When Arya Stark was being initiated into the guild of the Faceless Men, she was repeatedly required to acknowledge that "the girl has no name" — a way of denouncing her past and preparing for a life as a skin-changer.
Since Charles Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) was stripped of the UFC lightweight title ahead of his bout with Justin Gaethje at UFC 274 earlier this year, the Brazilian standout has made a point of reminding everyone who rules the 155-pound ranks, belt or no belt, every chance he gets.
"The champion has a name and that is Charles Oliveira," said the ultra-talented Brazilian, when asked if he still feels like the champion, despite not having the title in his possession ahead of his clash with Islam Makhachev (22-1 MMA, 11-2 UFC) this week at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi.
It's easy to understand Oliveira's position on the matter.
Some fighters complained about discrepancies between the official weigh-in scale and the one used in the back to check their weights, with both Oliveira and Norma Dumont missing their contracted weights by half-a-pound. The miss only cost Dumont a fine, but for Oliveira, it cost him his title, as well.
He still marched out into the octagon the following evening and stormed through Gaethje, submitting the Arizona-born contender in the first round to earn his 11th consecutive victory and third straight championship fight finish. It was the kind of performance that should have been a capstone on what has been an incredible run for the veteran, who turned 33 on Monday.
Instead, those celebrations were somewhat muted because Oliveira wasn't presented with the belt and now heads into his highly anticipated battle with Makhachev on Saturday fighting for a vacant title, rather than seeking to defend his belt for a third time.
"I do not focus on things that I do not have control over; what is in the past is done," he said when asked about the lingering disappointment of being stripped of the title, maintaining the same steely, forward-focused outlook that has been ever-present as he's risen to the top of the division over the last three years. "Now, I only focus on Islam Makhachev."
While the constant desire to focus on things in the future and not what is already behind him can sound like typical fighter-speak, Oliveira comes by it naturally.
He's never been a big talker or one to revel in his triumphs for too long, preferring instead to keep quiet, allow his efforts in the octagon to speak for him, and move on to the next challenge.
In the same way that "The Champion Has a Name" has become his "campaign slogan" of sorts heading into this weekend, ahead of his last couple fights, "Talking is Easy" was the motto in advance of his clash with Gaethje and continues to be a key tenet of his approach as he readies for his next appearance.
"It's very easy to talk," he said in response to Gaethje's pre-fight questioning of his heart and his abilities. "The talkers will talk; I believe in showing people what I can do."
Of late, one of the key pieces of his fights has been dealing with adversity, as Oliveira has been knocked down or hurt in the early stages of each of his last three outings.
In both his fight with Gaethje and Dustin Poirier before that, "Do Bronx" was able to engineer opportunities to recover quickly by remaining on the canvas and welcoming his opponents to the ground – an invitation they understandably declined.
Those brief respites proved valuable and prompted MMA media to talk about them as the Brazilian's personal version of a "standing eight count," the recovery time allotted to a boxer that has been knocked down before they wade back into the fray.
It's a unique wrinkle that has only appeared in Oliveira's fights thus far, but the uncrowned ruler of the lightweight division sees it as nothing more than being prepared to engage wherever the fight may go, and a chance to exploit an opponent's weaknesses if they're not particularly interested in mixing it up with him on the mat.
"It is MMA; you have to know how to fight everywhere," he said, responding to a question about the "standing eight count" chatter that surfaced following his last fight. "I always keep my jiu-jitsu sharp and ready. I am always prepared to fight anywhere.
"Wherever the fight goes, I am comfortable, so if some fighters get uncomfortable in a certain area, I will focus on taking them there."
Finding an area where Makhachev is uncomfortable could prove quite difficult, as the streaking contender has looked right at home inside the octagon over the last seven years.
Makhachev enters Saturday's contest on a 10-fight winning streak and sporting a 22-1 record overall. Heralded as the "heir to the throne" following the retirement of his long-time training partner turned coach Khabib Nurmagomedov, the 31-year-old has used the last two years doing his best to validate those projections and promises.
In 2021, he scored consecutive submission wins over Drew Dober, Thiago Moises and Dan Hooker to climb into contention, and earlier this year, he made quick work of short-notice replacement Bobby Green, dispatching the veteran lightweight in the first round.
While some will argue that Makhachev has yet to face, let alone beat, anyone in the upper echelon of the UFC's 155-pound weight class, it's been through no fault of his own, as key matchups have been scuttled by injuries to his opponents, and the marquee names haven't exactly been rushing to sign up to share the octagon with him.
Oliveira showed no hesitation, however, and knows he has his work cut out for him in the UFC 280 main event.
"He has a great record in the UFC, and the UFC has the best fighters," he said of Makhachev, maintaining his "say little and let my actions speak for me" approach. "All I focus on is my training. I will be comfortable wherever the fight goes."
Having spent the last five-plus months as the "king without a crown," one would think a victory on Saturday might mean a little more to Oliveira.
It's a chance to get his title back, to leave no question as to who the top lightweight in the UFC (and the sport) is now, and to extend his winning streak to an even dozen, while continuing to inch closer to becoming the fighter with the most victories in UFC history.
But for the Brazilian, Saturday night is simply a chance to earn another win. And should he emerge victorious, his focus will shift to the same place it does following each and every trip into the octagon.
"All wins in the UFC are big," he said, refusing to put any greater importance or significance on this weekend's contest. "(As for what's next), I will get ready for my next fight; I like to stay active."
This story first published at UFC.com.