Lost in the hoopla of the second largest fight in UFC history is a tussle that most likely will garner a bonus by one, if not both, of the fighters involved. Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz have combined for 15"of the Night" honors in their respective Zuffa careers. Both come from very respected MMA camps, both are very well-rounded with a focus on submission fighting and both have very long frames for the lightweight division. Even though this fight has been overshadowed by the main event, there is no reason to believe that this will not be the best overall fight on the entire card.
Hailing from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and fighting out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cerrone is the first fighter under the microscope. The Jackson Submission Fighter is known for his powerful Muay Thai (a former US champion) and slick ground game as 13 of his 18 victories have come by submission. Follow along after the jump for the full breakdown.
Donald Cerrone (18-3-1)
Donald "The Cowboy" Cerrone, currently ranked #8 on the consensus rankings, has been on a tear since losing his second shot at Benson Henderson and WEC gold. With dominating wins over Jamie Varner, Charles Oliveira and Denis Siver, among others, and currently boasting a 6 fight win streak, Cerrone has focused on becoming a well-rounded mixed martial upon his transition within Zuffa from the WEC to the UFC. But how does he stack up against the rest of the UFC's 155 pound division when looking at his ability to affect the scoring criteria set forth by the unified rules? How does Cerrone get the job done?
Cerrone is a submission fighter. He loves to choke guys out. 6 victories by triangle choke, 4 victories by rear naked choke and a lone win by guillotine choke round out Cerrone's 11 victories by way of choke submission. His remaining 2 submissions come by way of armbar. Cerrone is very effective in using his muay thai to hurt his opponent and following up with a rear naked choke, ala BJ Penn. Denis Siver learned this the hard way.
Although he is an effective jiu jitsu player, Cerrone is not always an effective grappler. In losses to Benson Henderson and Jamie Varner, in the WEC, Cerrone was beaten by a better wrestler.
In fact, Cerrone's biggest weakness to date has been his wrestling, and shoring up this weakness has been at the forefront of Cerrone's list of attributes to work on and he has made Greg Jackson proud. Never being known for his offensive wrestling, Cerrone times Paul Kelly's punch (below) and uses Kelly's overcommittment to shoot for a double leg take-down with success. Kelly is not a world beater, but it shows Cerrone's progression from a fighter that is most comfortable standing, or on his back, into one that is willing to go anywhere. Cerrone also showed improved wrestling against Jamie Varner in their rematch, where Cerrone took down Varner 3 times to none.
Cerrone has also worked on his defensive wrestling, "The Cowboy's" biggest liability in his losses to Bendo. Versus Wagner Rocha, Cerrone wanted to keep the fight standing to stay away from Rocha's world class jiu jitsu and even when taken down, was able to scramble back to his feet or sprawl to avoid the takedown altogether.
While I am not willing to say Cerrone would out-wrestle any of the top wrestlers in the division, or even stop them from taking him down, I think he has improved enough to not get taken down easily and be more dangerous than before in either the scramble or off his back. Remember, Cerrone had Bendo in two very tight armbars and somehow did not finish either. He has improved since then.
Overall Grappling Score: 8
As mentioned, Cerrone is a former U.S. Muay Thai champion. He is a very effective striker that loves to jab and loves to throw combos that end in a debilitating leg kick. In fact, Cerrone might have the best leg kicks at 155. It might be his favorite strike.
Cerrone has two flaws in his stand-up though.
Cerrone does not have KO power in either hand. As stated above, he has hurt guys in the past, but he typically will attempt a choke rather than continue to throw punches. Charles Oliveira being the lone TKO on his record speaks more for Cerrone's want to not go to the ground with Chucky-the-little-hype-train-that-could as much as wanting to knock him out.
Cerrone typically has good striking defense, but can easily be baited into throwing down on the barroom floor and taking two to land one. While his chin has held up so far in his career, there are plenty of guys with KO power at 155 against whom Cerrone would not be wise to trade punch for punch in the UFC. Cerrone needs to learn to leave the emotions at the cage door to continue his ascent in the UFC Lightweight division.
Overall Striking Score: 9
Cerrone is one of the most aggressive fighters at 155 in the UFC. The Cowboy seems to truly love to scrap and that is part of the reason he has been successful in his career, and why most fans love his style of fighting. Cerrone does not back down from the fight and I am hard pressed to find many instances of him not being the more aggressive fighter who is the one doing the chasing. Combine that with Cerrone's newly found wrestling prowess, and it is hard to imagine anyone stalking Cerrone. Even when backing up, Cerrone is setting up his next move.
Overall Aggression Score: 10
It only took 4 years, but Donald Cerrone is finally listening to Greg Jackson when it comes to making sure he is in control of where the fight takes place. Cerrone lost by way of guillotine choke to Benson Henderson because of arrogance in not believing Bendo could control him and it took that loss to finally open his eyes to why being in control is a bigger key to victory than he realized. Cerrone has since been the fighter in control of the majority of time in his fights. Whether it is not going to the ground with Wagner Rocha and Charles Oliveira since his stand-up was light years ahead of the young Brazilians, taking down Paul Kelly (he is British after all), or outwrestling Varner, Cerrone has developed the ability to continue to be an aggressive fighter and remain in control of his surroundings and his opponents.
There are still doubts here, though, as Cerrone has yet to face a talented wrestler since Bendo, so we as fans cannot completely guage where his ability to control the fight against the elite of the division, who all happen to be very gifted wrestlers, truly is.
Overall Octagon Control Score: 8
Donald Cerrone has all the tools needed to make a run at the 155lb title. Standing in his way at UFC 141 is the little Diaz, a very similar fighter.
Who do you got?
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