Donald Cerrone (17-4, 4-1 UFC) vs. Jeremy Stephens (20-7, 7-6 UFC)
The Matchup: Cerrone needed one more victory to complete a 5-0 UFC run in 2011, but he ran into a buzzsaw named Nate Diaz at UFC 141. One has to wonder if the fatigue of such a busy year caught up to the “Cowboy,” because he appeared to lack his usual movement and energy while eating countless punches to the head and body from Diaz.
Where Diaz peppers his opponents to death with combinations, Stephens prefers to throw each punch like it is his last. While that has worked well in the sense that 14 of “Lil’ Heathen’s” 20 career victories have come by knockout, it also leaves him wide open for counters when his kill shots connect with nothing but air. The Victory MMA product likes to use an outside leg kick and a left hook to find his range, but his numbing overhand right would be so much more effective if he just implemented a few more jabs into his arsenal.
That plays into the hands of Cerrone, who is comfortable in the pocket but tends to strike with more volume than his opponent. The Colorado native’s kickboxing background often shines through with his toolbox of kicks, as he is capable of doing damage no matter whether he goes high or low with his attacks. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product sometimes does not get going until he gets hit a few times, but he has gradually improved on coming out the gate quicker, the Diaz fight notwithstanding.
Neither Cerrone nor Stephens have been knocked out in their professional careers, making a prolonged firefight all the more likely. Cerrone has the more diverse standup game, but Stephens’ aggression and physical style can counteract that if he is able to close the distance and outmuscle his foe in tie-ups. The wrestling of “Cowboy” has improved over recent fights, however, so it is not a foregone conclusion that Stephens will be able to get the fight to the mat. Stephens’ punching power translates nicely into explosive ground-and-pound, but he must be wary when Cerrone is on his back -- the former WEC standout has earned the majority of his professional wins by submission.
The Pick: On the feet, Cerrone will dictate the range and use superior movement to land his usual barrage of strikes to keep Stephens off balance. At some point, the Iowan will get overanxious in his pursuit of the finish, allowing Cerrone to win the fight with a submission in round three.
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