LightweightsWill Brooks (19-1) vs. Alex Oliveira (15-3-1)
THE MATCHUP: Oliveira is officially a lightweight, but in his UFC career, he has competed twice as often at 170 pounds and never looked small for the division. He will be one inch taller than Brooks, with a wingspan six inches longer. Brooks notched an impressive win in his UFC debut, besting Ross Pearson in an exciting, back-and-forth fight, but the former Bellator MMA champ needs a decisive win over a fighter at Oliveira’s level to cement himself as an elite fighter in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division.
Oliveira is a powerful and awkward opponent. He is at his best counterpunching, clipping smaller opponents who feel compelled to close the gap at all costs. He is much more vulnerable when he attempts to lead the dance, thanks to his unorthodox striking technique. The lunges and leaps that make up Oliveira’s striking game often lead him right into the clinch. His size also helps him there and in top position on the ground. In both phases, Oliveira is aggressive and dangerous, if not always perfectly technical.
Brooks also happens to be a clinch specialist, however. If Oliveira is really as strong as he seems, then this will be an interesting test for Brooks’ inside game. Brooks makes excellent use of collar ties, head pressure and wrist control to set up quick, gut-wrenching knees, and he will happily use these strikes to set up and transition into a takedown. Brooks, too, is effective from top position. He is noticeably more conscious of position and control than Oliveira, but, being an American Top Team fighter, his ground striking is nothing at which to sneeze. Brooks is particularly effective at striking from inside the guard.
Though a gifted wrestler and grappler, Brooks will not be forced to tangle with Oliveira should the Brazilian’s size and strength prove problematic. Brooks is an excellent out-fighter, specializing in jabbing from both stances. Though he does not possess knockout power, Brooks is extremely explosive and times his strikes quite well. He also has a keen understanding of location: Brooks rarely finds himself backed into a corner. Rather, he senses when he is nearing the fence and, using a combination of feints, footwork and strikes, works his way back out into open space, where his speed is a valuable weapon. Brooks is an effective takedown artist from this range, as well, usually preferring to set up a double-leg with his jab or hit a reactive takedown as his opponent closes the gap.
THE ODDS: Brooks (-260), Oliveira (+215)
THE PICK: Oliveira is dangerous and particularly so for Brooks, if the former Bellator champ does not respect his advantages. Oliveira is precisely the level of opponent which Brooks should be able to easily beat -- and precisely the kind of opponent who could punish him severely for thinking that way. Brooks has always been an excellent adaptive fighter, however, and he is more technical than Oliveira in just about every phase. Expect Brooks to evade Oliveira’s punches and take down the big man when he begins to chase. The pick is Brooks by unanimous decision.
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