WelterweightsAlex Oliveira (18-5-1) vs. Carlo Pedersoli Jr. (11-1)
ODDS: Oliveira (-390), Pedersoli (+320)
Oliveira was rushed into a main event against Donald Cerrone early in his UFC career -- seemingly solely for the cheeky “Cowboy” versus “Cowboy” angle -- but in the ensuing two and a half years, the Rio native has established himself as a top welterweight. Oliveira relies almost entirely on his natural talent, which is thankfully considerable enough to make up for the complete lack of structure in his game. Oliveira has some natural striking feel, but hasn’t improved his technique much over the years, and he has an impressive grappling game, even if his wrestling skill is based almost entirely on brute strength rather than technique. So while Oliveira can often hold his own in every individual phase of his fights, it’s a crapshoot going in when it comes to exactly what that fight is going to look like, or what Oliveira’s plan is heading into the bout. Oliveira was initially slated to face Neil Magny in what could’ve been a breakthrough win, but with Magny moved to the upcoming card in Buenos Aires, the UFC opted to go the fun route rather than giving Oliveira a challenge, pitting the Brazilian against Italy’s Pedersoli.
This marks the second time Pedersoli has stepped in on late notice in as many UFC fights, as the Italian was a late replacement for his debut against Brad Scott this past May. Italy’s been producing a better breed of prospect in recent years, and Pedersoli is no exception, showing an athletic, well-rounded game. But like Oliveira, Pedersoli fights with little structure; he has an interesting grab bag of skills, but moment to moment, it’s unclear exactly what Pedersoli is going to try next. At the moment, he’s walking a fine line in terms of getting wins at this level, as his last two wins were both split decisions, but at just 25 years old, Pedersoli has more than enough time to coalesce into something interesting.
Pedersoli has a path to victory, even if a lot of this fight comes down to the folly of predicting what Oliveira is going to do. If Oliveira chooses to engage in a pure striking match, this fight could be a toss-up, but I assume at one point or the other, one of these two will start engaging in some grappling, at which point Oliveira’s natural strength should allow him to take over the fight. It’s a more competitive and fun fight than it seems at first blush, given Pedersoli’s lack of name value, but this should still be a solid Oliveira win; the pick is “Cowboy” by second-round submission.
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