While no longer the official lightweight champion, his first-round finish of Justin Gaethje has cemented Charles Oliveira’s status as the most dominant lightweight in the world right now. Many fans are even making the leap to call him one of, or possibly, the greatest lightweight ever. The other obvious contender for GOAT status among the lightweights is of course Khabib Nurmagomedov. This article will highlight various aspects of both Oliveira and Nurmagomedov and put forward arguments for why it is not unreasonable to say Oliveira is the greatest lightweight of all time as things stand right now and how it might be the smart thing to say he will overtake Khabib in the future.
Who is the Greatest of All Time at Lightweight?
Charles Oliveira: Fighting Style
While both Oliveira and Khabib are grapplers by nature, they have remarkably different styles. Oliveira’s main weapon is his jiu-jitsu, which is among the best in the entire organization. There is absolutely nobody in the lightweight division who is able to compete with Charles when it comes to putting up submissions and making slick transitions on the ground. This is evident as Oliveira possesses both records of the most finishes and submissions in UFC history with 19 and 16 respectively.
Oliveira’s standup has also improved dramatically in recent years during his run to the title. Now a comfortable muay thai practitioner, the Brazilian regularly utilizes his knees and elbows to deal damage to his opponents. Olivera also possesses a good deal of power as evident when he decisively dropped Gaethje in the first round and finished Michael Chandler in the second round of their fight.
Despite his reliance on his jiu-jitsu, Oliveira has never suffered the same fate as other jiu-jitsu fighters—labelled as boring, indeed this is anything but the case. Among Oliveira’s aforementioned records, “Do Bronx” is also tied with Donald Cerrone for the most Fight Night Bonuses in UFC history with 18. Oliveira is consistently involved in thrilling fights; however, for a fight to be thrilling, generally both fighters take some damage. In his last three bouts, Oliveira absorbed plenty of big shots and suffered a tremendous amount of heavy damage. Oliveria was nearly finished by Chandler and Gaethje in the first round and took numerous big punches from Dustin Poirier. This is what has made Charles such a crowd favorite, as his fights are always exciting and you never know what exactly is going to happen.
Khabib Nurmagomdeov: Fighting Style
When Khabib fought, everyone knew exactly what was going to happen. The Russian became infamous for his Dagestani brand of wrestling, which essentially involved pushing your opponent to the fence, taking them down, keeping them there, and just unloading ground and pound onto them round after round or until the opponent was ‘smeshed’. Khabib’s striking never evolved too much and while he did improve in his standup as time went on, he would always return to his bread and butter which was his wrestling. While Khabib’s fights may not have been the most exciting to watch to the average viewer, or to those who did not appreciate the technicalities of wrestling, there was something very impressive watching him thoroughly manhandle fighters who we as fans had come to regard as the best in the world. He had an unnatural ability to make the rest of the roster look average when facing him and certainly built up an air of invincibility around himself. It was very hard to imagine someone beating Khabib.
When it comes to fighting styles, Oliveira’s is rightly considered to be more entertaining and crowd friendly, yet Khabib’s was so impressive due to the way he would totally maul opponents who had looked unbeatable in previous fights. There was a sense of impending doom when fighting Khabib, that once he got you on the ground, it was over, you were done. Your aim would be to survive until the next round where you would hope to land some damage on the feet before being taken down again. Stylistically, both fighters have great success. Oliveira has scored record number finishes but has suffered great deals of damage. Khabib, although perhaps not as entertaining, suffered next to no damage throughout his career and utterly dominated his competition.
Those who argue Khabib is the GOAT of the division will point to the admittedly impressive undefeated record of 29-0. This is so impressive because unlike boxing, MMA is a sport where it is normal to have multiple losses on one’s record. Due to the variety of styles and disciplines a fighter faces, it is almost expected that they will lose at least a couple of fights, especially earlier in the career or when moving from the regional scene into greater levels of competition.
Khabib was one of the first fighters to develop a truly impressive record and the first high profile fighter to maintain their 0 aside from maybe Jon Jones to keep their zero intact. However, arguments can be made when analyzing the record of Khabib. When comparing the first 15 fights of Khabib and Oliveira, one can see the difference in opponent quality each man faced. Khabib’s first 15 opponents held a combined record of 63 wins and 48 losses. Not hugely impressive. Khabib would regularly fight debuting fighters or fighters with one or two fights while having fought over ten himself. In contrast, Oliveira’s first 15 opponents hold a combined record of 75 wins and 20 losses. This is far more respectable and shows the higher standard of competition that Oliveira was facing. Oliveira has faced 10 fighters who have fought for a championship in the UFC and 6 former champions/interim champions. In comparison, Khabib has fought 4 former champions or interim champions. Most were in defense of his title during his reign and only became champion upon his retirement. The exceptions to this being Conor McGregor and RDA. Again, when examining their records, it is clear that Oliveira has fought better overall competition throughout his career and his 8 losses are not an immediate reason for Khabib to be considered better than Charles, though it certainly plays a role.
This is a difficult area to explore at the moment as Charles is still in the prime of his career while Khabib has retired. However, as it currently stands, Khabib undoubtedly has a bigger legacy than Charles. He currently holds the record for the most title defenses at lightweight and his iconic rivalry with Conor McGregor brought so many eyes to the sport that it would be foolish to say Charles has had a bigger impact than Khabib. Khabib has also gone on to enter the UFC Hall of Fame just two calendar years after his final bout.
However, this is not to say that Charles cannot or will not not be able to overtake Khabib in the future. With Khabib maintaining that he is done with competing and Charles being at the height of his career, one or two more wins at the highest level of competition for Oliveira could see his stock skyrocket. While not officially a successful title defense, many fans will view his victory over Gaethje as a second title defense and one more win would put him equal to Khabib’s record. If that win was also against Khabib’s protége, Islam Makhachev, many would consider that to be the closest to a hypothetical matchup between Oliveira and Khabib. It is clear that while Khabib holds the greater legacy, Charles is slowly creeping up, and a couple more meaningful wins will surely see him overtake the Dagestani.
Ultimately an argument can be made by both sides as to who is the greatest lightweight of all time. While Khabib’s career has come to a close, it is clear what “The Eagle” has accomplished. For “Do Bronx”, the future ultimately holds how he will be looked upon in terms of legacy and the greatest of all time conversation. Will he return with a successful title defense? Will he make weight next fight? How many more fights will he compete in? Will he win the rest of his fights? Who will he face? All of the questions are relevant to the conversation
Perhaps the easiest way to settle the debate is to have the two lightweight superstars collide in the Octagon. Of course, the likelihood of this happening is slim to none. Who knows though, maybe we the fans could be lucky and get to witness the showdown that would be the most hyped and monumental fight in the division’s history.
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