It's admirable that Donald Cerrone is getting back into the cage so promptly after his crushing defeat against lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos. His fight against Tim Means was going to show us a new direction for the Cowboy at welterweight but Means' failure of a USADA drug test has seen the fight fall apart. Gigantic Brazilian lightweight, Alex Oliveira has taken Means' place to keep Cerrone in the main event but the fight feels sort of pointless aside from the fact that we can all laugh about the fact that both men have a 'Cowboy' nickname.
Up until a couple of months ago Donald Cerrone seemed to be on an upward trajectory and solving many of the problems that had plagued him throughout his career. The wild, running low kicker of the WEC who crumbled in brawls had slowly developed elbows, knees, better footwork, and the ability to use his height and reach. The intercepting knees with which he was halting men like Evan Dunham, Jim Miller and Eddie Alvarez in their tracks were sublime.
On the best winning streak of his career Cerrone was matched with Rafael dos Anjos on December 19th of last year. Dos Anjos came out with the same ideas he used to take the victory in their first meeting but skipped straight to the gist this time. Applying his trademark pressure Dos Anjos hammered the body of the gangly rancher. The advantages of reach and height never seem so sweet when you're trying to cover up a lengthy torso under a shellacking. It was heartbreaking to see Cerrone's shot at the gold slip through his fingers before he even got out of first gear.
All direction disappeared from Cerrone. If a fighter has lost twice to the man who happens to be champion, the fight world is ready to pave over his career and reflect on what he has done, even if he still has plenty of life in him. A fight against a legitimate welterweight in Tim Means might have opened up a hundred doors for the UFC's busiest fighter, but instead we are stuck with this rather unfortunate match against a sub top fifteen lightweight who on paper has very little reason to be in with Cerrone.
What we have seen of Alex Oliveira tells us that he's a huge lightweight, a big puncher, and not that creative in his attempts to land punches. More often than not he will lead with the right hand and perform those running combinations which so often get fighters check hooked. When he does jab, about ninety percent of the time the jab is inconsequential and a straining right uppercut from down by the knees immediately follows. He bounces back and forth in front of his man in the same rhythm each time before lunging in, except in the later rounds when he has usually grown too tired for this. He seems to have no interesting in the use of his height and reach advantages, and instead stands bolt upright with his hands low while in striking range, often escaping by the skin of his teeth and the benefit of his quick reflexes. Oliveira's biggest name victory is over the once great K. J. Noons, but Noons is 3-7 with one 'no contest' since October of 2011.
He's got the power, just needs the craft.
That all sounds terribly pessimistic and that's probably because I studied so much of Oliveira's fight footage looking for something interesting to write about and found so little that was unique or inspiring. But this is the fight game: a fighter can remain stagnant for two years and suddenly come out with a revolutionary new look. Not to mention that puncher's chance that everyone harps on about. Cerrone's troubles with slow starts and mental humps make the brawl-happy Oliveira a more dangerous opponent that he might be against another top flight lightweight.
But don't let this so-so main event put you off of what is certainly an interesting card. Derek Brunson is coming off of a pair of knockout victories and faces Roan Carneiro—he of the shockingly fast choke out of Mark Munoz—in the co-main event. Undefeated Cody Ganbradt meets knockout artist John Lineker. And in what I hope might be the best fight of the night Brandon Thatch meets Siyar Bahadurzada with both heavy hitters looking to break a dangerous two fight skid.
If you don't know much about Thatch there's only a little you need be told. Firstly he is an enormous welterweight. Then you need to know that he changes stances a lot, throws a ton of low kicks, mixes in the occasional hook kicks and combines circular punches with linear knee strikes in gorgeous, gut-munching set ups. The knees are the bit that really make him stand out. A man who can hit hard with his knees and create opportunities for them from striking range and from the clinch is a very dangerous man indeed.
He can get caught between stances, however, and where other switch hitters tend to do so amid movement Thatch can be a little flat footed which saw him caught with a bursting punch by Gunnar Nelson.
That and Thatch's obvious wilting under the pace of the considerably smaller Benson Henderson show that there's a lot of growing left to do for the young talent.
Siyar Bahadurzada, meanwhile came into the UFC as a highly touted knockout artist. One of the very few non-Japanese fighters to win a Shooto title, putting him in the company of Anderson Silva, Rambaa Somdet, Joachim Hansen and Jake Shields. He seemed to live up to every bit of the hype in his UFC debut as he brutally starched Paulo Thiago and left him face down in just forty seconds.
And proceeded to turn heel.
But that was 2012. Two lackluster decision losses came to Dong Hyun Kim and John Howard in 2013 and Siyar the Great disappeared from the world of fighting until 2016. In terms of fighting style, Bahadurzada's is not attractive. He stands static and upright and he is as one handed in his offence as Nick Newell. But that right hand is tremendous. One of those magical right hands that seems to be far harder than the distance it travels and the hip rotation involved say it should be. He has that one puff stuff and that will always be in demand.
Oh and there was a Samoan drop in the John Howard fight. That was pretty memorable.
In all honesty, this isn't a great card, but there's a good few competent knockout artists on it. You might get an easy head kick win for Cerrone, or an upset and a new contender in the lightweight division. You might see a balls out war between Thatch and Bahadurzada, or you might see two tentative men who just want to chalk one up in the win column with their UFC tenure at risk. Whatever happens, get back here Monday for the breakdown of the best bits.
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