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Charles Oliveira claims vacant UFC lightweight belt is 'already mine'

Stripped of his UFC gold in May, 'Do Bronx' still views his UFC 280 headliner as 'another title defense.'
charles-oliveira

Charles Oliveira returns to the cage this October, fighting against Islam Makhachev at UFC 280 for the vacant lightweight championship.

"The belt is already mine," says Oliveira, speaking through a translator. "To me, this is another title defense."

Winner of his last 11 fights, Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) has defeated a number of elite mixed martial artists during this ongoing winning streak. His past four victories were emphatic, convincing displays of the art form. He decimated Tony Ferguson, then defeated Michael Chandler by TKO to win the vacant lightweight championship. His first title defense was spectacular, tapping into his skills as a submission specialist to choke out Dustin Poirier. He did the same in May to Justin Gaethje, which was intended to be his second title defense as lightweight champion – until he was stripped of the belt after failing to make weight.

A day before the fight, Oliveira weighed in at 155.5, just beyond the 155-pound maximum threshold. Months later, he still believes the situation unfolded unfairly.

"I made weight, I'm sure I made weight," Oliveira says. "I feel like I was robbed. It was really hard – I heard my dad crying, my daughter was questioning why I lost the belt. It was very upsetting. It went against all the dedication I put into this. But the most important part was that I showed my championship mentality. Even after all that happened, I pulled through and still put on a show for everyone."

Oliveira looked dominant against Gaethje, locking in his rear naked choke for a victory less than three-and-a-half minutes into the opening round. That win put him in line for the first crack at the now-vacant belt, which will take place at UFC 280 against Makhachev on Oct. 22.

While his level of competition has yet to reach the same heights as Oliveira during his 11-fight win streak, Makhachev enters 280 on a 10-fight streak of his own. After hardly breaking a sweat in victories against Bobby Green and Dan Hooker, Makhachev (22–1) continues to prove he is a constant threat, especially on the ground. Despite all of Makhachev's strengths, Oliveira is confident that, even if the fight starts on the ground, he will still impose his will on Makhachev.

"I'm going to where he wants the fight," says Oliveira, whose fight will take place in Abu Dhabi. "It's where he thinks he'll beat me. I can beat him on the ground. Maybe people think I'm the underdog, but I am better. I've had tougher fights and bigger wins."

A win against Makhachev would be a massive statement. It would also clear out the top challengers, allowing Oliveira to defend the title in a showcase box office bout. The top two opponents for that type of fight would be Conor McGregor or the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is the newest UFC Hall of Famer.

"Conor would be a very big fight and would make a lot of money," Oliveira says. "I've talked about it, but Conor doesn't seem interested.

"Khabib would be another big fight, but Khabib is retired. If he wanted to step into the cage with me, I would."

The lightweight division is full of tantalizing matchups, with none bigger right now than Oliveira against Makhachev. And Oliveira believes his greatness will be undeniable once he adds Makhachev to his list of defeated opponents.

"There are still people who doubt me," Oliveira says. "Everyone who bets on me makes a lot of money, but there are still those who don't believe it yet.

"I'm here to prove people wrong. That's what will happen, again, against Makhachev. The belt is mine. That isn't going to change."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.