By: Trevor Ritchie

‘Surprise, surprise.’

Of course, Conor McGregor first used this line in the aftermath of his unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC 202, putting the entire roster on notice before inevitably taking the lightweight crown from Eddie Alvarez three months later. To no one’s surprise, it instantly became one of the all-time great quotes in combat sports history.

Michael Chandler brought the moment back to life earlier this year following his knockout victory against Dan Hooker at UFC 257, and even he couldn’t have imagined it’d land him where it did.

Chandler’s calculated reinvention of the McGregor proclamation tagged McGregor himself, No. 1 contender Dustin Poirier and former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov as potential opponents on the horizon. It served as a golden moment for the promotion’s new star contender – a next-level, Ric Flair-esque entrance to the mainstream without a doubt – but few predicted it would be enough to immediately catapult Chandler into a title opportunity. Not against 11-year UFC veteran and submission specialist Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira at least.

However, Nurmagomedov retired and vacated his belt in the process. Poirier chose the trilogy with McGregor. Gaethje lost his last fight which essentially eliminated him from the picture. Truth be told, the UFC didn’t have many viable options outside of approaching two consummate winners who would certainly answer the call, setting Oliveira’s eight-fight win streak on the line against the former Bellator champ in Chandler for the vacant lightweight championship.

Make no mistake. Before his current streak materialized, ‘consummate winner’ and Oliveira weren’t exactly words you’d see together in the same sentence often. Oliveira signed with the UFC in 2010 and was battling to keep a .500 record through his first 19 fights. One could make a case the former featherweight was actually most known for missing weight.

Losing to Paul Felder in 2017 seemed to all but close the book on his championship chase, but that simply couldn’t have been further from the truth. Nine-straight wins can change a lot in this sport, including the notion among peers that you’re a conditioned quitter.

For years after the Felder loss, a narrative was spread that Oliveira couldn’t withstand pressure inside an octagon. Fans and fighters alike claimed if there was an exit sign during a difficult bout, this guy would find it. Yet if there was ever a time in his career to take the easy way out, it was during that brutal first round against Chandler in Houston, Texas. Two judges on the panel even scored it 10-8 despite promising moments in the grappling department, and it still wasn’t enough to shake this version of Charles Oliveira.

“We have a saying,” Oliveira said in his post-fight interview. “It can rain stones, but the stones are going to come back. Michael said I couldn’t take pressure. He hit, and I’m still here.”

Charles Oliveira survives early onslaught, finishes Michael Chandler by  knockout to win lightweight title in UFC 262 main event - MMA Fighting
Charles Oliveira waited a long time to show his championship mettle.

Down two points with the majority just five minutes in, staring a possible 20 minutes of championship-level competition in the face after just nearly being finished, all it took was 19 seconds and a left hand for Oliveira to change the tides. Chandler was left staring up at the arena lights in disbelief while the Brazilian assumed a throne no one thought he could.

May 15, 2021 will be known as the day Oliveira put all the tired criticisms to rest. It will be remembered as the day a champion realized his true potential (which is still growing I might add). Maybe most importantly, it’s a day his people will hold close as one of their own proved anything is possible by turning a 28-fight journey into a UFC title reign at 31 years old.

Not having to leave his home to cement himself with the MMA immortals is one of Oliveira’s proudest achievements. ‘Do Bronx’ isn’t just a nickname. It translates to, “of the favela.” It’s a symbol of where he comes from and a reminder of what made him the man he is today.

Favelas are known for historical neglect and generational poverty, typically located on the outskirts of larger cities, where you’re likely to now see the UFC’s newest champion either parading around with his gold belt or more notably passing out supplies, food, medicine and other necessities to those struggling in his area. A constant light to those around him, now Oliveira carries that light into combat sports superstardom as the king of the jungle.

“I’m proving to everybody I’m the lion of lions.” – Charles Oliveira

“I told you I was going to knock him out, and I came and knocked him out,” Oliveira reminded the UFC universe following his title win. “I’m proving to everybody I’m the lion of lions.”

Not every lion has to roar either. While McGregor and Chandler made their point directly to the masses, ‘Do Bronx’ acknowledged the shock he’d caused the world in a different fashion.

Before speaking to the 20,000-plus fans in attendance at the Toyota Center, Oliveira quickly scaled the octagon in celebration and addressed the UFC’s commentary team with two simple words in his moment of glory atop the lightweight division.

“Surprise, surprise.”