Knockout artist, Alex Oliveira, takes on fellow Muay Thai specialist, Donald Cerrone, in a battle of "Cowboys" this Sunday (Feb. 21, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 83 inside Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Oliveira has been in UFC for less than one year, but he's already proven himself a game and talented fighter. This is just his fifth fight inside the Octagon, and all but one of those have been on short-notice.
Here, it can all pay off, as this is a major step up in exposure for the Brazilian. If he manages to defeat Cerrone -- whose ranked very highly in Oliveira's home weight class of 155 pounds -- he'll suddenly have a great deal of momentum behind him.
Let's take a closer look at his skill set:
Oliveira is a terrifying mix of length, power, and speed. He's far from the most technical fighter, but trading with Oliveira is a very dangerous proposition that will end poorly for most men at Lightweight OR Welterweight.
Essentially, Oliveira relies on his excellent athleticism for just about all of his movements. It's a testament to that athleticism that Oliveira is a UFC fighter -- and a successful one at that -- after just five years of training MMA.
However, that inexperience also leads Oliveira to do some strange things and leave openings. For example, Oliveira loves the rear uppercut, which is a great tool for a tall fighter. However, he very commonly lunges in from a long distance and leads with his right uppercut without even feinting first.
Simply put, it leaves him very open to counter shots, isn't going to land often, and isn't the best choice.
When Oliveira does make more intelligent use of his weapons, he's absurdly dangerous. In the case of his rear uppercut, Oliveira has a habit of brutalizing his opponents from within the clinch with the strike. This is a much smarter use, as that uppercut is built for short range exchanges. Using his left hand to control a single-collar tie or merely to keep pressure on his opponent's head/arms, "Cowboy" does a nice job of lining up the strike in close.
While working on the outside, Oliveira will throw hard combinations of power shots (GIF). While they can definitely be effective and are certainly dangerous, Oliveira does hurt himself by seriously committing to each individual strike rather than simply trying to land. This is true with his jab as well, as "Cowboy" looks to spear through his opponent's skull rather than use the jab to set up other strikes.
Oliveira makes very strong use of his long right hand. While he'll lead with it or mix it into combinations, he used the strike repeatedly as a counter punch in his last bout. When Piotr Hallmann got over-confident after a strong second round and charged in with a combination, Oliveira came out of a roll with a nasty right hand and sent his opponent down hard (GIF).
Additionally, Oliveira has some strong kicks and knees. Like his punches, he doesn't always set them up, but they're still a threat that has to be respected. While his round kicks to the leg and head have some serious snap, he's also been mixing in some kicks up the middle to great effect.
Oliveira's size and explosiveness make his step knees extremely dangerous. He's reasonably accurate with them in the center of the Octagon, but does even more damage when his opponent is trapped against the fence.
On the whole, Oliveira is very hittable. He keeps his hands low in an attempt to stop takedowns, which is a definite trade off, as "Cowboy" does not have the head movement or range control to truly get away with losing that layer of defense.
So far, Oliveira has been a fairly effective offensive and defensive wrestler. Again, he largely relies on fundamentals, which work well for him thanks to his physical gifts.
When looking to drag down his opponent to the mat, Oliveira does a nice job quickly changing levels and powering into a shot. He likes to work against the fence, where his strength and length are especially effective. Once his opponent is trapped along the fence, Oliveira will look to lift and slam with a double leg or run the pipe to land a single leg takedown. Alternatively, Oliveira will change levels after battering his opponent in the clinch.
For the most part, Oliveira is pretty successful at imposing his will in wrestling exchanges. However, when faced with more skilled counter wrestlers, his limitations become a bit more obvious. Often, Oliveira simply tries to overpower his opponents at the expense of good posture. Much of the time he's looking for a takedown, he's simply too high up on his opponent, which will not work well opposite strong wrestlers.
Defensively, Oliveira is a tough man to take down. Due to his low hands, it's difficult to get in on his hips from range, and he has a strong sprawl regardless. Additionally, Oliveira's strength and penchant for violence inside the clinch make that a difficult area to find a takedown as well. To land a takedown on the Brazilian "Cowboy," it needs to either be very well-timed as he's off-balance from striking or more tricky than a simple double or single.
While the trend of athleticism and natural ability over pure technique does continue here, this is perhaps the closest area. On the whole, Oliveira has shown some solid jiu-jitsu, though his main strength on the mat is definitely good instincts and aggressiveness.
For example, Oliveira managed to snatch a quick rear-naked choke victory over K.J. Noons in his sophomore UFC performance. The rear-naked choke is a simple technique, but Oliveira did an excellent job of catching his opponent at the correct moment to sink in the submission hold (GIF).
In his next bout, Oliveira dominated Joe Meritt on the mat. He did a nice job of cutting through his opponent's guard and looking to jump onto the back whenever Meritt tired to scramble up to his feet. He looked for the choke a number of times, but ultimately his opponent's defense held up.
It should be noted that Oliveira can be too aggressive in looking for the back mount. He fell off both Meritt and Hallmann while trying to put both of his hooks in from too high up, landing himself on the bottom, where he's not very effective.
Oliveira has risen quickly without much experience, and he's still just 27 years old. Those are solid signs of a future contender -- and while it may be too soon -- this is "Cowboy's" opportunity to prove that he's already one of the best around. Even if Oliveira does come up shot, this type of exposure and level of competition only sets him up for future success.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.