Muay Thai bruiser and frequent-fight-finisher, Donald Cerrone, will battle with fellow "Cowboy," Alex Oliveira, this Sunday (Feb. 21, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 83 inside Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
After stomping many Lightweight contenders, but falling to the division's most elite, Cerrone had one last chance to secure the strap after putting together seven straight wins. However, his title bid ended in disaster, as Rafael dos Anjos quickly handed the kickboxer a technical knockout loss.
Since that loss, "Cowboy" has decided to return to doing what he does best: Fighting anyone, anywhere. This time around, Cerrone is stepping up to Welterweight, though it's unclear how long he intends to spend fighting in the 170-pound division.
Let's take a closer look at Cerrone's skill set:
A fantastic Muay Thai striker, Cerrone is best known for his snapping kicks, which have felled opponents to the legs, body and head over the years. He's also got decent power in his hands and a cast-iron jaw, making him a difficult man to trade with for the majority of fighters.
To be most effective, Cerrone needs distance to work. He's simply not the best nor quickest combination boxer and is there to be hit in the boxing exchanges, making that range less than ideal for him.
To that end, Cerrone has added several tools to his game to address this issue. In fact, it was these developments that allowed Cerrone to go on such a successful win streak, even if he did fail to capture the strap.
One of the most important weapons in Cerrone's new and improved arsenal is the teep kick (GIF). The teep is a staple of Muay Thai for this exact purpose -- it's the perfect weapon to keep opponents at distance. For Cerrone -- who's a very lanky fighter -- he can utilize this strike as a standard distance attack to do damage and prevent his opponent from moving forward.
However, the teep kick can only be thrown to maintain distance. If he tries to throw the teep once his opponent is already within punching range, there's a distant chance the kick will be jammed up and Cerrone will eat a few punches.
That's where the step knee comes in.
Because of "Cowboy's" height, it's very common for his opponent's to lower their level while punching with him, either to throw an overhand or dig to the body. Either way, Cerrone has a brutally effective counter, as he quickly throws a stepping left knee (GIF). The quick step into Southpaw that usually precedes the knee is key, clearing a path for the knee against an Orthodox opponent, same way a body kick from Southpaw often slips through.
Both of these strikes serve the same purpose -- prevent Cerrone from ending up in boxing exchanges with his opponent. In addition, both strikes are particularly painful and eat away at his opponent's conditioning, meaning that trying to close the distance on "Cowboy" quickly becomes a miserable task. Considering Cerrone's deep gas tank and high output, it's little wonder why these weapons have become such a staple of his game.
The last development is perhaps the least interesting, but it may be the most important. Cerrone has done an excellent job reworking his footwork, ensuring he doesn't back straight up. Rather than getting backed into the cage and being chewed up by long combinations, Cerrone instead angles off once his opponent gets too close for comfort.
Once "Cowboy" establishes his range and has successfully enforced it, he's one of the nastiest strikers in the sport. His emphasis is obviously on kicking, but Cerrone is an effective puncher as well (GIF). He commonly uses long, straight punches to push his opponent backwards, leaving them open for his devastating low kick. In addition, he mixes shots to the body often, usually with the goal of lower his opponent's hands for an eventual high kick (GIF).
Cerrone can kick with power at any height, but his low kick is something special (GIF). He keeps his leg very loose as he throws the strike, quickly slamming the snapping kick into his opponent's thigh like a whip. It's quick, damaging and quite difficult to catch.
Before long, even standing up can become very challenging for his opponent (GIF).
Another staple of Cerrone's kickboxing is the switch kick. He disguises the quick step well, usually hiding it behind a punch or, more often, a feint. Early on, Cerrone will use the switch kick to dig into the inside of his opponent's lead leg, which quickens the destruction of that leg significantly. Then, Cerrone will change it up and go high with his switch kick, which has caught many of his past opponents (GIF).
Cerrone has never been an impossible fighter to hit, in large part due to his own activity level. In short, it's largely impossible to throw such a high number of hard strikes like Cerrone without taking some in return. While Cerrone's chin and toughness have largely kept him safe, it's not unreasonable to recognize that Cerrone's mid-section is weaker than his jawline. Both Pettis and dos Anjos stopped him with body kicks, and Nate Diaz scored with a lot of body shots early in their scrap, which may have helped him overwhelm his opponent so effectively.
In addition to his striking improvements, Cerrone has developed his wrestling game as well. Most notably, he's gotten a bit more active about mixing offensive takedowns into his attack, which helped him win the controversial decision opposite Benson Henderson.
Cerrone, as is becoming a trend among tall strikers with excellent distance control, likes to utilize the high double leg. When Cerrone takes the shot, he drives through his opponent in a combination of a double leg takedown and body lock. It may look a bit awkward, but it's usually pretty effective.
That effectiveness is largely due to timing. If his opponent expects the takedown, it will be easy to defend, as Cerrone isn't in great position to power through a strong base. However, since Cerrone is a veteran striker who understands range, it can be very effective for him.
Additionally, Cerrone is skilled in the clinch with a variety of takedowns. He commonly looks for Muay Thai style dumps from the double-collar tie, and he's also scored with some jiu-jitsu trips as well (GIF).
Cerrone's takedown defense has improved significantly as well. Outside of his first loss to dos Anjos, he's had little trouble staying on his feet. His excellent distance control is obviously a major part of this, as getting close to him is difficult. Plus, the step knee is a great deterrent as well, as a poorly set up shot could have his opponent run face-first into the knee.
With an impressive 15 victories via submission, Cerrone has proven both his killer instinct and technical ability. After stunning an opponent, Cerrone usually hunts for the submission rather than the knockout finish.
Once his foe is hurt, Cerrone immediately looks to hop onto the 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 in his frazzled mental state for Cerrone's arm to slip through, the fight is over. His mental toughness and durability no longer matter, as it's simply impossible to "tough out" a deep rear-naked choke (GIF).
From 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 rarely out-grappled. After being 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 similar fashion, Cerrone reversed Myles Jury immediately after being taken down.
In the second round, a similar exchange occurred. Once again, Dunham hit a beautiful deep half guard sweep. As he looked to come up into guard, 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 back 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 (GIF).
There's not too much to read into this fight, as it's a prime example Cerrone's approach to the fight game. At this point, Cerrone isn't looking to build momentum toward challenging for another belt. Instead, he's looking to fight as frequently as possible -- and therefore get paid more -- and win in exciting fashion. So long as there are cards that need to be filled and injured fighters that need to be replaced, Cerrone will have little trouble finding himself fights like this one.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.