This Saturday night (April 19, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza will go to war on the main card of UFC on FOX 11, airing live at 8 p.m. EST from Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
Both fighters were once thought to be future UFC title contenders at 155 pounds, but Cerrone and Barboza have spent the better part of the last two years righting the wrongs of heartbreaking losses.
No. 8-ranked Cerrone was last seen knocking out Adriano Martins with a vicious headkick at UFC on FOX 10. He's now on a two-fight win streak after submitting Evan Dunham in his previous fight, but "Cowboy's" work is far from done.
The talented kickboxer is 4-3 in his last seven mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts, destroying mid-level challengers but failing to rise to the occasion against top-level opposition like Anthony Pettis, Rafael dos Anjos, and Nate Diaz. While Barboza isn't quite at that level, he's no doubt dangerous enough to continue "Cowboy's" inconsistent run.
Cerrone recently admitted that he lost his fire for fighting, but has rediscovered it in order to make up for his "out of control" spending habits.
He's going to need it against Barboza, who has won three straight fights after defeating Danny Castillo via unanimous decision in a "Fight of the Night"-winning bout at UFC on FOX 9 in December 2013.
Similar to Cerrone, Barboza was on top of the world after his UFC 142 "Knockout of the Year"-winning wheel kick over Terry Etim. A shocking loss to former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) lightweight champion Jamie Varner sent him crashing back down the ladder, but he's finally been booked in a big name fight.
The flashy Brazilian striker has the chance to live up to the considerable hype he's carried since early 2012. He just has to corral "Cowboy" to do it.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Cerrone vs. Barboza:
Record: 22-6 (1), 9-3 UFC
Key Wins: Melvin Guillard (UFC 150), Evan Dunham (UFC 167), Dennis Siver (UFC 137)
Key Losses: Anthony Pettis (UFC on FOX 6), Nate Diaz (UFC 141), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 27), Benson Henderson (WEC 43, WEC 48)
Keys to Victory: Cerrone brings a mixed bag of talent to the cage; that much is not on trial. With a background as a United States kickboxing champion, Cerrone presents a threat to even the best 155-pound fighters in the world.
However, his worst enemy has been his own mental preparation, something for which Cerrone has recently enlisted the tutelage of a sports psychologist. He's claimed to have regained his love for the sport, and his recent results have proved that statement to be true.
Cerrone actually has more submission wins than knockouts in MMA, owning 14 as compared to only three striking stoppages.
That's going to pay dividends for him at UFC on FOX 11. Even though he has an extensive Muay Thai background, there's no need to engage Barboza in his glaring strong suit.
Cerrone has a lethal and varied arsenal when the fight hits the ground. His best weapon is his triangle choke, but he also ends fights with his armbar and guillotine choke. Benefitting from the elite gameplans of Greg Jackson, Cerrone should be looking to take this fight to the ground and submit Barboza.
"Junior" has never tapped out, but he only has a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Cerrone might be able to hang with him on the feet; however, he certainly holds the advantage on the mat.
He can't let his pride get in the way of neutralizing a striker as dangerous as Barboza, so the result of this fight will hinge on Cerrone's mental game as much as his technical skills.
Record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 UFC
Key Wins: Terry Etim (UFC 142), Ross Pearson (UFC 134), Anthony Njokuani (UFC 128), Danny Castillo (UFC on FOX 9), Lucas Martins (UFC on FX 7)
Key Losses: Jamie Varner (UFC 146)
Keys to Victory: Barboza steamrolled his way onto the MMA scene, winning the Ring of Combat (ROC) lightweight title after only six pro fights. Many thought he was headed for UFC gold after he won his first four bouts in the Octagon, but his upset loss to Varner threw a major wrench in those plans.
Barboza has shown that he's been able to put that behind him, appearing as dangerous as ever in recent bouts.
Now he's faced with a stiff test in Cerrone, a fighter who can match his stand-up skills and probably dominate him on the ground.
"Cowboy" has only been knocked out once, and that was by UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. To pick up the biggest win of his MMA career, Barboza has to make this his fight.
He can do that by implementing a high volume of his famous leg kicks. Doing so will sap Cerrone's power while keeping him at range. It'll also help Barboza keep the fight standing and avoid going to the ground at all costs.
While Cerrone has an impressive 28-0-1 kickboxing record, his loss to dos Anjos showed that he could be picked apart by a fighter not normally known for his striking skills.
That could mean trouble for "Cowboy."
Barboza should be ready to defend any takedown attempts that come his way, something that he's been absolutely stellar at thus far. We haven't seen Barboza put in a whole lot of trouble on the ground, so Cerrone will certainly be looking to make that happen.
If Barboza can find his rhythm and keep Cerrone out of grappling range, a path to his greatest victory will arise.
Bottom Line from Orlando: The bottom line for this fight is that it is a proving ground for both lauded fighters. Cerrone has shown all the talent in the world, but has faltered when it came time to prove himself against the best.
Barboza only has one loss, and he seems fueled by a fire to prove it was a fluke.
He can instantly catapult himself into outside title contention by defeating Cerrone, but he has to keep this fight standing to do so. Barboza is motivated and hungry, a place that Cerrone has allegedly returned to.
That makes this match-up an easy pick for "Fight of the Night" in Orlando. Both fighters have shown a penchant for earning post-fight bonuses, and with high stakes on the line this Saturday night, this fight will be no different.
This fight is going to show which one is truly ready to contend with the elite lightweights in UFC. The loser will go back to the drawing board, perhaps destined to be a high-level gatekeeper for the foreseeable future.
That's not a fate that either man wants, so expect a hotly contested war. Enjoy the fight.
Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza will faceoff in a battle of two of the best lightweight strikers in all of MMA. Cerrone has gained the unfortunate reputation of faltering against top competition, but he's looked very solid in his last two outings.
Barboza has done the same, making this bout an unpredictable one. Which fighter will rise to the occasion on the grand stage?