There’s a lot to be said about this weekend’s main event between Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje.
Firstly, this is Cerrone’s second fight in a row against a straight-up assassin; his last fight was against Tony Ferguson, and now Justin Gaethje, those are two of the most dangerous fighters in the entire game. The UFC just isn’t giving him much of a break when it comes to high-level opposition, not that he wants lackluster opponents, as he’s one of the best in the world himself.
“Cowboy” has always had great striking and great submissions, it’s kind of incredible what he did early on in his MMA career. After going 13-0 in amateur kickboxing and 28-0-1 in professional kickboxing, he turned to MMA. The crazy thing is, he never scored a knockout win until his sixteenth win, his twentieth fight, well past his WEC career.
He won 12 of his first 15 fights via submission. To have finished 18 of his 28 professional kickboxing wins via knockout, to have a 41-0-1 total record in the art, and then submit 80% of his opponents in his first 20 MMA fights, that’s incredible.
Cerrone has had many great points in his career; from coming to the UFC and winning his first four fights, back when the WEC roster supposedly wasn’t as good as the UFC’s guys, to going on his eight-fight win streak before challenging Rafael dos Anjos in a rematch for the UFC lightweight championship, to moving up to welterweight and winning his first four fights there.
What’s even crazier about that, he finished guys like Rick Story, Patrick Cote, and Matt Brown via (T)KO, all three guys that had never been stopped via strikes before, and Cote had fought at middleweight and light heavyweight as well. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson couldn’t even finish Cote.
Brown lost his previous fight via TKO to a body shot, but never got knocked out by a strike to his chin. Cerrone was the first to do it. Then after losing four of his next five, he beat Mike Perry, and went back to lightweight, again looking unstoppable. His last loss wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough to win, he fought “El Cucuy” – one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet – and his face just couldn’t take all that punishment.
Justin Gaethje is one of the toughest, roughest, most violent fighters any of us will ever see. He just walks his opponents down and throws leg kicks and heavy, accurate punches. One thing that’s helped Gaethje with his career is his incredible athleticism. He’s one of the more athletic fighters in the game today, and he also knows how to wrestle quite well. Even though he doesn’t use his wrestling for takedowns, he does sometimes use it to control his opponent with underhooks to get them in the position he wants them, kind of like he did to Edson Barboza.
After winning, and defending the WSOF lightweight championship five times, being a six-time world champion in MMA, with most of his wins via knockouts, we had to see him in the UFC. He made a massive impact once arriving to the promotion, quickly winning three Fight of the Year awards.
One of which was against Michael Johnson in his UFC debut, one against Eddie Alvarez, and the other against Dustin Poirier. Those were his first three fights in the UFC, and less than a year of fighting, literally that was a nine-month span, and he was awarded Fight of the Year for all three by multiple media outlets.
Donald Cerrone (36-12) 1 NC vs. Justin Gaethje (20-2)
Both of these two have vicious leg kicks, and both are great all-around strikers. Cerrone has the more diverse arsenal of kicks, as he’ll throw them to the legs, the body, and the head, whether it be round kicks, switch kicks, snap kicks, he has them all. However, as hard as Gaethje’s leg kicks are, that might make the difference.
The manner in which he throws them and the angles he can get them to land from is just remarkable, it’s been a big problem for everyone he’s fought, even the two guys that have beat him. He’ll even lock up a clinch and throw a leg kick from there, and land it. Both have good hands too, but Gaethje boasts much more power with his, and he has a pace that may be hard for Cerrone to deal with as well.
Then again, we have Cerrone’s high-level submission game, but will the fight even go to the floor? Cerrone has drastically improved his wrestling, both offensively and defensively, but will the fight hit the mat? It’s doubtful, at least for a period of time. Both of these guys are primarily strikers that love to stand and trade. Both are finishers as well, with Gaethje winning 17 of his 20 wins via knockout, as well as 10 knockouts and 17 submissions for Cerrone.
How does this stellar matchup play out this weekend?