One of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s most active, entertaining and successful lightweights has elected to test the waters at 170 pounds, at least for one fight.
Donald Cerrone will face Alex Oliveira in the UFC Fight Night 83 main event on Sunday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. In the co-headliner, surging Jackson-Wink MMA middleweight Derek Brunson takes on Roan Carneiro. The rest of the card is dotted with promising prospects like Cody Garbrandt, Jonavin Webb and Oluwale Bamgbose, along with seasoned veterans like Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joe Riggs and James Krause. The UFC’s return to the Steel City has a little something for everyone.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Cerrone vs. Oliveira” matchup, with analysis and picks:
WelterweightsDonald Cerrone (28-7) vs Alex Oliveira (14-2-1)
THE MATCHUP: You know Cerrone. In fact, there is a good chance you know him better than any other fighter in the UFC, given his outrageous level of activity. Cerrone has fought 18 times since his UFC debut in 2011, and he has fought at least four times per year every year since 2013. Cerrone also seems to have hit his stride lately. From 2014 to May 2015, he compiled seven wins, including a controversial but nonetheless impressive victory over former lightweight champion Benson Henderson. Cerrone seems stronger and more explosive than ever before, his boxing is noticeably sharper and he seems to pack more power in the kicks that have always been his bread and butter.
Of course, many of Cerrone’s flaws remain despite his improvements. He is a notoriously slow starter, and years of tinkering by trainer Greg Jackson have failed to totally correct that flaw. Cerrone’s most recent fight was a blowout loss to lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos in which “Cowboy” was hurt to the body early and battered into a state of helpless semi-consciousness. The downside of Cerrone’s activity seems to be that his weaknesses are no secret to anybody. Even when the plan ultimately fails, numerous opponents have managed to stun Cerrone early in the fight. However, Cerrone has also improved as a wrestler. His offensive and defensive wrestling are better than ever before, and those should be valuable traits going forward, especially considering the underrated effectiveness of his jiu-jitsu game.
Oliveira is a relative newcomer to the UFC, but he too has shown a proclivity for frequent fights. This bout, accepted as a short-notice replacement for Tim Means, will be his fifth since debuting in the UFC in March. Oliveira is not as polished as Cerrone, but he seems to be a natural fighter, especially when you consider the fact that he has only been fighting professionally for about four years. Oliveira is a sharpshooter from long range, where he bounces in and out of reach at odd angles, lacing his opponent with unpredictable, arcing punches all the while. When he senses a weakness, Oliveira is keen to jump on the opportunity with a flurry of punches.
This opportunistic behavior also manifests itself in Oliveira’s grappling game. The Brazilian has a real nose for quick back takes, though his inexperience shows when he is forced into any kind of prolonged grappling exchange. In the clinch, Oliveira is a monstrous physical force, just as his hulking torso would suggest. Though he is not the most technical wrestler in the world, previous opponents have found him difficult to control. In his last fight, Oliveira even demonstrated a killer instinct when it came to clinch breaks, knocking out Piotr Hallmann with a right hand as the two separated.
THE ODDS: Cerrone (-290), Oliveira (+240)
THE PICK: Experience is really the determining factor in this fight. Given two more years to learn the ropes, Oliveira would make a strong pick to upset Donald Cerrone. Though both men have competed at lightweight in the past, Oliveira is clearly much larger than the lean Cerrone and a more powerful puncher, as well. With sharp instincts, I would not be surprised if Oliveira stuns Cerrone early and takes the first round or even the first two. This is a five-round fight, however, and Cerrone has excellent stamina and underrated craft. Expect Cerrone to drag this one to the ground in the later rounds before securing a submission. The pick is Cerrone by fourth-round submission.
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