Anthony Smith has often heaped praise on Charles Oliveira since “Do Bronx” became the best lightweight in the UFC, but continuously found himself picking Oliveira’s opponents when it came time to make actual predictions for his fights.
He did it when Oliveira fought Michael Chandler for the vacant UFC lightweight title. He did it again when Oliveira defended the belt against Dustin Poirier and then went three for three after picking Justin Gaethje to beat Oliveira in his most recent outing.
Now, with Oliveira scheduled to face Islam Makhachev in the UFC 280 main event — a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 3 lightweights, respectively, in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — Smith admits he’s done doubting the Brazilian.
“I’m not going to do it anymore,” Smith said with a laugh on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I always, always, I don’t want to say discredit, but I always doubt Charles Oliveira. Then afterwards I tell myself why do you do that? Cause I have a lot of respect for that guy but even going into the Poirier fight, well Poirier’s kind of the uncrowned champion here and I believe in Charles Oliveira but I think Poirier gets this done. I did the same thing with Chandler. I’m not doing it anymore.
“Even when I start digging into the details and I start watching film and I’m like I don’t know, maybe he just gets controlled — I’m not doing it. I’m sticking to my gut and I think Charles Oliveira beats Islam. I do.”
Smith’s assessment of the lightweight title fight goes beyond any tendency he’s had in the past when it came to picking against Oliveira.
While Makhachev has looked like an unstoppable force during his current 10-fight win streak, Smith believes that Oliveira’s particular set of skills will give the Russian headaches that he just hasn’t faced yet in the UFC.
“I think when you’re as dangerous on the ground as Charles Oliveira, when you’re as dangerous as a finisher as he is — when you’re not afraid of something, it takes away all the power from it,” Smith explained. “Everyone Islam has fought, for the most part, has been terrified of his wrestling and his top game. It’s the same thing with Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. When you’re not afraid of that and you have no fear of it at all, I think that takes away some of the power from it.
“I think Charles attacks so much and creates so many scrambles and can do that over an entire 25-minute fight if he had to, I think that’s going to nullify at the very least, Islam’s top game and his wrestling and I think Charles Oliveira’s a better striker. I think that he’s more powerful on his feet. I think he finds shots better. I think he attacks the body better. I think he can neutralize the wrestling at the very least. I don’t think he’s going to get controlled.”
Because Oliveira has no fear about engaging in grappling exchanges thanks to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu arsenal that has allowed him to rack up the most submission victories in UFC history, Smith feels that’s going to begin chipping away at the aura of invincibility that Makhachev has built on the ground.
Given enough time, Smith expects Oliveira to either find an opening to force Makhachev to tap out or perhaps force the fight back to the feet where he feels Oliveira is clearly the better fighter.
“I think that [Oliveira] attacks submission after submission after submission until eventually Islam’s going to have to retract and pull out of something and I think that he’s going to stand up straight to his feet,” Smith said. “That’s the best case for Islam is that he gets back to his feet. Worst case is that you retract or start pulling out of submissions and he goes to your back or he latches onto something else.
“I just think he’s going to attack, attack, attack until he finds something or gets back to his feet and I think he wins striking exchanges. I would not be shocked to see Charles Oliveira get a takedown. It’s not going to be your typical singles and doubles, s*** like that, but I would not be shocked to see him end up on the fence and see him start crawling to some weird clinch and dragging Islam down, tripping him up or something like that. It would not blow me away.”
In addition to the technical aspects of the fight, Smith knows that Oliveira is battle tested after walking through the fire in the lightweight division to earn his status while Makhachev — as impressive as he’s been — hasn’t faced the best fighters in the world yet at 155 pounds.
“Islam, he just hasn’t been tested,” Smith said. “He hasn’t fought the level of competition and he might beat Gaethje, he might beat Poirier but like you said, he hasn’t so we can’t use that. Even if I didn’t have a reason, I’d still pick Charles Oliveira.”
This time around, Smith is sticking by Oliveira while making a commitment that he won’t make the same mistakes now that he’s made in the past.
“I’m done doubting him,” Smith said. “He’s honestly the only guy I’ve ever done it with where I’ll praise him and praise him and praise him and then pick against him. I don’t know why I do that. It’s not just because of just saying it. I believed it when I do it.
“After I praise Charles for an hour, I’ll come up with every reason why the guy across from him has the tools to beat him. I could do that with Islam but I’m refusing to because I’ve been wrong up to this point about Charles Oliveira. At some point in time I’ve just got to eat my words and say against my initial reaction to pick against him, there’s something there. I think this ones the easiest one to pick Charles compared to the other three as crazy as that sounds.”