Charles Oliveira is perhaps the most underrated champion in the UFC. This is due to a variety of factors, notably, his early struggle in the promotion many years ago along with several fighters within his division being touted as near-future champions – insinuating Oliveira’s reign over the division will be short-lived. This narrative of being overlooked has seemingly fueled the dangerous Brazilian, as he is 10-0 since 2018. This impressive record is further remarkable when analyzed against the highly touted opponents he has faced over this span, and, the fact that he has finished 9 of his last 10 fights, the result is him being an extremely dangerous champion who deserves the utmost respect moving forward.
The ability to finish fights at an impressive clip is largely due to his greatest attribute as a fighter – elite submissions. Although there are a variety of submission artists in the UFC that deserve consideration for being the most dangerous, Oliveira has seemingly separated from the pack and put himself in a lone position to be considered the best and most dangerous submission artist currently in the promotion.
Beyond having elite submissions, Oliveira has learned how to be dangerous elsewhere in the octagon, which, in turn, has only elevated his ground game. Notably, he does a good job on the feet using his natural athleticism to stay at range and utilize distance strikes to keep his opponent at bay. If his opponent has success with cutting down the distance and landing damaging blows with dirty boxing, Oliveira has shown the ability to have an impressive chin and battle back from adversity, typically via a takedown and submission attack. This combination of athletic striking, an impressive chin, and a truly elite ground game makes him a legitimate champion who has the ability to keep the belt in a division that has extremely high-end challengers.
Perhaps one of the most exciting challenges in the lightweight division is Justin Gaethje. His fan-friendly style of walking down his opponent to land extremely damaging blows, while ignoring any counterstrikes as if they lack any significant impact on himself, makes him a fighter many people cannot wait to watch when in the octagon.
Cutting angles and maintaining a pressure-heavy style benefits Gaethje beyond making fans excited for him to fight, as this style allows him to land his best strike with high efficiency – the low calf kick. Throwing the outside calf kick mitigates the movement of his opponent, and this has a causal effect on Gaethje landing impressive boxing combinations as the fight ensues given the opponent has trouble circling away once Gaethje elects to go in for the kill. Often, Gaethje’s plan, which is employed in almost all of his fights, is quite effective, as indicated by him finishing 19 of his 23 wins by TKO/KO and by the fact that Khabib Nurmagomedov has stated that nobody hits as hard as Justin Gaethje.
The question, for Gaethje, does not stem from his ability to successfully integrate his calf strike to heavy punch game plan in the octagon, rather, if he can keep the fight standing. This question is always present for him when he enters the octagon, and to his credit, he has had success in using his collegiate wrestling experience to keep the fight standing in most of his bouts; but, when facing an elite grappler in Khabib, Gaethje’s grappling defense proved to be nonexistent. So, when facing another but differing in the style of elite grappler in Oliveira, Gaethje will need to do a better job keeping the fight off the mat to best increase his chance of winning the belt.
Oliveira vs. Gaethje Betting Odds
Oliveira is the betting favorite before UFC 274 at odds of -160.
- Oliveira: -160
- Gaethje: +140
Although Oliveira has underrated striking and has shown the ability to battle back against powerful strikers, I believe if the fight stays on the feet, Gaethje will win quite comfortably. If, however, Oliveira is able to secure a takedown, his elite submission game will likely end the fight given Gaethje has struggled in the past when in a defensive ground position. Because the disparity in skills is anticipated to be significantly different depending on where the fight takes place, I am electing to back the plus-money challenger in Gaethje. This is largely due to me trusting Gaethje’s natural wrestling skills will be more successful combating the takedowns of Oliveira than it was against Khabib. If indeed successful, I fully anticipate Gaethje damaging Oliveira when on the feet.