Two of the most entertaining strikers in the lightweight division will collide this Saturday night (May 25, 2013) as Donald Cerrone takes on K.J. Noons in the opening bout of the UFC 160 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Record: 19-5 (1 No Contest) overall, 6-2 in the UFC
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.
In his last performance against Anthony Pettis, he was completely outgunned in all facets, losing via first round TKO after eating a tremendous body kick.
How he gets it done: Both of these men are talented strikers, but Cerrone's biggest advantage is that he's got a much more diverse attack offensively.
Noons has spectacular boxing, but Cerrone is capable of working much more than just punches, firing off some vicious leg kicks and more if he so desires.
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 Noons down.
The kicks will be key for Cerrone, he just has to stay composed and not lose his cool in there. When he's under control, he's still one of the most dangerous lightweights in the world.
Record: 11-5 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Nick Diaz (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons 2), Jorge Masvidal (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum)
How he got here: Karl James Noons is one of the few fighters who has been successful at both boxing and MMA. Originally getting into combat sports as a kickboxer near the turn of the century, he got submitted in less than 30 seconds in his second MMA fight back in 2002.
After that, K.J. focused primarily on boxing for awhile but would make his return to mixed martial arts, achieving the highlight of his career thus far by defeating Nick Diaz via TKO (cuts) to become EliteXC's inaugural lightweight champion. After defending his title against Yves Edwards, Noons would be stripped of his belt for refusing to give Nick Diaz a rematch.
Noons would then sign with Strikeforce two years later and after winning his first two fights in the promotion, he was given a title shot against welterweight champion Nick Diaz in a much anticipated grudge match. The fight with Diaz was electric and both men hurt each other on several occasions but Diaz would go on to outstrike Noons and win the later rounds to take a unanimous decision victory and retain his title.
Noons dropped back down to the lightweight division to battle Jorge Masvidal for a lightweight title shot, but Masvidal had his way with him, beating him soundly in all areas and earning the title shot. Noons ended his two-fight skid by squeaking past Billy Evangelista.
After getting outgrappled by Josh Thomson, Noons lost a very close and controversial decision to Ryan Couture in the final Strikeforce event, but the bout was so entertaining that he was brought into the UFC fold regardless. Now he's out to try and make his mark against Cerrone this weekend.
How he gets it done: Despite years of training in MMA, it would still be best for Noons to stick to his roots which is his pure boxing. Whether it's at a distance working his jab or in the pocket where he can land his crosses and hooks, that's where he's most comfortable. What he needs to be careful about this time, however, is not to simply use boxing head movement. All that juking and ducking could have him lean right into a head kick some flashy strike to the face that he normally wouldn't see in the squared circle. He should try to learn from Marlon Sandro.
Noons should notes from Nate Diaz's performance against Cerrone and really go after the WEC veteran with a very high volume of strikes. Cerrone can get very emotional in the cage so if Noons can tap his chin a couple times or something, it would probably infuriate "Cowboy" and get him to make a mental mistake.
Taking Cerrone out of his gameplan would be wisest because that's when he's most vulnerable. If Cerrone lets his guard down, Noons could definitely take advantage and start clocking him with some big punches. He'd also be wise to mix up his punches, throwing heavily to the head and body when openings arise.
Who will come out on top at UFC 160? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!