Donald Cerrone showed up at UFC on Fuel 3 last night to prove himself and promise his future in the UFC. By the end of his bout with Jeremy Stephens, he had done just that.
Cerrone defeated Stephens by unanimous decision, and in the end he displayed the textbook striking we’d all hoped to watch. From the beginning, Cerrone dominated his opponent with kicks and knees, utilizing every bit of his reach to keep Stephens limited to single strikes. By Round 2, Cerrone had paved his way to victory using various strikes, and the Muay Thai specialist gave us the striking battle we’d hoped for.
However, the battle was so weighted in favor of Cerrone, we’re obliged to consider him a reasonable contender in the lightweight division.
The problem is we can’t do this without recalling his previous fight, one that ended in a loss against Nate Diaz at UFC 141. Diaz met Cerrone at his strengths, content to engage in the striking that Cerrone was known for since his days in the WEC. Not only was Cerrone supposed to be the superior wrestler, he was also thought to be the more technical striker. His kicking was promising, often knocking Diaz off balance if not knocking him down. In the end, though, Cerrone took more shots than he landed, and Diaz outstruck Cerrone with terrific combinations for three rounds.
But Cerrone displayed nothing but command last night. Furthermore, he was able to reestablish his headway in the organization as he extended his record in the UFC to 5-1 and his overall record to 18-4-0-1 NC. Now, regardless of that loss to Diaz, it’s impossible to count Cerrone out of the future title contenders of the lightweight division.
For that reason, Cerrone needs to stay in the mix by meeting other top-ranked lightweights. One of the most likely candidates is another ex-WEC fighter, Anthony Pettis. Pettis presents a stand-up challenge that will allow Cerrone to prove his striking—a challenge that Cerrone is absolutely capable of meeting. What’s more, Pettis has a history of fights with some of the best in the lightweight division (including his victory over Benson Henderson, the current UFC lightweight champion, while they were members of the WEC).
Whoever the fighter, the point is simple: Cerrone is quickly becoming one of the top-ranked lightweights, and his solid victory over Stephens proved his striking capabilities. Furthermore, Cerrone has a history that shows an effective ground game, making him a more versatile fighter than his recent stand-up matches against Diaz and Stephens might illustrate.
Because of his recent performance, Cerrone needs to be thrown into the mix of ranked lightweight fighters. Given Cerrone’s ability to dominate a number of other lightweights and Diaz’s spot as the title contender, I’ll argue that Diaz-Cerrone II will happen only after Cerrone meets other ranked lightweights like Pettis.
In a sport where rematches are more than welcome, especially to settle technical bouts like Diaz vs. Cerrone, I assume fans and the organization will happily entertain the thought of the fighters meeting again.
Nonetheless, Cerrone needs to have his name placed among the other lightweight contenders soon, and this mix begins with his next big-name opponent in the division.