Tonight at UFC on Versus 5, Brazilian lightweight Charles Oliveira steps in for the injured Paul Taylor to take on Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone as part of the main card airing on Versus. As the trite mantra goes, every fight in the UFC is a fighter's most important fight. But this one carries a little extra weight for Oliveira.
At UFC on Versus 4, Oliveira was engaged in a highly-pitched battle with Nik Lentz when things when desperately wrong. In the middle of a scramble, Oliveira nailed Lentz with a knee while Lentz was clearly down. The shot ended up breaking Lentz's eye socket. The referee, as incompetent as they come, failed to stop the fight as proper protocol demands. Oliveira eventually took Lentz's back and submitted his badly hurt opponent.
The fight was eventually ruled a no contest, although for a time Oliveira's management team were intent on appealing the ruling. The shot was clearly illegal, but Oliveira suggests the knee was purely instinctual and therefore accidental. The problem is this: after a fast start in the UFC, this unfortunate incident came on the heels of a submission loss to Jim Miller at UFC 124.
Tonight, against very credible opposition, Oliveira has a chance to get his UFC career back on track. As Oliveira sees it, it's also an opportunity to enter the top 10 rankings of the lightweight division.
In this interview with MMA Nation conducted via email, we talk to Oliveira about the loss to Lentz, how Cerrone stacks up as an opponent, his favorite boxer and much more.
Do you feel you might have a negative image among MMA fans after your last fight with Nik Lentz where you landed the illegal knee?
I don't think so. Anyone who saw the fight knew it was an accident. I was pushing the pace and being very aggressive.
Aside from just generic descriptions like 'good' or 'bad', how would you describe Donald Cerrone's jiu-jitsu game? How does it differ from yours?
Cowboy uses his striking to set up his submission/ jiu-jitsu game. He has a lot of submission wins, but all of them came after he really hurt his opponent with strikes. Cowboy is a great grappler, but I heard he has never put on the gi.
Why did you take this fight on short notice? Did you want to prove something after the way your last fight ended?
I love to fight. I wish I could fight every month. I used to fight three times in one night. It's easy for me to get ready for one fight in one night.
Is Donald Cerrone the best MMA grappler you've faced? Where does he rank?
Oh, no! It is safe to say he is the best striker I have faced in UFC, but I believe Nik Lentz, Efrain Escudero, Darren Elkins and Jim Miller are all great grapplers.
You've faced Jim Miller before. He's fighting Ben Henderson in the co-main event at UFC on Versus 5. Who do you predict will win between them?
I think Jim Miller will win and will be champ very soon.
How did you change your camp to make it short enough to take on short notice, but also effective enough to deal with Cerrone?
Really, there's been no change, There's been a little bit more focus on striking. One good thing I do not have to worry about is getting held down or pushed up against the cage. Both Cowboy and I will be looking to finish, not go for a decision.
Cerrone was originally slated to face a striker before you took this fight on short notice. Do you believe that provides you any strategic advantage heading into Sunday's fight?
No, Cowboy is a very experienced fighter and he is still facing a striker.
How much of your training camp is split between Brazil and the U.S.?
I usually do my training camps 6 weeks in U.S., but I had visa issues this time, so did most of my camp in Brazil.
Make the case for appealing the ruling in your fight with Lentz. You claim a point should've been taken away and the fight continued. It did not appear Lentz could continue even with time to recuperate. Moreover, I believe allowing a fighter to recuperate is only in the event of a non-head strike, not all illegal strikes. Why should the fight have continued?
From the Unified Rules:
"If a contest of mixed martial arts is stopped because of an accidental foul, the referee shall determine whether the unarmed combatant who has been fouled can continue or not. If the unarmed combatant's chance of winning has not been seriously jeopardized as a result of the foul and if the foul did not involve a concussive impact to the head of the unarmed combatant who has been fouled, the referee may order the contest or exhibition continued after a recuperative interval of not more than 5 minutes. Immediately after separating the unarmed combatants, the referee shall inform the Commission's representative of his determination that the foul was accidental."
That fight is behind me, I only look to my next fight.
Where does a win over Cerrone put you in the UFC's lightweight division?
I hope it puts me in the top 10.
-- Now, five rapid fire questions --
Best guard game in MMA.
I am not sure.
Heaviest puncher (either in a fight or sparring) who's ever hit you.
Macaco (Jorge Patino).
Tell me about the most difficult day in training you've ever faced.
All of my training days are hard. I am always pushing 100 percent and when the day is over I can hardly move. When I have injuries it makes training very tough.
Favorite boxer to watch as a fan.
Pick a side in the U-20 World Cup: Colombia or Argentina. Who wins and why?
I am only on Brazil's side.