The Cowboys are making their way back to the Steel City this weekend. But it won’t be a re-enactment of the classic games between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys during the 1970s. Or even a rehash of Super Bowl XXX, which somehow made a star out of Larry Brown.
Instead, Pittsburgh will be home to the UFC’s latest live event on Sunday, Feb. 21, which boasts a main event of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone against Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira. That’s right, it’s the battle of the “Cowboys.” Literally. Cerrone is moving up to welterweight once again for this fight, and was originally slated to face Tim Means. However, Means was pulled from the card after an alleged doping violation.
So what can we expect from this main event?
Strengths: Quite simply, Cerrone is as game as they come and is willing to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. He never met a payday he didn’t like and has no problem standing in the pocket to throw hands. Cerrone is as dangerous a striker as you’ll find in mixed martial arts and boasts a terrific Muay Thai game.
Cerrone doesn’t step in the Octagon hoping to win on points; he comes in the cage to finish you. He will actually express his frustration if he can’t put his opponent away, as you saw during his fight against Myles Jury at UFC 182 last year. He was so frustrated with Jury’s overly defensive game plan that he literally kicked Jury in the butt. Multiple times, in fact.
Weaknesses: Cerrone’s greatest strength may also be his greatest weakness. His willingness to trade blows makes him vulnerable against truly elite strikers, as was shown in his losses to Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis. Cerrone also inexplicably came out sluggish in his last fight – an opportunity to win the lightweight title from champion Rafael dos Anjos. However, dos Anjos made short work of Cerrone, knocking him out in just over a minute.
While Cerrone’s style always make him a favorite to win Fight of the Night honors, it can also leave him vulnerable to being finished. But when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. That philosophy seems to fit Cerrone just fine.
Strengths: Like Cerrone, Oliveira also has a nose for the finish. Of his 13 career wins, only one came by way of decision. He is equally dangerous on his feet as he is on the ground, roughly splitting the number of knockout and submission victories. He more than doubles Cerrone’s takedown average per fight and manages to absorb fewer significant strikes per fight than Cerrone (shocking, right?). Oliveira boasts a two-fight win streak into this short-notice fight against Cerrone, including a victory over longtime veteran K.J. Noons.
Weaknesses: Frankly, Oliveira hasn’t faced an opponent of Cerrone’s experience and caliber. Noons is the highest-profile fighter Oliveira has fought. Cerrone also doubles up Oliveira when it comes to landing significant strikes on a per-fight basis (again, shocking, I know). Cerrone also boasts a better takedown defense.
Oliveira deserves all the credit in the world for stepping up to fight someone like Cerrone on short notice. I also think this is a main event that doesn’t lose much of its luster by adding a new fighter. Cerrone facing off against Means would have been entertaining, but facing his fellow “Cowboy” should be no less exciting, either.
That said, I like Cerrone to rebound strong in this fight. He has to have an awful taste in his mouth after his listless performance against dos Anjos. Oliveira will bring everything he has for his big opportunity at a main event, but Cerrone’s striking and Muay Thai will show that he is the true “Cowboy” his fellow UFC fighters will still have to reckon with.
Winner: Cerrone by second-round TKO