It's a vastly different Oliveira, though, who is preparing to face Beneil Dariush on Saturday at Rogers Arena in the co-main event of UFC 289 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
He's still brimming with confidence, despite being an underdog, but the primary takeaway from time spent with Oliveira now is fury. He wasn't happy with his performance against Makhachev and was submitted in the second round of a fight he never really was in. Along the way to the top, he'd set an incredibly high standard for himself, and he failed to meet it.
So he's furious at himself, first and foremost, and furious at the situation he finds himself in. He clearly would have loved a rematch to, as he sees it, right a wrong with Makhachev. He's also spent considerable time talking up a fight with Conor McGregor, one that on paper would have been an incredible match as well as a huge payday.
That never came close to happening and so now he's set to face Dariush, who doesn't have the high profile of either Makhachev or McGregor but who is one of the most dangerous lightweights in the world.
As fight night nears, Oliveira is eager to make a statement against Dariush and score a spectacular victory.
"The last fight, I didn't fight the way I can," Oliveira said."That's not who I usually am and not just because of the result. I just wasn't where I felt I wanted to be. But I have learned a lot about this sport and I know that it's the next fight that matters the most. I'll overcome that [poor performance against Makhachev] when I get to this fight."
Dariush has managed to get on Oliveira's nerves during the build-up. Dariush, who has been pleading for several years for a high-profile fight, has been as hungry as any fighter in mixed martial arts. But in an interview with MMA Junkie, he said he felt Oliveira had gotten comfortable with life at the top.
It certainly happens, but Oliveira grew up desperately poor in one of Brazil's worst favelas and said it would never change him. His annoyance, though, came out of what he saw as Dariush spoke about something he had no idea about.
"I think he should worry about himself and should take care of his own life," Oliveira said. "Who is he to say how I should be living or how I am living? And how would he even know? There's no way he could [know], so what's the point of saying that?
“I know what I need to do and what I have done and I’m comfortable with where I am. He’s just talking to talk, I guess.”
Oliveira respects Dariush’s ability and knows he’s no pushover. He referred to Dariush’s grappling multiple times and said of Dariush, “He’s a very good fighter; an excellent fighter.”
Oliveira is confident he’ll come out on top nonetheless because contrary to what Dariush has said, Oliveira insists he’s as hungry as he’s ever been and is desperate to get back his belt. To do that, he’ll need to get past Dariush. So, he said he’s poured himself into training.
He’s one of the most experienced UFC fighters, and brings a 33-9 overall MMA record into the bout, including a 21-9 UFC mark. After starting 12-0 on the regional circuit, he struggled at times in his early days in the UFC.
He had difficulty making weight and he was inconsistent, fighting at superstar level one night and at mid-card level the next. As he learned what it took to compete at the highest level of the sport, in two of the most loaded divisions in the UFC, he began to more consistently achieve success.
Oliveira got away from some of what made him successful against Makhachev, so he’s determined to right the ship quickly. A win on Saturday and he’ll be right back where he wants to be.
“The good thing for me is that I’m still right here near the top [ranked No. 1] and so it’s not like I have this long path to travel to get where I’m going,” Oliveira said. “I am excited to show what I have been working on and I think the people will like it.”