Two exciting lightweights coming off high profile losses to the division's elite stepped into the cage last night (May 15, 2012) hoping to rebound and return to form at UFC on Fuel TV 3 in Fairfax, Virginia, but only one man would actually pull it off.
That man was Donald Cerrone.
His opponent, Jeremy Stephens was having his 14th UFC fight despite being just 25 years old, but that didn't matter to "Cowboy" who absolutely had his way with the Alliance MMA fighter over the course of three rounds.
So how did Cerrone avoid Stephens one-punch knockout power and fluster the "Lil' Heathen?" And what happens next for both lightweights?
Follow me after the jump for our Donald Cerrone vs. Jeremy Stephens UFC on Fuel TV 3 post-fight review and analysis:
Right away, Cerrone looked to establish his leg kicks.
The Greg Jackson-trained fighter has some of the best leg kicks in the lightweight division and he began pounding away at Stephens' lead leg early. As he gained confidence, Cerrone started stepping further and further inside so as to throw the kick with even more ferocity throughout the fight.
With Stephens worried about the leg kicks, this opened up plenty of opportunities for "Cowboy" to go to work with his terrific punching combinations as well. Cerrone utilized his reach brilliantly, keeping Stephens on the end of his straight punches and leg kicks for three straight rounds and as the fight wore on, he got more and more confident.
That's when the taunting started (see above picture). Stephens' left eye began to swell up bad, getting repeatedly blasted with uppercuts, jabs and straight punches and he could never find a home for that vicious one-shot power of his.
Time and time again, Stephens swung for the fences but hit nothing but air. He has that ability to change a fight with one strike, but Cerrone did a terrific job of avoiding it and constantly forcing Stephens to play defense. When Stephens would put both hands up to defend his head, Cerrone would drop down with punches to the body and then finished off nearly every combination with another leg kick.
By the end of the third round, Stephens was getting staggered with every kick to his lead leg and he was on rubbery legs. Hell, Cerrone even mixed in a couple takedowns just to keep Stephens even more off balance.
In the end, Cerrone emphatically scored a 30-27 clean sweep across the boards on all the scorecards, earning an easy unanimous decision.
For Jeremy Stephens, it simply wasn't his night. He wasn't ready for Cerrone's wide arsenal of attack and he showcased his current limitations pretty badly. When he can't score with his big power strikes, he has trouble getting any offense in at all as he doesn't jab much and most of his other attacks are very ineffective. Stephens got beat from bell to bell last night for 15 minutes and his face told the story of the fight. He was a mess.
For Donald Cerrone, this was a masterful performance. He did everything perfect from his striking to his wrestling to his defense. He never gave Stephens an opportunity to get comfortable and he just put a hurting on him for 15 straight minutes by mixing up his attack and really taking out his legs, which likely sapped a ton of "Lil' Heathen's" power and maneuverability. This was the Donald Cerrone that fans were hoping to see against Nate Diaz at UFC 141. If he'd fought like he did last night, it might be him who's getting the next title shot instead.
With his emphatic showing, it's evident that Cerrone needs a big fight. The fight that makes the most sense would be a lightweight battle against fellow WEC veteran Anthony Pettis as both men are in relatively similar situations at the top of the division and Pettis also needs a high caliber opponent while waiting for a potential shot at the belt down the line. If that doesn't work out, perhaps he can face Edson Barboza (if Barboza beats Jamie Varner) or maybe Gray Maynard if he gets past Clay Guida.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you as impressed with Cerrone's dominance as I was? What did you think of his ability to completely fluster and neutralize Stephens' power? Where did this performance rank him in the lightweight division now?