UFC Sao Paulo happened last Saturday. In Sao Paulo, of all places. And it didn’t exactly deliver. For the latest in an impossibly long streak of UFC events, piling one on top of the other, weekend after weekend, UFC Sao Paulo simply came and went. It was never cut out to be card of the year, but there were enough narrative threads dangling in the leadup to keep an avid fan interested. Will Jan Blachowicz make his case for a shot at Jon Jones? Will Shogun Rua squeeze another win up under his weathered belt? Will Sergio Moraes find a way to deal with the style that? The answer to most of these hooks was a flat and bloodless “No. Nope.”
What could have been a suitable finale to send us off into our first free weekend since mid-August ended up being nothing more than a series of fights. Another series of fights. UFC Sao Paulo was going to happen, and then it did, and now it has.
U-F-C! U-F-C! U-F-C!
But where virtually all the other parties involved—the UFC chief among them—failed utterly to entertain, one man proved reliable as ever. Somewhere in the middle of the main card, slashing aimless and happy through the jungle of the lightweight division, Charles Oliveira got another win. His sixth in a row. Only it wasn’t merely another win. This being Charles Oliveira, it was a finish—his sixth in a row—and a good one.
So with this wonderful scheduling gulf ahead of us, let’s cut the crap. Meaning, let’s cut most of UFC Sao Paulo and leave it, where it belongs, behind us. Forget about the threads, and the stories, and the careers—all those things I usually try (and struggle) to involve in my analysis—and just look at the special, unique way Charles Oliveira has of separating a man from his senses. Because when life buries you in a whole heap of lemons, you might as well pull out your phone and watch that GIF a few more times in the dark.
Charles Oliveira knocked out Jared Gordon, and damnit, it was cool. Here’s how he did it.
First things first, here’s that GIF I mentioned. Do yourself a favor and watch it. Wait, were you about to start recalling the main event? Quick—watch it again!
The sequence starts with a jab from Gordon (actually the first of two) which splits Oliveira’s guard and mushes him right on the nose, ostensibly setting him up for the eventual right hand.
1. Having decided he really doesn’t like what Oliveira does going forward, Gordon pushes him all the way back to the fence.
2. And steps in, committing hard to a jab that snaps back Oliveira’s head.
3. Gordon follows that first jab forward, and Oliveira gets an instant to look at him before the second punch is in his face. Gordon’s whole posture screams “right hand coming soon.”
4. As Gordon’s second jab flies out, Oliveira gets his own left hand into contact with Gordon’s head, and takes a step out with his left leg, opening the angle for his cross.
The key concept here—the one that makes Oliveira’s KO so very impressive—is that of line of sight. The occasional Daredevil or Zatoichi aside, humans are visual creatures, and nowhere more so than in the middle of a fistfight, where, as we all know, the punch you don’t see is the one that knocks you out. As such, pro fighters spend an awful lot of time coming up with ways of obstructing or confusing the vision of their opponents. You can look down and throw high, or feint with one hand to distract from the other, but the most reliable method is also the simplest: if you stick a hand in the other dude’s face, he’s gonna have a hard time making out what’s happening behind it.
This is the principle that makes the humble one-one-two the most enduringly effective combination in boxing. The first jab obstructs the vision, but an experienced fighter knows to be on the lookout for the right hand every time he’s touched by the jab. That’s where jab number two comes in, breaking the anticipated pattern (and once again obstructing the opponent’s line of sight). Sometimes that’s enough so that the defending fighter forgets to address the right hand altogether, the way an aggressive pawn move might distract you from that bishop you’ve been swearing to keep your eye on since move six. But even when he’s expecting it, a fighter will always have a hard time defending and countering the strike he can’t see.
So touch takes over where vision fails. Even as Gordon lets his second jab go, Oliveira is reaching out to lay a hand on the side of his head. He could just as well have used a jab of his own, but Charles is a handsy striker who likes his Thai clinch, as many grapplers-turned-kickboxers do, so he just sort of lightly slaps Gordon’s jowl. That is enough to judge the distance and movement of his foe. At the same time, still focused on timing the right hand he knows is on its way, Oliveira steps out to his left, lining his own right hand up for the counter. The rest is history.
1. Between Gordon’s two jabs once again, Oliveira reaches out to feel the range.
2. Blinded by that second jab, Oliveira nonetheless feels that he is close enough to fire back.
3. Last chance to line up the shot; Gordon and Oliveira both stare straight at their respective targets.
4. But as Gordon’s right hand comes, Oliveira slips to his left, bringing a right hook along with him, as Gordon’s straight shot just barely skims past his cheek.
5. Dazed, Gordon falls into Oliveira, who once again instinctively finds a loose collar tie.
6. Gordon collapses, but as far as Oliveira is concerned, this fall could quickly turn into a lifesaving takedown. He pivots smartly out of harm’s way, moving away from the fence with strong control of Gordon’s head for insurance.
7. Oliveira’s left hand becomes light, simply floating atop Gordon’s scalp as he clambers to his feet.
8. Now with the benefit of both sight and touch to guide his aim, Oliveira has no trouble introducing Gordon’s chin to a quick little uppercut.
9. Hello darkness my old friend, etc.
Would you just look at that counter right hand. Hoo boy! And the uppercut coffin nail! This is what we came here to see, folks. Undeniably Charles Oliveira’s finest knockout, and one of the prettiest highlights in a career chock-full of them.
MMA fighters absolutely love countering right hands with right hands, and that’s a fact. It’s not uncommon, in this sport, to see two fighters just waiting for the other to throw a naked right hand, each of them knowing in his heart he has the perfect counter that the other guy will never expect, all ready to go. Then both men lean way off to the side and throw everything they’ve got into a pair of mutually whiffed overhands, ending up in that silly little do-si-do we’ve all seen a dozen times before.
This is not Charles Oliveira’s way. While Gordon’s straight-ish overhand goes whistling past its mark, Oliveira’s hook connects clean on the point of the chin. Call it a hook, an uppercut, or a shovel punch, whatever—what matters is that Oliveira specifically selects this shot for an exchange of right hands. And while Gordon aims his punch at the space where Oliveira’s head is, Oliveira picks a weapon whose arc will catch Gordon’s chin no matter how far he moves his head off the line of fire.
And that’s it. Every knockout is complicated if you only slow the tape down enough, but you won’t find many better constructed than this. Oliveira has always been known as a submission grappler, because he is. A staggering 18 of his 26 career finishes are submissions, and he holds the UFC record, having completed 14 of those subs in the Octagon. A knockout like this only goes to show how much he has grown as a fighter. Jared Gordon is a long way away from the best lightweight in the UFC, but the Charles Oliveira of 2010—even the Charles Oliveira of 2017—could not have eaten a clean jab, stared down a second, and still managed to time a perfect, fight-ending counter with his back against the wall.
These days, three weeks is a long time to go without a UFC event, but if I use all of that time to dream about all the top 10 matchups in which Charles Oliveira deserves to find himself, it’ll still be more fun than the rest of UFC Sao Paulo.
For more on UFC Sao Paulo, and a comparison of the great champions of yesteryear against their modern counterparts (GSP vs Usman? Silva vs Adesanya? Fedor vs Stipe?) check out the latest episode of Heavy Hands, your go-to podcast for the finer points of face-punching.