Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Donald Cerrone and John Makdessi will battle this Saturday (May 23, 2015) at UFC 187 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Cerrone is on a hell of a win streak. Despite having his original opponent -- unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov -- pull out of this bout, it's still quite likely that "Cowboy" can earn a title shot with another victory here.
On the other hand, Makdessi just returned to the win column after a lengthy layoff. While he's nowhere near the top of the 155-pound division, Makdessi will have an opportunity to shock the world.
Let's take a closer look at the keys to victories for each fighter:
Record: 27-6 (1)
Key Wins: Benson Henderson (UFC Fight Night 59), Eddie Alvarez (UFC 178), Myles Jury (UFC 182)
Key Losses: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 27), Anthony Pettis (UFC on FOX 6)
Keys to Victory: Cerrone is an excellent Muay Thai kickboxer who has spent much of his career chopping down fighters as they back away from his punches. In the last couple years, Cerrone's striking has further developed quite a bit, introducing hard front kicks and stepping knees into his attack.
This fight is all about low kicks for "Cowboy." Because of the way Makdessi stands, clean low kicks have great potential to do serious damage and put him out of position. Even in his land fight -- in which Makdessi scored an early knockout -- he was already getting worn down by his opponent's sharp kicks.
However, Cerrone needs to be careful. Makdessi may eat low kicks, but he also looks to counter them heavily. If Cerrone does throw his leg kick without first getting Makdessi to retreat, he needs to be ready to circle off. Alternatively, Cerrone could change levels and look for a takedown, another greatly improved aspect of his game.
If Cerrone gets on top via strikes or takedowns, he's in a fantastic position. Makdessi is not the best submission grappler around, and Cerrone is notoriously quick to jump on submissions.
That's a dangerous combination for "The Bull."
Key Wins: Shane Campbell (UFC 186), Daron Cruickshank (UFC 158), Sam Stout (UFC 154)
Key Losses: Alan Patrick (UFC 169)
Keys to Victory: Makdessi has a karate background and occasionally mixes some spinning attacks into his offense, but his boxing is really the highlight of his game. In particular, Makdessi has won of the sharpest jabs in the division, undoubtedly honed by the coaches at Tristar.
In the past, Makdessi has been reluctant to really open up with his strikes. While his opponent is also a historically slow starter -- meaning Makdessi isn't really at risk of getting touched up because he isn't warm -- Makdessi also doesn't want "Cowboy" to settle into his rhythm.
When that happens, Cerrone's one of the best in the world.
Instead, Makdessi needs to immediately take the center of the Octagon and put Cerrone on his back foot. Cerrone has made large improvements to his defense, but his defense during combinations and exchanges is still not the best.
To take advantage of that, Makdessi needs to counter every single time Cerrone throws. If Cerrone tries to kick from his back foot, Makdessi should be in great position to hurt him for it. Should Cerrone attack with punches, Makdessi can slip and rip with his big right hand.
While this plan does leave Makdessi vulnerable to Cerrone's front kicks and knees, it's still his best path to victory.
Bottom Line: This will almost certainly be a hugely entertaining fight and it could produce the next title challenger.
While Nurmagomedov would've looked better on Cerrone's resume, this is an easier fight for him with the same rewards. If "Cowboy" extends his win streak to eight, he deserves and will likely receive a shot at Rafael dos Anjos' crown.
However, a loss would be far more devastating. Makdessi is a talented fighter, but he's still relatively unheralded. If Cerrone loses to this short-notice foe, it would ruin his streak and strip him of a lot of momentum.
Although, Cerrone would probably be happy to go back to fighting every few weeks to build it all back up.
Makdessi has been given a major opportunity. Though the odds are against him, a win pushes him into the rankings and likely into the Top 10. Makdessi has been in UFC for five years now and has yet to gather much momentum, so this is his chance to change all that in a single night.
Plus, if Makdessi loses, it's expected. He won't lose any ground and will earn some props for stepping up. If he gives Cerrone any trouble, he may even get a fairly high profile match up next time around.
At UFC 187, Donald Cerrone and John Makdessi will duel on the main card. Which fighter will have his hand raised?