He got it last night.
The fight started out with Yoislandy Izquierdo, his opponent, landing some solid punches, but then Oliveira took him to the ground. Except for a brief moment at the end of Round 1, that’s pretty much where Izquierdo stayed for the rest of the fight.
There were brief moments when Izquierdo was able to stand back up; and at one point, the referee stood the fighters up for some reason known only to him. For the balance of the match, however, we saw Oliveira taking Izquierdo down and controlling him on the mat.
But that's not the story. Some viewers, and even Joe Rogan, UFC Commentator, were wondering why Oliveira didn’t do more with his stand up, and attempt more than just smothering Izquierdo, getting him in a mounted crucifix and going for an Americana repeatedly, while on the ground.
“What people don’t know is that Rafa actually went into his fight pretty banged up. Being a true fighter, he soldiered on. This meant we had to change up our game plan going into this fight. What you saw last night was a result of that, and you saw Rafa showing an awesome display of heart!”
Of course, “pretty banged up” is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, there’s a twisted ankle or a sore shoulder, and then there could be a broken bone or two…so I asked Turner for the details.
“Rafa was really training hard to prepare for this fight, and his training partners did what they could to help him. Six weeks ago, Rafa twisted his knee pretty bad while wrestling. Then just 4 weeks ago, he suffered an arm injury. To make matters worse, 2 weeks ago he got an accidental headbutt that caused a cut on his head.”
That arm injury? It turns out that he had a broken hand. The knee? The injury was so bad it required repeated Cortisone shots to make him able to continue training. This meant that during his fight, he was barely able to use his right hand or arm, and it's kind of hard to strike or submit your opponent with only one hand.
For a true fighter, it's really all about our own internal struggles and what we do to improve on a personal level. I realized after hearing about his injuries going into the fight that Oliveira didn’t just win that fight – he was triumphant, personally. And while others might say the fight was not particularly memorable, there’s no doubt that to him, it will be one of the most memorable fights of his life.
Turner said: “In Japanese there's a term ‘Gambare.’ It means DO IT! or loosely translated, something like ‘I'd rather die than give up!’ In an awesome display of heart, Rafa felt like his job was on the line and he didn't want to risk getting cut by pulling out of the fight. So he displayed gambare. He did not give up. He forged ahead in spite of his injuries, and did what he had to, to win his fight.”
While it’s true that Oliveira did what he had to – that is to obtain a victory – this isn’t the end of the story. It’s just one battle in his war to secure a concrete future in the UFC organization. So now he’ll need to go home, nurse his wounds, heal – and then start all over. The war is never ending - in the ring, or within.
“That's it in a nut shell.” said Turner. “I'm very proud of him and the focus he's shown. He's never wavered or become downhearted. Rafaello Oliveira is a true winner.”
Oliveira has shown he has a true fighter’s spirit. Whether it’s enough to keep him in the UFC for much longer will continue to be up to him. Personally, I think he can do it.