Brazil’s Charles Oliveira rallied with brutal efficiency to knock out American Michael Chandler early in the second round at UFC 262 in Houston, Texas, on Saturday and be crowned new lightweight champion.
“I am proving to everybody I am the lion of lions,” Oliveira said inside the cage afterwards. “I told you I was going to knock him out and I came and knocked him out.”
The 31-year-old Oliveira’s next challenge will be to carve his legacy in the blue riband UFC weight class previously dominated by Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.
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“I wanted to come here tonight and show that I am the best,” said Oliveira.
The 35-year-old Chandler had been fast-tracked to a title shot after the former Bellator organization lightweight champion’s stunning UFC debut in January with a first-round knockout of New Zealand veteran Dan Hooker.
An all-American wrestler in his college days, Chandler has evolved into an explosive stand-up force and appeared to have been ahead after the first round.
He somehow managed to escape Oliveira’s clutches after the fight had gone to the ground early and he landed some huge headshots, particularly from his left hand, when they got back to their feet.
But it was Oliveira who came out swinging hard and fast in the second. A left hook put Chandler down and was followed by a barrage of unanswered blows with the referee stepping in after only 19 seconds of the round.
The jubilant Oliveira vaulted the fence and embarked on an impromptu victory lap from the cage-side commentary desk into the crowd.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu master had arrived in Texas boasting more submission wins than anyone else in UFC history with 14 and his TKO win gave him another record - 17 finishes inside the distance.
“Michael said I couldn’t take pressure and he hit, hit, hit and I’m still here. Here’s the belt.”
While Nurmagomedov, arguably the greatest MMA champion of all time, retired last October with a record of 29-0, McGregor remains in the lightweight mix.
The Irish 32-year-old is ranked sixth, despite losing two of his past three fights, and he is set to face the top-ranked American Dustin Poirier at UFC 264 in Las Vegas on July 10.
McGregor topped Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s richest sportsmen for the past 12 months, with earnings inside and outside the cage of an estimated $180 million.
Local media reported Saturday that about 17,500 tickets had been sold for the event, with the UFC was claiming the $4 million gate receipts were a record at a venue that is usually home to the Houston Rockets NBA team.
America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had on Thursday eased its mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, with those vaccinated now free to stop wearing masks outdoors and in most indoor settings.
Fans were encouraged to wear masks Saturday but there were no restrictions enforced.
Oliveira was one of many fighters on the 12-bout card who noted that having a full house back in full voice had made a big difference.
“Thank you Houston, thank you Brazil. This belt is for all of us,” he said.