Donald Cerrone lives up to his promise, but can he ascend?


Rod Mar-ESPN.com

While the hoopla has surrounded Conor McGregor throughout this week, there is another fan-favorite in the shadows. The Budweiser drinking, head kicking, and mountain climbing cowboy lurks in the co-main event. Donald Cerrone will be fighting for the sixth time this year. That can be looked as monumental or cringe worthy. Regardless of whatever level you put on him, you can’t say that he hasn’t lived up to his reputation

Cerrone has made himself into someone that is willing to fight on practically any card possible. He loves making money, particularly off performance of the night bonuses. It’s fitting that the two fighters that have built their brand the most in 2014 are on the same card. McGregor has clearly soared into the limelight through his emphatic knockouts and personality. Cerrone is not far behind in taking fights frequently and consistently partaking in wild activities before fight week

When it was announced that he would step in for Eddie Alvarez to face Benson Henderson, something immediately struck me. After his first-round knockout of Adriano Martins last January, Cerrone stated that he’d like to fight six times in one year.Everyone laughed off that claim deeming it impossible. Somehow he managed to pull it off through this one-year span. From January 25th of 2014, he’s fought Martins, Edson Barboza, Jim Miller, Alvarez, Myles Jury, and now Henderson. This has all happened within a one year span, when his fight takes place against Henderson on January 18th. Sure it wasn’t all in 2014, but this will transpire through one year.

It’s an incredible accomplishment, regardless if he continues his winning streak or not. Cerrone has become the most durable fighter in the sport that embraces fighting at a high level. He’s been blowing past every challenger throughout the past year without taking any significant damage. That wasn’t always the case for him in late 2011-2013. It was a rough stretch for Cerrone going 3-3, which started with the infamous one-sided defeat to Nate Diaz. It was one of the more memorable beatings from the lighter weight classes. While he soundly defeated Jeremy Stephens and Melvin Guillard, that momentum wouldn’t thrust him any further. A first round knockout loss to Anthony Pettis had many questioning about him rising above being a mere contender.

The loss to Pettis was another fight that he started out slow in, which has become a tendency in his career. Cerrone has proven to be a rhythm striker that usually doesn’t find his range until later in the first round. That proved to be costly in his loss to Rafael Dos Anjos, who rocked him in the first round and was in control of the second. The cowboy had lost another fight to a top ten opponent. His leg kicks were becoming predictable without posing much of a threat with his boxing. For no particular reason, Cerrone was persistent in looking for kicks to leg and body rather than going for the knockout in the third round.

It’s difficult to say that Cerrone was at a crossroads in his career. He’ll always be confident in his abilities to strike, grapple, and wrestle. The UFC could always use someone that is such a devastating finisher. Many journalists did question about the possibility of him becoming a gatekeeper. That led to his six fight winning streak and beating every one of his opponents convincingly. You can argue that Barboza tagged him in the first round and Alvarez had success in the clinch. In the end, both fights were clearly won by him.

Some mays still question Cerrone’s legitimacy as a contender. He’s received some favorable matchups from a stylistic standpoint (Barboza & Miller) to fighters who weren’t ready (Martins & Jury). Those are all fair critiques of his winning streak. That’s what makes his fight against Henderson so intriguing. Can he defeat a former UFC champion, who has already beaten him on two separate occasions?

Cerrone has clearly evolved from those respective fights in the WEC. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in what should be a highly contested fifteen minute battle. He may be a slow starter, but we’ve seen him finish his opponents in an instant. Cerrone hasn’t necessarily fought in many competitive fifteen minute battles, since his first loss to Henderson. Alvarez did test him early on in the first two rounds. Eventually, the task of overcoming a flurry of leg kicks was too insurmountable for Alvarez to overcome. We saw a few weeks ago that Jury was completely overmatched in their lackluster fight.

Henderson is truly one of the most durable and smartest fighters of all-time. You eliminate him getting caught by Dos Anjos or submitted by Pettis, the former champion has never been finished. He’ll catch any particular leg kick and complete a single leg or a trip. His ability to control the octagon and constantly enhance pressure without taking much damage is impeccable. Not many fighters are better rounded than him. Cerrone knows that it will likely take fifteen minutes of work to be successful barring something spectacular.

That is one of the main reasons in what makes this fight so captivating, besides the obvious circumstances. Cerrone had essentially twelve days to prepare for this bout. The “always ready” persona has reached the pinnacle in taking this fight. Cerrone can proudly lay claim towards fulfilling his six fights in a year wish.

Now can he ascend into beating one of the top five lightweights in the world? This has been the biggest roadblock throughout his career. While it may seem cruel to put pressure on a fighter, who is fighting under severe circumstances, this is the fight business. This was his choice in potentially damaging his hopes to fight for the lightweight title. The cowboy has propelled himself into becoming the ultimate fan favorite and building his brand like not many fighters can. This is also without talking a big game. Now it’s time for him to propel himself into title contention. That will have to be done by beating one of the very best in the world.

Twitter: @Allen_Strk

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