Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight contenders Nik Lentz and Charles Oliveira will scrap for the second time this Saturday night (May 30, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 67 inside Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil.
Since dropping to 145 pounds, Lentz has been on fire. He's managed to climb up UFC's rankings and into the Top 10, an achievement "The Carny" never managed during his Lightweight tenure. He's always been a tough out, but Lentz's technical skills have greatly improved in recent years.
Similarly, his opponent Oliveira has greatly benefited from his 10-pound drop. He lost his first two fights in the weightclass, but he's currently on a three-fight win streak.
Hopefully, Saturday's rematch will go off without a hitch, as illness forced "Do Bronx" out of their fight on the day of the event last time around.
Let's take a closer look at the keys to victory for both fighters:
Record: 25-6-2 (1)
Key Wins: Hacran Dias (UFC on FX 8), Diego Nunes (UFC on FX 7), and Tyson Griffin (UFC 123)
Key Losses: Chad Mendes (UFC on FOX 9), Evan Dunham (UFC on FOX 2), Mark Bocek (UFC 140)
Keys to Victory: A wrestler from University of Minnesota, Lentz is one of the best grinding wrestlers in UFC. With a relentless attack, big heart and stiff chin, Lentz is a difficult challenge for even established veterans.
In their first match up, Lentz relied heavily on his wrestling ... and it cost him dearly. Not only was Oliveira landing hard shots throughout every grappling exchange, but he was constantly threatening with submissions. Eventually, those two things added up and finished Lentz, though it was an illegal knee that sealed the deal.
To avoid a similar outcome in his second match with "Do Bronx," Lentz needs to rely on his improving stand up skills. Oliveira's grappling game is a solid foil to all but the best top players, so it would be unwise for him to pursue the takedown.
Plus, shooting for takedowns is exhausting and could leave submissions open.
Instead, Lentz needs to embrace his aggressive mentality and attack the Brazilian early and often on the feet. Oliveira is relatively hittable and doesn't react well after being struck, while Lentz seems to be getting more powerful. Additionally, Lentz should look to work from the clinch to land strikes.
Record: 19-4 (1)
Key Wins: Jeremy Stephens (TUF 20 Finale), Hatsu Hioki (UFC Fight Night 43), Jonathon Brookins (The Ultimate Fighter 15 Finale)
Key Losses: Frankie Edger (UFC 162), Cub Swanson (UFC 152), Jim Miller (UFC 124)
Keys to Victory: Oliveira was pretty devastated when his win was overturned -- he offered to give back his performance bonus for the win -- and he now has a chance to set things straight.
To defeat Lentz, Oliveira needs to punish the wrestler at every step. By fully utilizing his lengthy build with jabs and kicks, Oliveira can make Lentz uncomfortable. Once that happens, Lentz will likely shoot directly into Oliveira's expert clutches.
Then, Oliveira should be on the lookout for any opportunity to damage or submit "The Carny." Whenever Lentz tries to grapple, Oliveira should meet him with a bevy of knees, elbows and grappling maneuvers.
In short, Lentz often puts himself in a position to absorb strikes, which he usually just endures en route to a victory through will and toughness. However, Oliveira is a volatile offensive force, and if he's continually able to land strikes and attack with his black belt-level jiu-jitsu, he'll wear down "The Carny's" defenses and eventually finish the fight.
Bottom Line: This is a major fight for both fighters, and they're both highly motivated.
This rematch has been a long time coming, particularly for Lentz. The first time around, an illegal knee ended his night, and then his opponent's illness prevented him from getting a chance at redemption. Both men have developed quite a bit since their first encounter and this bout will prove which fighter has grown the most.
Lentz will look to prove himself the better man, as well as defend his current ranking.
If Lentz does lose to Oliveira, it will be quite disappointing for the wrestler. He's made considerable strides to each part of his game, but a loss would kick him out of his current dark horse position and send him further down the prelims.
We've been talking about Oliveira's potential since 2010, but seven years and 20-some fights into his professional career, we should be close to seeing the final product. "Do Bronx" is putting forth a strong case that he's now at his best, considering his current win streak. If he can defeat Lentz, he'll confirm his position as a Top 10 fighter and contender.
On the other hand, a loss for the Brazilian would be a tough pill to swallow. He (unofficially) defeated his opponent at the tender age of 21, and to fail to replicate that feat after four years of improvement would likely be quite demoralizing.
At UFC Fight Night 67, Nik Lentz and Charles Oliveira will go to war. Which fighter will have his hand raised?