The unsettling cease-fire is over. After trudging aimlessly through a foreign wasteland since August 11th -- one devoid of warm, comforting elements like face-punching, egregious bodily harm and hand-to-hand violence in general -- elite MMA will once again be delivered unto us with this Saturday's (September 22) UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort extravaganza.
From the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, UFC 152 will feature another chapter in the Jon Jones epic, as the now openly villanized 205-pound monarch will defend his legacy against old-school pioneer Vitor Belfort in the headliner. Supplementing the highlighted fracas is the long awaited conclusion to the UFC's inaugural coronation of a flyweight champion, to be determined by the victor of the Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson scrap.
Three other bouts anchor down the pay-per-view portion of the event: middleweight strikers Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann, light-heavyweight wrestler Matt Hamill vs. debutante Roger Hollett and technical featherweight brawlers Charles Oliveira vs. Cub Swanson, the latter of which will be analyzed herein.
More UFC 152 Main Card Dissections
Charles "Do Bronx" Oliveira stormed into the Octagon as a scrawny framed lightweight with a crowd pleasing array of weaponry. The 22-year-old Brazilian insta-tapped Darren Elkins with an armbar in his UFC debut and followed up with a 3rd-round choke-out of Efrain Escudero. Oliveira flaunted 3-dimensional capabilities with explosions of rangy Muay Thai combinations, slippery grappling, a high paced and creative Jiu-Jitsu arsenal and surprisingly feisty wrestling prowess.
Continued in the full entry.
The rising fan favorite lost momentum in the ensuing 3-fight stretch: Oliveira was criticized for his lackadaisical defense after tapping to a Jim Miller leg lock, he forfeited a sizzling performance against Nik Lentz with a blatant foul (No Contest via illegal knee) and digested a left to the breadbasket from Donald Cerrone, which triggered the TKO loss via ground-strike barrage.
The unfavorable sequence inspired Oliveira's drop to 145 pounds, where he's blown the doors off a pair of game featherweights (Eric Wisely, Jonathan Brookins) with devastating application of his spidery reach length (73") and grace in chaining his wrestling and submissions together. Oliveira is a new breed fighter and a gifted Phase Shifter, seamlessly transitioning from long, cracking kickboxing medleys to knifing into contact range for trip and throw attempts from the body lock; from pelting in the clinch with knees to attaching himself to attack with submissions.
Oliveira is a special talent. The kid is insanely gifted and his diverse offense is technical and downright volatile. The aspects I'm not entirely sold on are Fight I.Q., durability and heart. A common theme in the opponents he destroyed is that Oliveira had a distinct advantage in at least one aspect; usually striking. The fighters who were willing to tangle with him anywhere and everywhere account for his only losses. Additionally, out of his 18 career fights, 11 have ended in the 1st frame, he's only seen the 3rd round twice and fought just once to a decision.
UFC 152 Preliminary Card Previews
I realize that correlation could mean absolutely nothing -- it could just be that Oliveira hasn't been dragged into deep waters because he steam-rolls people and just got caught against the best fighters he's encountered -- but the boxes for fortitude and perseverance remain unchecked on my personal rate sheet.
Cub Swanson is a straight-up gunslinger and, for that reason alone, I'm anticipating this match up just as much as any other on the card. Beyond his raw gameness, Swanson shares a few key traits with Oliveira: he's an artful and powerful kickboxer, he's crafty in securing clinch takedowns with Judo-esque trips and throws in the clinch; he's a BJJ black belt, he's highly creative, ridiculously aggressive and utterly fearless. Based on my aforementioned analysis of Oliveira, Cub also offers the huge heart, gritty resilience and laudable experience that Oliveira might struggle with.
The Jackson/Winklejohn rep faded into obscurity after the UFC absorbed the WEC, mostly due to being sidelined with nagging injuries and recalled as the guy Jose Aldo trounced with a double flying knee in 8 seconds. However, Swanson's 5 career defeats deserve another look. A pair of those losses were against longtime featherweight overlords Aldo and Chad Mendes, and another was incurred in his pro debut against future UFCer Shannon Gugerty. The remaining duo of losses exemplify the hazards of Swanson's willingness to take risks, as he lacked urgency in defending Jens Pulver's modified guillotine and, in his Octagon debut, paid the price for continually burying his head in Ricardo Lamas' armpit, which led to the 2nd-round arm triangle.
Still, the California native has cemented his venomous potential since crossing over to the UFC. He was confidently holding his own on the feet in the 1st round against Lamas (I scored it 10-9 for him) and Swanson absolutely shellacked George Roop and Ross Pearson with highlight-reel-worthy TKOs in his latest efforts, both of whom are respectable, upper-tier featherweights.
While Oliveira's kickboxing repertoire is accented by clean technique, quickness and length, Swanson's much more visceral and primitive. Though he's still technical and dynamic, Swanson trades textbook fundamentals for looping haymakers and always hurls strikes with skull-crunching intentions. Stance-wise, Swanson crouches low with a wide base to generate considerable power and has more of a traditional kickboxing style with a dash of Capoeira mixed in.
Oliveira discharges short bursts of lightning-fast combos from the fringe and then cuts a retreating angle whereas Cub looks to close the distance, keep the fight in phone-booth range and stay on the trigger with relentless head-hunting. Though he doesn't shy away from slicing with roundhouse kicks to the all levels (head, body and legs) or push kicking to the knee, Swanson's power comes from his boxing and his hands typically account for his most effective offense.
Height and length are noticeable discrepancies: Oliveira imposes frustrating range at 5'10" tall with a 73" reach while Swanson squats at a wide-bodied 5'7" with a 70" reach. Though Swanson will have a clear edge in physical strength and punching power, he'll be forced to get inside continuously in order to capitalize and Oliveira has the quicker release and more elaborate motion (with head movement and footwork).
On paper, Swanson should be able to contest Oliveira in all Three Phases of Combat (Free Movement, Clinching and Grappling) and won't hesitate to engage him wherever the action unfolds. Even though I think most of Swanson's submission losses were more of a case of being over-confident than a lack of technique, the way Oliveira flows on the ground and chains his attacks together is a thing of beauty.
In fact, I give Oliveira a razor-thin edge in open-space striking (mostly because of his length and quickness), clinch entanglements (on account of his artfully blended Muay Thai and submissions) along with his grappling brilliance. These fighters have a confident swagger and are willing to fight on impulse, which stands as a strength and a flaw: while that reckless characteristic has left openings for opponents in the past, it also means they're fully equipped to pounce on the slightest opening and finish the fight or swing the momentum in their favor.
The betting lines uphold Oliveira as a pretty strong favorite in the -270 range. This is understandable but a little steep for my tastes. Though it's hard to knock something that's worked so well, Oliveira's youth seems to shine in the way he just finds his groove and fights on instinct. His raw talent has propelled him beyond 2-dimensional fighters but he stumbled in applying the tact and strategy required to unhinge 3-dimensional juggernauts; a rare accolade that Swanson qualifies for. Additionally, Swanson will be throwing hands and pressing mercilessly until he's parted from consciousness, so he's a good candidate to test Oliveira's ability to overcome adversity.
My heart is leaning Swanson for the upset and there's sound logical evidence to support that, but Oliveira deserves the vote. Because of the distinct range dilemma, Swanson will be tasked with shrinking the gap in almost every exchange and that along with Oliveira's frightening speed, length and ultra-smooth transition game warrant my decision. Swanson is definitely worth considering for a chance wager at those odds though.
My (hesitant) Prediction: Charles Oliveira by submission.