Ask 20-year old Charles Oliveira what he did in the period after submitting Darren 'The Damage' Elkins on August 1st and prior to the instant he got the call from the UFC to replace the injured Matt Wiman against Efrain Escudero at UFC Fight Night 22 in Texas on Wednesday, and he smiles and innocently answers as if he were taking part in a different sport.
"I trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as if I was going to compete in a gentle art tournament."
Of course during these training sessions, Oliveira and his camp didn't know what was going to be the next for him inside the Octagon. They were only enjoying what a 41 second submission victory can provide.
Oliveira, debuting in the Octagon last month, was taken down, yet he showed the calm of a veteran, secured the guard, attacked with a triangle, transitioned to an armbar and finished Elkins. It was a pure display of high-speed thinking and versatility, turning what seemed to be a bad situation into total control and then victory.
"That was great, thank God," says Oliveira. "We were blessed and we got the victory, and the most important thing, and what I thought was very good, is that my game is still a secret. I expect a different fight (against Escudero), but nobody can take too many conclusions from a 41 second performance."
And what a 41 second performance! The armbar was rewarded with the Submission of The Night award, a bonus that the kid didn't expect because signing with UFC and coming off with the wins were enough gifts at that moment. The Sao Paulo native didn’t sit around comparing if his submission was the best of the night, and he had some competition, mainly from Brian Stann, who triangle choked Mike Massenzio, and Igor Pokrajac, who used a rear naked choke to defeat James 'The Sandman' Irvin. So when he was told that his was the winner of the night’s submission bonus, it came as a surprise.
"I was very glad with my first (UFC) victory," Oliveira says. "I didn't even think about the possibility of the submission bonus, and when they alerted me about it, this was a big surprise. The emotion was huge, mainly because this was result of a lot of training. We knew we could finish the fight, but never thought about it coming that quick."
In the midst of all this euphoria, Oliveira talks about his first time around the bright lights of the UFC.
"What surprised me more was the crowd, the fans of UFC. We know it's big, but it becomes bigger when you're inside," says Oliveira. "Also its staff, they treated me very well."
Switching from the 'dream come true' mode to the current moment, Oliveira now takes a short notice fight against a 14-1 foe in Escudero, but he explains that taking a fight with less time to prepare than he's used to is also a way to prove what he's made of.
"People asked me about overtraining from the Elkins preparation to this one, and I replied with, 'I had a reasonable time between fights,'" said the young lightweight. "The important thing was that God gave me the opportunity to fight again, and I have this gratitude to Him. I was already training moderately when the call was made; I’ve only added more continuity and focus."
The Brazilian, who has already delivered entertaining performances in MMA tournaments in his homeland, comes to his second Octagon test with the hype more increased than it was in August. But well assisted by his coach Ericson Cardoso and UFC vet Jorge 'Macaco' Patino, Oliveira feels grounded in the midst of the high expectations surrounding a kid with the signs of being a phenom.
"I always love to fight under pressure, but I don't carry it inside the Octagon. For me, every fight is like the first one," he says. "The hype people are talking about means that I need to train much more. Cardoso and Patino keep me peaceful and away from all of this."
If his UFC debut finished quicker than expected, Oliveira tries to take this small amount of Octagon experience to the subsequent match. And he believes that his advantages, and the lack of them, are equally shared between himself and his next adversary.
"I don't have the pressure of my debut, because I already know what I'll face there, even through Escudero is completely different from Elkins. I think we’re both in the same situation of fighting against a guy that we knew we would face with less than three weeks of training camp."
With stellar Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that everybody had a chance to see, Oliveira stated that he expected Elkins take him down in that fight and then apply his BJJ. For the fight against Escudero, Oliveira foresees a different approach as the stand-up game is something he hopes to see from the TUF winner, and for us this is one more chance to see if the Brazilian has more tricks to be shown.
"I think Escudero will come to trade punches, and this will be a good opportunity to test my Muay Thai," he says. "If I had to compare my BJJ with my Muay Thai, I would say they're on the same level. I always make sure to give emphasis to these two aspects, because a MMA fighter needs to be complete."
Potential Phenom Oliveira Stays Grounded
"I always love to fight under pressure, but I don't carry it inside the Octagon. For me, every fight is like the first one. The hype people are talking about means that I need to train much more. Cardoso and Patino keep me peaceful and away from all of this."