When Charles Oliveira was first asked about fighting Islam Makhachev at UFC 294 in October, he declared that he needed more time to prepare and November would be a more realistic date for the rematch.
Just a couple of weeks later, UFC 294 was announced with Oliveira booked against Makhachev as the headliner but then catastrophe struck less than two weeks out from the event when the Brazilian suffered a gruesome cut in training that forced him to drop off the card. UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski took his place but it remains to be seen if Oliveira will still receive the same opportunity or if dropping out of the rematch might cost him another shot at UFC gold.
Makhachev’s longtime manager Ali Abdelaziz definitely has an opinion on the matter, especially after questioning if Oliveira really wanted the fight in October anyways.
“Charles Oliveira just missed his shot,” Abdelaziz told MMA Fighting. “I believe he missed his shot. Because we know he was not going to show up. I didn’t think he deserved the rematch, honestly, because there were so many other guys who were coming up. But at the end of the day, this is what the UFC wanted.
“Charles Oliveira is a popular guy — a little bit popular, I don’t know how popular he is — but I believe he had a shot and he missed it. Guess what? Volk showed up, and he’s going to get this work Saturday.”
Following the initial announcement that Oliveira would get the rematch with Makhachev, Justin Gaethje arguably cemented himself as the next contender in line after he demolished Dustin Poirier by knockout at UFC 291 in July.
Abdelaziz, who also represents Gaethje, believes if not for the short amount of time between July and October, the UFC may have made a different decision regarding Makhachev’s next opponent.
In the end, Oliveira got the opportunity, but Abdelaziz was never sold that the former UFC champion would travel to Abu Dhabi for the rematch, and that’s exactly how things played out.
“It was a timing thing,” Abdelaziz explained. “Justin Gaethje needed a little bit of time, and the UFC booked it earlier. It is what it is. No problem. I think everybody is happy. Charles missed out, it’s on him. I wish him a speedy recovery, but you see Frankie Edgar, I posted a photo, he split his face open before [he fought Jose] Aldo. 21 stitches, eight days out, and he still fought. But at the end of the day, people are built different.
“I don’t blame him for not fighting, because he was going to get smashed again. That was a good way not to go to Abu Dhabi and experience the same thing again. When it first came out, he said publicly, ‘I’m not going to Abu Dhabi, I will not be ready, I need more time.’ Remember that? After that the UFC worked their magic, and he agreed to it, but now he’s out. We move on. We have to focus on Volkanovski. It’s unfinished business.”
Assuming Makhachev successfully defends his title on Saturday, Abdelaziz expects the UFC to focus on Gaethje rather than circling back to Oliveira.
“Justin Gaethje knocked out Dustin Poirier,” Abdelaziz said. “Outside of Khabib [Nurmagomedov] nobody ever did this to him and the new era he’s in. I believe Justin Gaethje’s next. I think the UFC thinks so, too.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business. Many things can happen, many things can change. Sean Shelby is the matchmaker, and Dana [White] and Hunter [Campbell] and all those guys are involved and they make the decision. As a champion, you have to fight everybody but 100 percent, Justin Gaethje deserves the title shot.”
For his part, Makhachev seems to agree with his manager when it comes to Oliveira, but he feels like both potential contenders might consider another fight before clashing with him.
“I’m going to beat Volkanovski now, and I have two opponents: Gaethje and Oliveira,” Makhachev said at UFC 294 media day. “I think they have to fight again and who wins, I’ll beat this guy again.”
Of course, Abdelaziz has his own preference, but he also knows that Makhachev will never back down from whatever opponent the UFC throws at him.
Look no further than the late switch at UFC 294 as evidence of a principle that Makhachev picked up from his late mentor, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.
“Islam said ‘it doesn’t matter, as long as someone can make 155 pounds, I don’t care who. I can beat anybody, it doesn’t matter who,’” Abdelaziz relayed after speaking to Makhachev about the new fight. “This comes from Khabib’s father [Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov], through Khabib, through Islam, through all these guys.
“These guys never really ask who they’re fighting. Of course, they want to fight the best guys and Volkanovski is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today. It’s unfinished business. Islam, when the Oliveira fight got booked, he said ‘this guy is not going to show up’ and I said no, he will. He didn’t. It is what it is. It’s a bigger fight. It comes with a lot of perks. Islam was happy.”
When Makhachev accepted the new fight without a second thought, Abdelaziz wasn’t shocked, because he went through a similar situation with Khabib Nurmagomedov several years ago at UFC 223 when Tony Ferguson suffered a last-second injury, Max Holloway wasn’t medically cleared to compete and the promotion was left scrambling for a new opponent just hours away from the event.
“[Khabib] went to sleep and he said, ‘Whatever opponent they say, sign the bout agreement and we’re on,’” Abdelaziz said.
“When he woke up, he started eating, and I said, ‘You’re not going to ask me who you’re fighting?’ He said, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ and I said it was Al Iaquinta and he said, ‘No problem.’ It was the weirdest thing ever. I can never forget that. Islam is built the same.”