A three-week break from UFC events is a rarity these days as the promotion’s output borders on oversaturation. However, UFC 210 is a rather poignant return to form for Dana White and co.
Buffalo, New York, had a 22-year break from UFC action thanks to the MMA ban imposed on the state which was only lifted in early 2016. Held in Buffalo’s KevBank Center, UFC 210 will be the first show run in the city since UFC 7 in 1995.
Headlined by the light heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and knockout artist Anthony Johnson, an Upstate New York native in Jon Jones will be ruefully watching on from the sidelines as his rivals, namely Cormier, battle it out for the gold he had stripped from him by the UFC. Meanwhile, the intriguing co-headliner contest between Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi is sure to have major implications in the muddied waters of what was not so long ago a rather uninteresting middleweight division.
The hidden gem of this fight card is the lightweight bout between former Bellator champion Will Brooks and wily Brazilian Charles Oliveira, serving as the main card’s opening salvo.
The decision for Bellator to grant Brooks a release from his contract with the promotion raised many an eyebrow back in May 2016, but the thought of Brooks duking it out among the UFC’s most talent-rich division was an exciting prospect—aided by some big-name Brooks wins over the likes of Michael Chandler (twice) and Polish grappler Marcin Held.
Life in the UFC got off to a good start as Brooks comfortably defeated bruising Brit Ross Pearson in a unanimous decision. However, any honeymoon period enjoyed by brooks was abruptly cut short by another Brazilian opponent named Oliveira, as Alex Oliveira—who missed weight by a considerable margin—defeated Brooks by finishing the fight in the third round as he slammed punches into a grounded Brooks’ head. It was a frustrating end to his second fight in the UFC, after having the better of the early exchanges before suffering a broken rib. This was only Brooks’ second career loss.
That loss would have been a bitter pill to swallow for Brooks—the aggravation amplified by “Cowboy” Oliveira’s perceived lack of professionalism in failing to make weight, as well as the clear disrespect the Brazilian showed immediately after beating Brooks, throwing a “crotch chop” in his direction.
Though, it would appear Brooks was more disappointed in his own actions during the fight, exasperated at the fact he tends to get drawn into his opponent’s style of fighting if they’re reluctant to engage, but he feels his next opponent will draw the best out of his skills.
“I’ve have had an issue with fighting down to guy’s levels,” Brooks told the Fight Society podcast. “If a guy I felt like or most people would seem like ‘well he’s not on Will’s level’, I tend to fight at their level. So to have a guy like [Charles] Oliveira, who’s going to be coming at a high level and he’s going to be pushing the pace, that brings out the best in me. I go back to one of the biggest examples of my career—the fight of my career against Michael Chandler. He’s one of the better guys that I’ve ever fought in my career and I believe that type of guy brings the best out of me.
“Guys that are really going to push the pace and come after me and they’re going to bring everything that they’ve got and there’s no room to kind of sit back and wait on something to happen and see what’s going to happen and kind of coast through. That brings the best out of me.”
If that is indeed the case, Charles Oliveira is certainly the man to draw out the best fight in Brooks. The rangy Oliveira may have a mixed UFC record of 9-7, but he has been locked in the Octagon with some of lightweight and featherweight’s best. During his time in the UFC, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Oliveira has faced the likes of former and current champions in Frankie Edgar, Anthony Pettis, and Max Holloway, while beating names such as Jeremy Stephens, Myles Jury, Nik Lentz, and Darren Elkins. To top it off, Oliveira has earned nine “Of the Night” bonuses during his six-year UFC tenure.
This is Oliveira’s first fight in the lightweight division since January 2012, a move forced due to his inability to comfortably make the featherweight limit of 145lbs—a feat which always appeared unlikely to be achieved due to his size. In his 12 fights as a “featherweight,” Oliveira had to fight at a catchweight on four occasions thanks to failed weight cuts.
Despite this, Oliveira isn’t convinced he will stay at lightweight. For now, Oliveira’s focus is trained on Brooks and contract negotiations before settling on his divisional home. “Right now, my plan is Will Brooks,” Oliveira told MMAjunkie. “Beating him and getting my hand raised at the end. The future belongs to God. Then we’ll see what happens. Contract renewal, see if we’re going up or down. Right now, I’m focused on this fight. I really want to win this fight to show the fans and the UFC that I deserve to be in the best promotion in the world.”
“Will Brooks is a very tough guy,” Oliveira said. “He’s an ex-champ and beat very tough guys. The same way I fought very tough guys. We’re both coming off losses. I really want this win, as he does too. I’m sure it will be a great show and a great fight. I respect everyone, but nothing’s changed: I’m going to keep moving forward. I really want this win. He’s a tough guy, like the ones I’ve always looked to fight, and it’s show time.”
It may be only two fights into Brooks’ UFC career, but he—along with Oliveira—is in dire need of a win to alleviate any lingering memories of his fight against Alex Oliveira.
Like Eddie Alvarez before him, Bellator champions have an instant target on their backs as they enter the UFC. Alvarez lost his first UFC contest to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, before successfully rebounding against Gilbert Melendez and earning an accelerated path to the UFC title on the back of his success outside of the promotion. If Brooks harbours any hopes of winning UFC gold any time soon, he will need to get back on the winning track on Saturday with victory over Oliveira. A loss for Oliveira would mean he has been defeated times in a row and in four of his last five fights. With his contract up in the air and the UFC looking to trim its roster under new ownership, victory is essential for the Sao Paolo, Brazil, native.
Can Brooks salvage the hype surrounding his name, or will Oliveira prove a difficult opponent to master against another big name once again?
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