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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 132’s Donald Cerrone

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) staple, Donald Cerrone, will square off with up-and-coming Englishman, Leon Edwards, this Saturday (June 23, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 132 inside Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore.

“Cowboy” Cerrone has a deserved reputation as one of UFC’s most active and dangerous fights, a trait I can attest to simply based on how many times I’ve written about him as a headliner. The kickboxer has been competing at the highest level for the better part of a decade, improving all the while, but recently Cerrone has fallen on hard times. Indeed, a three-fight losing streak to a trio of Top 10-ranked Welterweights definitely took its toll on Cerrone, making 2017 the roughest calendar year of his career. Cerrone bounced back into the win column last February, but it will take another victory this weekend to really confirm that Cerrone has some big victories left in him.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Cerrone is among the nastiest offensive strikers in the sport. When able to set the range and tempo of a fight, Cerrone completely breaks opponents down with a blistering pace of punches, knees, elbows, and especially kicks. More than anything else, Cerrone excels at differing his targets inside the same combination, making it quite difficult to defend everything.

Range is a huge factor in just about every fight, but it’s vital for Cerrone. He’s never fared well in the boxing range, as tends to end up standing a bit tall and punching with wide elbows. Even if he was out-boxed in those aforementioned three losses, Cerrone’s hands have improved since his jump to Welterweight. This was most noticeable in his victory over Patrick Cote. In that bout, Cerrone kept his composure when pressured, and the result was a few violent — if slightly awkward — left hooks that eventually ended the bout (GIF).

Opposite the relentless forward combinations of Yancy Medeiros, Cerrone did a pretty nice job of angling and pivoting off past the lead leg of his opponent. Medeiros is so forward in his attack that he proved the perfect target, and Cerrone was able to drop his opponent with a counter cross after angling a couple of times (GIF).

Kickboxing from range is very much Cerrone’s ideal strategy. He’s added weapons to his game in order to maintain that distance, as well as improved his footwork. Arguably the most effective new weapon is his snap kick/teep up the middle (GIF). Against a foe looking to close the distance, jamming the ball of the foot into the meat of the mid-section is a great deterrence.

If Cerrone’s opponent is already too close for the snap kick to be an option, Cerrone will look for the intercepting knee. Often, fighters try to move in behind level changes or head movement to close the distance — which is sound strategy — but a knee straight up the middle will interrupt it. Opposite a Southpaw, Cerrone will fire the right knee into the open side, whereas he’ll make use of the switch knee opposite fellow right-handed fighters (GIF).

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. His emphasis is obviously on kicking, but Cerrone is an effective offensive puncher at distance as well (GIF). He commonly uses long, straight punches to push his opponent backward, leaving them open for his devastating low kick.

Cerrone’s combinations are rarely excellent when he’s allowed to initiate. For example, check out his gorgeous high kick KO of Rick Story (GIF). The violence starts with a counter jab that blinds his opponent, setting up a stiff cross to the mid-section. The body shot crumbles Story a bit, leaving him very open to the uppercut, which pops him right back up into the direction of a high kick.

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).

Even with the addition of the snap kick/intercepting knee and better footwork, Cerrone’s defensive issues remain. The bottom line is that Cerrone is not a great boxer and avoids the pocket as a result. Unfortunately, each of his last three losses have come to slick boxers who applied smart pressure, which is undoubtedly the blueprint to defeating Cerrone even if it’s a tricky one to employ.

In addition, Southpaw opponents make Cerrone’s life more difficult. It does open up his right kick more often, but it’s much easier for a lesser Southpaw kicker to match his efforts with their own power kick. Meanwhile, Cerrone’s switch kick — a big foundation for much of his success — is far less helpful. Lastly, the man with crispest, straightest cross is at a much bigger advantage in Southpaw-Orthodox exchanges, and that man is usually not “Cowboy.”


Cerrone’s wrestling is definitely an underappreciated and underutilized skill. It’s been many years since a fighter found consistent success in dragging Cerrone to the mat and holding him down — once considered the blueprint to beating Cerrone in the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) days — whereas “Cowboy” has been double legging foes more actively each year.

Cerrone, like many tall strikers with strong 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’s a great technique for MMA even if it’s not classic wrestling, as it’s rather difficult to defend, as a full sprawl can simply give Cerrone an easy shuck to the back clinch. That said, it’s imperative that this type of shot be timed properly, as it will otherwise leave him in poor position.

In addition, 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 will occasionally look to land trips from the body lock as well.

Cerrone’s takedown defense has improved significantly since the WEC days. Outside of his loss to dos Anjos back in 2013, he’s had little trouble staying on his feet in the cage regardless of division. Even then, his foe was only able to win a single round via takedowns. His 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.

Aside from all that, Cerrone is simply good at defending the shot. He keeps a wide base, balances well, and fights for underhooks only until he can rip off elbows or knees of his own. Cardio is also a factor, as Cerrone’s excellent conditioning means he tends to defend the shot in round two and three even if his foe managed to score an early double leg. A great example of this came opposite Rick Story. Early in the fight, the two traded takedowns and brief top control, but as the fight wore on, Story came nowhere close to putting Cerrone on his back.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

With an impressive 16 victories via submission, Cerrone has proven both his killer instinct and technical ability. After stunning an opponent, Cerrone immediately looks to jump on him with a submission.

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 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 sunk in 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.

Of the three submissions, Cerrone is most effective with the triangle. It’s been a staple of his game for a long time, and we took a look at how he scored his two most recent submission wins via triangle in this week’s technique highlight.


It’s easy to overlook just how long Cerrone has been facing top opposition until you look at the statistics. Cerrone is currently tied for most wins in UFC history with Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre — two fighters who are at least somewhat retired at the moment. In this bout, Cerrone will look to prove that a similar career move is at least several years off.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional 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.

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