Former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) title contender, Donald Cerrone, is set to scrap with New Jersey native, Jim Miller, this Wednesday night (July 16, 2014) at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey (results here).
"Cowboy" may just be the poster boy for inconsistency in mixed martial arts (MMA).
At times, Cerrone looks utterly dominant and capable of brutalizing anyone in the division. Then, he'll walk into the cage, start slow, and put on a ho-hum performance that leaves fans questioning his potential. And since Cerrone fights so damn often -- this will be Cerrone's fourteenth bout since the 2011 merger of the WEC and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- it seems like this cycle repeats itself once every year or so.
Well, Cerrone is currently looking like a world beater. He has destroyed his last three opponents, finishing and earning a post-fight bonus each time. If he can earn another highlight reel win over Miller, Cerrone's likely earned a title eliminator bout.
Will he finally land a title shot?
Let's find out.
One of the best pure Muay Thai strikers in the lightweight division, Cerrone's hands are constantly being sharpened by Mike Winkeljohn. Despite only have three wins via knockout, Cerrone's strikes pack a legitimate amount of power as well.
Cerrone is at his best when he can keep his opponent at the end of both his punches and kicks. Though Cerrone can punch hard, he primarily boxes just to set up his low kicks. Once he has his opponent retreating from his punches, Cerrone will drill his retreating opponent with a leg kick, as it's almost impossible to check the leg kick while moving backwards.
For the most part, Cerrone relies on his long, straight punches. While pushing forward, Cerrone pumps a sharp jab and will follow it with his right hand. In addition, Cerrone likes to lead with his right cross, and he often relies on it as his kill shot once his foe is hurt.
Cerrone does a very nice job mixing punches to the body as well, which should be expected of a Muay Thai-style fighter. In his fight with Adriano Martins, Cerrone used a mix of straight rights to the body, body kicks, and low kicks to continually lower the Brazilian's hands.
Though Cerrone can kick well at any height, his low kicks are the most effective part of his game. Once Cerrone settles into his rhythm and has his opponent reacting to punches and feints, he will accurately drill his shin into his opponent's thigh repeatedly. Cerrone doesn't have the quickest hands, but his kicks are very fast and rarely caught or countered.
The switch kick is also a favorite weapon in Cerrone's arsenal. Cerrone disguises the step very well, usually with a feinted punch. Plus, Cerrone's back foot moving often means that a strong roundhouse kick is about to fire off at his opponent, meaning that Cerrone's foe can never be entirely confident with what technique Cerrone's using.
With the switch kick, Cerrone is able to punish both the inside and outside of his opponent's leg. This quickens the swelling and limits his opponent's mobility faster. In addition, Cerrone frequently will go high with the switch kick, often after going low with one.
In order for his style to work, Cerrone has to keep his opponent at the edge of his range. To do this, he primarily relies on two tools: his stepping knee and teep kick.
As the tall fighter who very much likes to stand tall, Cerrone has to be wary of overhands and other looping punches. When his opponent pushes forward with such strikes, Cerrone will attempt to interrupt their strike by standing his ground and shooting out a hard knee to the chest. Recently, this technique landed on Evan Dunham nearly every time Cerrone threw it, knocking the jiu-jitsu black belt off-balance repeatedly.
If Cerrone's opponent attempts to inch closer, then Cerrone will look to blast him back with a rear leg teep to the stomach. A difficult strike to counter, this is one of the best ways Cerrone keeps his opponent off of him.
As mentioned at the start of this article, Cerrone can be a slow starter. This is particularly relevant in his stand up, as aggressive fighters (such as Nate Diaz) have blitzed Cerrone with boxing before he can really settle into the fight. When that happens, Cerrone cannot establish his kicking range and is left to rely on his boxing, which has some harsh defensive flaws.
Cerrone punches well while stepping forward, but that's about it. He's not much of a counter puncher, and he fights so tall that he can't use his footwork to escape most flurries. That means that if Cerrone's opponent gets close to him and can let loose with a combination of punches, Cerrone usually just covers up and absorbs until his opponent stops.
