Two of the most explosive and entertaining lightweights on the UFC roster take center stage this Saturday night (Jan. 26, 2013) as Donald Cerrone takes on former WEC champion Anthony Pettis on the UFC on Fox 6 main card in Chicago, Illinois.
Donald Cerrone has looked terrific since making the transition to the UFC, fighting a very hectic and active schedule, winning four straight fights in short order before finally being halted by Nate Diaz last December. He's bounced back in a big way with two straight wins including a violent first round knockout over former teammate Melvin Guillard Now he's looking to enter title contention with a win over a former WEC champ.
Anthony Pettis could have earned a title shot in his UFC debut, but he chose to take a fight against Clay Guida instead, which derailed his championship hopes when he was upset. Since then, he's outwrestled Jeremy Stephens and then violently knocked out Joe Lauzon to once again enter the mix. Now, after recovering from shoulder surgery, he'll be looking to earn that number one contender position with a victory of a WEC rival.
Will Cerrone delay "Showtime's" rise to the top of the heap? Can Pettis come back 100 percent from a lengthy layoff? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 19-4 (1 No Contest) overall, 6-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Nate Diaz (UFC 141), Ben Henderson 2x (WEC 48, WEC 43)
How he got here: Cerrone, a former bull-rider, transitioned to mixed martial arts (MMA) and got off to a very hot start. He was undefeated in his first 10 fights, working all the way up to a WEC title fight with then-champion Jamie Varner.
Cerrone would come up short via close split technical decision. Despite the setback, the Greg Jackson-trained fighter would go on to battle Ben Henderson for the interim title when Varner was sidelined. "Cowboy" would lose another close decision in what was deemed the 2009 "Fight of the Year." After again bouncing back, the Colorado native would try (and fail) for a third time at WEC gold in a rematch with Henderson, but would at least get redemption against Varner in his next fight, soundly defeating the former champ via unanimous decision.
After defeating Chris Horodecki in the final WEC event ever, Cerrone made his UFC debut on the Spike TV "Prelims" of UFC 126 against Paul Kelly. "Cowboy" surprised many by working his ground game against the Brit and completely outclassed "Tellys," earning a submission victory by way of rear naked choke in the second round.
He would continue his torrid 2011 with a decision over Vagner Rocha, his first knockout victory over Charles Oliveira and then he capped it off by destroying top contender Dennis Siver before the midway point of the first round. After his impressive showing against Siver, he called for one more fight in 2011 and he had his wish granted against Nate Diaz, but he bit off more than he could chew, losing a dominant unanimous decision against the Stockton slugger.
Cerrone returned to action against Jeremy Stephens at UFC on Fuel TV 3, dominating the "Lil' Heathen" via unanimous decision to get back on track and then he weathered the first minute storm from Melvin Guillard to knock his former teammate out viciously.
Now, he'll be fighting with a potential shot at the belt on the line this Saturday night against Pettis.
How he gets it done: Both of these men are talented, but Cerrone's biggest advantage is that he's fought a more active schedule. He's going to want to come hot out of the gate and not let Pettis warm up and get loose.
Pettis' last loss was to Clay Guida and his wrestling, but "Cowboy" doesn't possess the offensive grappling attack to put the Duke Roufus-trained fighter on the ground and keep him there. What he does have is a diverse and aggressive striking attack which could give Pettis fits if he keeps his strikes flowing with a high volume.
Footwork will be key for Cerrone. He'll have to throw his punches in combination and try to finish off every striking exchange with a heavy leg kick. His leg kicks can be downright brutal and if he does enough damage with them, he might slow Pettis down enough to hurt him with his punches or even a head kick.
Record: 15-2 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Ben Henderson (WEC 53), Joe Lauzon (UFC 144), Jeremy Stephens (UFC 136)
Key Losses: Clay Guida (Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale), Bart Palaszewski (WEC 45)
How he got here: Anthony got his start in the Gladiator Fighting Series, going 8-0 on the Wisconsin local circuit with seven of those wins coming by way of first round stoppage. Pettis would earn a trip to the WEC and he would debut with a triangle choke submission over Mike Campbell in June of 2009.
After suffering a split decision setback to Bart Palaszewski, "Showtime" would kick into high gear with three consecutive stoppage performances against the likes of Danny Castillo, Shane Roller and Alex Karalexis. His career defining fight would be his title shot against then-WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson in the final World Extreme Cagefighting event ever, WEC 53.
With the WEC title (and a shot at UFC gold) on the line, Pettis and Henderson put on a performance for the ages and you all should know how it ended by now. Final minute of the fight and "Showtime" pulls off the craziest kick in MMA history to score a near fight-ending knockdown that sealed the victory for the youngster.
Pettis chose to forgo his UFC title shot and, rather than wait, he accepted a bout with Clay Guida, but couldn't handle "The Carpenter's" wrestling skills and would lose a decision. He showcased offensive wrestling skills of his own against Jeremy Stephens, winning another close decision. After getting back on track, he thoroughly demolished Joe Lauzon with a beautiful head kick in Japan to return to the top five at lightweight.
Unfortunately, Pettis injured his shoulder and has taken longer than expected to fully recover. Finally healthy after nearly a year off, he's ready to roll against Cerrone and enter discussion as the top contender with a victory.
How he gets it done: What makes Pettis so fun to watch is his willingness to think outside the box and try crazy new things. It's not just the "Showtime kick" either. Pettis has been willing to throw anything from crazy capoeira kicks to insane cage somersault sweeps from mount. That's part of what makes him great, but can also be a hindrance. At times, he's looked to do something crazy rather than to actually be effective and win.
Look for Pettis to really work his kicking game. Only fellow UFC lightweights John Makdessi or Edson Barboza rival "Showtime" in terms flashy kicks. He's got very powerful leg, body and head kicks if he's allowed to get in the proper range. He'll have to make sure to check kicks as well since his opponent, Donald Cerrone, can respond with some heavy leg kicks of his own.
Pettis has a pretty good ground game but it'll likely be a wash against Cerrone, a fighter who's won most of his career fights via submission and who possesses a respectable offensive wrestling attack of his own..
What will be really important is for Pettis to not come out too slow and try to work himself back into a good groove. It's been a while since he's actively fought inside the Octagon and he might need a few minutes to shake the rust off. The first round could be very important for Pettis as he's likely going to be vulnerable for a bit.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be Anthony Pettis' Shoulder injury. Sometimes it takes a fighter a while to truly recover from injuring one of the most vital joints on a fighter's body, look no further than Jon Fitch. He can't afford to dive in too aggressively against someone as dangerous as Cerrone in those opening minutes, at least not until he's gotten a feel for the Octagon again.
If Cerrone doesn't take advantage of the early window in the beginning of the fight, he might be setting himself up for trouble against the talented young Wisconsin native.
Bottom Line: This fight has potential to bring down the house. Both Pettis and Cerrone are extremely dynamic strikers and are capable of finishing a fight at any moment whether it be via strikes or submissions. Both can throw anything from spinning attacks, jumping off the side of the cage or heavy punches. Expect anything and everything and definitely don't blink. Chances of this fight being boring are slim to none.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fox 6? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!