Donald Cerrone keeps getting *this* close to a UFC title shot and yet not get that final win to earn it. He’s a Top 10 lightweight, for sure, but his last two losses (Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz) have come when a title shot was on the line. Is he the poor man’s version of Kenny Florian, destined to lose right before a title shot, in terms of career trajectory? A fight this Wednesday against the surging Rafael Dos Anjos will be a good indicator.
Fight Breakdown: Cerrone brings a slick kickboxing game to the table, balanced out by a deadly submission game. The key to understanding how Cerrone fights is that he’s always going for the kill. He’s a finisher when he gets the opportunity, only going to decision a handful of times. It’s also a bit of an Achilles Heel because he tends to get finished in defeat as well; Cerrone is a better version of Joe Lauzon in that regard. He’s got great striking and is willing to take one to give one. Cerrone is never dull and if he’s on the card it’s usually bound to be a bit of a firefight.
His opponent was once known for not being great on his feet but killer on the ground as dos Anjos is nasty on the ground. His standup is vast improved and his four fight winning streak is a testimonial to his vast improvement at Evolve MMA in that regard.
Look for this to be a brawl; Cerrone doesn’t go to the ground unless taken there and has a tendency to lure guys into brawls. Look for dos Anjos to take the bait and keep it standing; the key will be whoever lands big first. If Cerrone can stay on the outside and use his length, wearing dos Anjos’s legs down early, he can use his reach and movement to eventually get the finish.
They key will be whether or not dos Anjos opts to try and take it to the ground. If he can get Cerrone on his back his ability to win the fight goes up dramatically; Cerrone’s got a very good guard but dos Anjos has a higher skill level.
It’s the one area of the fight he has a clear advantage; Cerrone’s submission game is slick but he dos Anjos is just better on the ground. A lot of Cerrone’s submissions come because of his striking, as his setups allow for him to grab an arm or a neck. He has never shown a tendency to go a takedown and advance position to get a submission; they’re a byproduct of a big shot he lands, usually. It’s almost by accident by many times; dos Anjos is a bit more traditional in that regard.
Why it matters: With a win Cerrone is back to where he was before being lamped by Anthony Pettis; a fight or two away from a title shot. Cerrone desperately wants a third fight with Benson Henderson for the UFC title; many people thought he won their first encounter in the WEC. If he’s going to ever break into the elite then this is the time when in matters the most. If he wants in the title chase he needs a dominant win, and maybe a finish, to be mentioned in that air again.
For dos Anjos a fifth win puts him in a title eliminator without much of a doubt. Cerrone is the right opponent at the right time for his title aspirations. He wins here, especially with a finish or a dominant decision win, and he gets into “the mix” for a title shot.
Prediction: dos Anjos via submission