The Line Up
Featherweight Jeremy Stephens vs. Charles Oliveira
Lightweight K.J. Noons vs. Daron Cruickshank
Lightweight Joe Proctor vs. Yancy Medeiros
Women's Strawweight Jessica Penne vs. Randa Markos
Stephens -115 / Oliviera -110
Noons +155 / Cruickshank -175
Proctor +210 / Medeiros -250
3 Things You Should Know
1. Charles Oliveira is getting the fights he should be getting. 4 years later.
It's an old canard of mine, or any writer, to talk about the very odd journey Charles has taken in his career in the context of matchmaking. Joe Silva isn't a dumb man. But I imagine his job is similar to scouting. So it's in that light that I think Oliviera was simply scouted wrong. There are certain athletes who are so full of raw potential that owners can't wait to promote so they can sell their sports product. However, potential doesn't guarantee efficiency, and Oliviera has learned this lesson the hard way after 3 solid years of slave labor.
I like this fight because Stephens is an action fighter who plays into the high octane style that Charles displays. Jeremy is coming off a loss to Cub Swanson but he put in a respectable performance, and had gone 3-0 prior. I favor Oliveira in this fight as I often do, but the caveats haven't changed. Just to go back to whining about Oliveira's development in the UFC for a second, one of the reasons you don't bring guys up too fast and then keep giving them tough tests is that if they're winning as much as they're losing, their strengths and weaknesses become muddled. It's like kid from the farm going pro on a franchise looking to hit the draft lottery: if he's called up and fails, his confidence may be hurt by the fact that he can't hack it on a bad team when the reality is simply that he's more than good enough - just not yet. Oliviera's defense on the feet still leaves a lot to be desired. He was successful at times, and misguided at times, so he's never concentrated on more measured kickboxing which is why this will be a good test in terms of what he's changed on the feet.
Jeremy is slowly morphing into diet Lawler. He's quietly improving his game, while diversifying everywhere else. He has still has a brutal right hand, but he's versatile when he needs to be. I'm banking on Oliveira's development. 25 is still right below his prime, and I'm confident he can turn a striking exchange into a scramble that provides the opportunity he needs.
2. There isn't a parallel universe that exists where Markos and Penne are the TUF finalists, but that doesn't mean there's little at stake.
Randa Markos, the former Iraqi refugee, and now TUF underdog, has a fascinating story. Beyond the octagon, her life is made for Hollywood, but inside the octagon, she's just a quiet unflinching object of forced attrition. She reminds me of Kelvin Gastelum: a TUFer that seemed to quietly dominate in the face of paper tigers. It's not meant to be insulting; only that hyped TUFers tend to flame out. Markos faced two higher rated competitors on the show in Tecia Torres and Felice Herrig, and took both comfortably. Well, the Torres fight required a third round, but still. There was no question about who won.
Penne is another fighter who was quietly good, and more or less ignored the Mean Girl nonsense headlined by Hydra henchmen, Magana, Herrig, Rawlings, and others. Penne is a gifted offensive grappler, although she's more Dustin Hazelett than Demian Maia. This was obvious when she got beat on the feet by Carla Esparza, who needs much more polishing. Markos is the big favorite, and I don't blame oddsmakers. Penne won't be able to do much on the feet and likely isn't getting the fight on the ground.
3. Noons and Proctor are pretty good underdog bets despite the completely justified odds.
Noons and Cruickshank have a lot in common in that I can't tell if they're underachievers, or overachievers. Noons is coming off a pretty big KO win over Sam Stout while Daron is coming off a methodical win over Anthony Njokuani. I'd expect Cruickshank to do what he always does: sear his opponent with blistering combinations and spinning attacks without ever really going full ultra violence. Noons is too flat footed and stationary to really make sense as the favorite on paper, but he still has the kind of pop in his hands that can turn the fight around, and Cruickshank himself leaves wide open at times.
As for Proctor vs. Yancy, Proctor throws solid enough combinations to be potentially efficient against Medeiros, who I think sometimes waits a little too much for offense to come to him. His instincts aren't to counter, but he finds himself in the position of doing so, which is not his strength. A guy like Proctor getting in his face may force him to scramble too much. However, Medeiros' sheer size and power are an uphill battle no matter what. Especially if both end up stuck in the clinch.
Oliviera by bulldog choke, round 3.
Cruickshank by Decision.
Medeiros by Decision.
Markos by TKO, round 2.