Two of the UFC's most exciting young lightweights will wage war this Sunday night (August 14, 2011) on the UFC on Versus 5 main card as Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone takes on Charles "Da Bronx" Oliveira in a Milwaukee showdown.
Donald Cerrone had used up all his title shots in the WEC, but he's quickly shooting up the list of contenders since the promotion merged with the big boys. He's scored two impressive victories this year already against Paul Kelly and Vagner Rocha and he's hoping to continue to shine against his toughest UFC opponent yet.
Charles Oliveira is widely considered to be one of the promotion's most talented prospect. He's had a tough run as of late, losing in the first round to Jim Miller and then having a submission victory overturned due to an illegal blow. He's out to score a huge win and get back on track in the division.
Will "Cowboy" take Oliveira down and ride his way to victory? Can Oliveira catch Cerrone in his lightning-quick submission transitions? Which lightweight will step up when it matters most?
Let's find out:
Record: 15-3 (1 No Contest) overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Ben Henderson 2x (WEC 48, WEC 43)
How he got here: Cerrone entered the WEC with an undefeated record and fought his way to a number one contender's match with former lightweight champion "Razor" Rob McCullough. "Cowboy" would defeat Razor Rob in one of 2008's best fights to earn a shot against then-champion Jamie Varner.
In his first title fight, Cerrone would get off to a slow start against Varner but he steadily built momentum throughout the bout. Just as the tides were turning, he hit Varner with a glancing illegal knee and the champion said he couldn't continue. The judges ruled in favor of "The Worm" by way of a close split technical decision.
Despite the setback, the Greg Jackson-trained fighter would go on to battle Ben Henderson for the interim title when Varner became injured. He would lose another incredibly close decision in what was deemed the 2009 Sherdog "Fight of the Year." He would try and fail for a third time at WEC gold in a rematch with Henderson, but would at least get redemption against Jamie Varner in his next fight, soundly defeating the former champ via unanimous decision.
After defeating Chris Horodecki in the final WEC event ever, Cerrone made his UFC debut on the Spike TV prelims of UFC 126 against Paul Kelly. "Cowboy" surprised many by working his ground game against the Brit and completely outclassed "Tellys," earning a submission victory by way of rear naked choke in the second round.
In his last fight, the former bullrider absolutely decimated Vagner Rocha, completely outclassing the submission expert on the feet and pummeling his legs with an assault of kicks that repeatedly buckled the Brazilian.
Cerrone originally stepped in for an injured John Makdessi to face Paul Taylor at this upcoming UFC on Versus 5, but accepted Oliveira instead once Taylor went down as well.
How he gets it done: This will not be like the Vagner Rocha fight for Cerrone. Charles Oliveira is solid both on the ground and standing. Cerrone can expect a war wherever this fight goes.
While the ground fighting is very close in terms of submission skills, Cerrone may have the wrestling advantage. It's been proven time and time again that tough wrestlers with submission defense can overwhelm a strong jiu-jitsu player.
Don't be surprised to see Cerrone shoot on Oliveira and try to pound on him from top position.
While both men are strong strikers, "Cowboy" should have a technical edge in this department. His opponent is flashier, but not quite as effective with his blows. Cerrone should be able to exploit those weaknesses with counter strikes or, just like in his last fight, with strong leg kicks to slow him down.
Record: 14-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 2-1 (1 No Contest) in the UFC
Key Losses: Jim Miller (UFC 124)
How he got here: Charles Oliveira got his start in Brazil, going 12-0 before entering the UFC barely over a year ago. His first MMA fight was actually a tournament where he had to win three fights in one night, and he did just that, all via stoppage at welterweight no less.
"Da Bronx" won two other one-night tournaments in Brazil, even finishing his last fight with a brutal knockout slam before making his way to the UFC to fight Darren Elkins on the UFC on Versus 2 card. He made a pretty damn good first impression, submitting the wrestler in just 41 seconds with a triangle arm bar combination.
He would immediately be given a tough fight against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season eight winner Efrain Escudero and the bold move by the UFC paid off. Oliveira outclassed Escudero standing, which surprised many and finished the fight in very exciting fashion by leaping on his back with a rear naked choke that also put tremendous pressure on the TUF winner's jaw to force a third round tap.
The Brazilian would again take a huge leap forward in progression, scoring a fight against current top contender Jim Miller at UFC 124, but after a wild scramble of submission attempts from Oliveira, Miller surprised him with a sneaky knee bar that forced an immediate tap to hand him his first loss.
In his last fight, Oliveira was pummeling Nik Lentz at UFC on Versus 4, but landed a blatant illegal knee to the face that wasn't called. When he eventually overwhelmed Lentz and scored a submission victory, he was practically booed out of the arena. Afterwards, the commission overturned his victory and it was ruled a "No Contest."
Oliveira is out to prove he's not a dirty fighter and that he's still one of the promotion's top prospects.
How he gets it done: Since both men are so evenly matched, it will all come down to aggression, at least on Oliveira's end.
If he can relentlessly push the pace, he may force "Cowboy" to wilt in the striking department, especially because no one has really done that to him in a very long time. Offensive pressure can be devastating if utilized properly.
There's also a very real possibility that Cerrone tries to take this fight to the ground, exploiting Oliveira's wrestling deficiencies. If he does, Oliveira needs to relentlessly attack with submissions, chaining them together until one works.
Even if he can't lock one in, the constant attacking on the ground could force the Jackson's Submission fighter to back off and allow him to go back to his feet, where he can continue to press forward with strong flurries of strikes.
Fight "X-Factor:" This fight might come down to pure power. Both men are very strong, but despite Donald Cerrone's kickboxing background, he's never scored a knockout in MMA. That's pretty surprising considering this is his 20th fight.
Oliveira, on the other hand, has six knockouts to his name in just 15 career fights. He's wild, flashy and very dangerous if given the opportunity. He was hurting Efrain Escudero in the stand-up department and was crushing Nik Lentz before the illegal knee. While Cerrone is a much more technical striker than either of them combined, he might not be afraid to eat a punch to land one of his own.
Bottom Line: This is a very compelling lightweight showdown between two extremely evenly matched fighters. Unless Cerrone tries to lay and pray his way to victory, which has a very small chance of happening, this bout is going to be an absolute war everywhere. In the stand-up, expect aggressive exchanges and expect even wilder transitions on the ground. Both men are strong in the art of submission and the scrambles in this fight could be incredibly entertaining. This bout has "Fight of the Night" written all over it.
Who do you think will win at UFC on Versus 5? Tell us in the comments below!