Donald Cerrone will meet Edson Barboza this Saturday at UFC on Fox 11. If Cerrone hopes to make a run at the UFC Lightweight Championship, he must take care of business against the Brazilian striker.
Cerrone enters as the No. 8-ranked lightweight, and Barboza is not far behind at No. 11. This fight will have a significant impact on the lightweight rankings, and will move the winner in position for a top-five fight later in 2014.
“Cowboy” has been an enigma in the UFC. He shows signs of brilliance in the cage, and then underperforms to drop back into the pack at the 155-pound class.
He began his UFC tenure with four straight wins. He was in position to battle Nate Diaz with a lot at stake, but Diaz dominated their bout. Cerrone was supposed to be the superior striker, but Diaz took him to task right from the start.
He rebounded from that loss with two quality victories, only to be quickly ousted by current champion Anthony Pettis.
The Jackson's MMA product would return to the cage four months later with a win over KJ Noons, only to falter three months later against Rafael dos Anjos. It has become a pattern for Cerrone to fall back in key bouts.
Cerrone is now on a two-fight win streak against Evan Dunham and Adriano Martins. The fight against Barboza will not be easy, but if he wants to be more than a gatekeeper at lightweight, he will need to win this fight. To be considered a serious contender, he needs to handle Barboza.
None of Cerrone's losses are to bad competition. He has lost to quality competition. However, perception is reality in this world. The perception is that Cerrone cannot take the next step to become a legitimate contender in the division.
He gets the opportunity to change that on Saturday.
Cerrone has a well-rounded skill set. His striking gets most of the attention, as that is what he loves to do. “Cowboy” loves a good, old-fashioned scrap. He invites a striking battle. However, he has some quality ground work as well.
Cerrone nearly finished Benson Henderson in their first WEC encounter with submissions. He has good submissions that can surprise his opposition after they get comfortable in a striking battle. He got his first submission since 2011 in November against Evan Dunham.
He has all the tools to be a title contender. Now is the time to put it all together.
He is a part of the main card at UFC on Fox 11 in a top-15 matchup. The UFC will prominently feature this bout, and the fans will view the winner as a top lightweight. The winner takes that next step. Cerrone needs it to be him.
The stage is set for Cerrone to make a big impact in Orlando. This is his chance to shine in front of a network TV audience and put himself in the mix at lightweight. We will see if he can do it on Saturday.