Cerrone is very much a stand up fighter and usually only goes to the ground after knocking his opponent down. In his last few fights, "Cowboy" has actually initiated some takedowns, so perhaps he's working on being a bit more unpredictable.
When Cerrone looks to take his foe down, he usually waits for him to push forward with punches. Then, Cerrone will change his level and drive through his opponent's waist with a running double leg. It's not a standard wrestling takedown; Cerrone's knee never touches the mat, meaning he doesn't get nearly as low. However, since Cerrone doesn't have to bring his torso all the way down to his opponent's knees, it's a quicker motion.
Therefore, Cerrone's timing on the shot is imperative.
Defensively, Cerrone's wrestling has been outstanding in the UFC. Outside of an extremely flat performance against Raphael Dos Anjos, Cerrone's been able to remain on his feet at all times. This is largely due to his range control, in which his sharp kicks and stepping knee keep his opponent too far away to effectively shoot.
It also helps that Cerrone's clinch is fairly dangerous and tricky. Cerrone possesses a number of trips from within the clinch -- both Muay Thai style dumps and jiu-jitsu trips -- but also viciously attacks with knees whenever his opponent attempts to push him up against the fence.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
With an impressive fifteen victories via submission, Cerrone has proven both his killer instinct and technical ability. Whenever Cerrone hurts his opponent with strikes, he immediately attacks his opponent with a bevy of submission attempts.
Usually, Cerrone immediately looks to hop onto his opponent's back and sneak his forearm around the neck for a rear naked choke. The benefit of looking for the choke to finish is simply: if the rocked fighter leaves a single opening for Cerrone's arm to slip through, the fight is over.
Off of his back, Cerrone is very good at fully utilizing his length. While pushing at his opponent's hips, Cerrone is constantly looking to push an arm through for a triangle, swivel his hips for an armbar, or overhook one of his opponent's arms to attack with the omoplata. Once he attacks with one of these submissions, Cerrone is excellent at transitioning between them.
Cerrone's fight with Evan Dunham was an extremely impressive display of his grappling, largely because Dunham has excellent jiu-jitsu and is good at using it inside the Octagon. After getting swept by Dunham's deep half, Cerrone flowed with the transition, trapping Dunham's arm in an omoplata. Instead of settling and accepting his position on the bottom, Cerrone quickly came back with his own offense. Dunham only held top position for a couple seconds, as he was quickly rolled by the shoulder lock.
In the second round, a similar situation occurred. Again, Dunham hit a beautiful deep half guard sweep. As he looked to come up, Cerrone attacked with a triangle, which Dunham shook off. However, when he pulled out of the submission, he created a lot of space. Not wanting Cerrone to return to his feet and continue beating him up, Dunham recklessly pushed into Cerrone's guard.
As Dunham moved in, Cerrone caught one of his arms and pushed it through his legs. Having trapped him in a triangle, Cerrone smoothly grabbed one of Dunham's legs, adjusted his angle, and rolled him over. From that position, Dunham could not move and had all of "Cowboy's" weight on him, leaving him with the final option of submitting.
Best chance for success
It's important that Cerrone gets plenty warmed up prior to his match against Miller. He likely has a conditioning advantage to go along with his striking one, meaning that he should be able to take over the bout as long as he doesn't give it away early.
Which, with "Cowboy," is always an option.
Cerrone's game of fighting long needs to be on point against Miller. He should up the number of jabs and teep kicks he throws, as Miller doesn't seem likely to counter either. In addition, it will be harder for Miller to shoot for takedowns from far away.
I really think Cerrone's stepping knee could be very effective in this bout. Miller is a fairly short lightweight and likes to drop his weight and lunge with his left hand. If Cerrone digs a knee into his chest when Miller does this, he not only takes away one of Miller's best weapons, but also will take a chunk out of his conditioning. Plus, it'll be easy to land a few hard leg kicks as Miller catches his breath.
Check out our full fighter breakdown for Miller here.
Will Cerrone fight to his potential and take out Jim Miller, or will the jiu-jitsu black belt get a win in front of his home crowd?