Donald Cerrone now has two Ultimate Fighting Championship divisions in which to play.
The longtime lightweight contender made the successful leap to 170 pounds, as he submitted Alex Oliveira with a first-round triangle choke in the UFC Fight Night “Cerrone vs. Oliveira” main event on Sunday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Cerrone coaxed the tapout 2:33 into round one.
No one yet knows if Cerrone plans to stay at welterweight or return to more familiar haunts at 155 pounds. He has already fought virtually every viable player in the lightweight division, from reigning champion Rafael dos Anjos (twice), Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza to Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis. Nevertheless, the options are no less intriguing for “Cowboy.” One would figure Cerrone to be a leading candidate to replace either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Tony Ferguson in the event an injury occurs ahead of their UFC on Fox 19 showdown in April.
Let us assume for discussion’s sake that Cerrone’s first taste of life at 170 pounds left him intrigued enough to want to see how high he can climb on the welterweight ladder. In wake of UFC Fight Night “Cerrone vs. Oliveira,” here are five matchups that ought to be considered:
Donald Cerrone vs. Thiago Alves: Cerrone has won nine of his past 10 bouts, and at 32, his popularity and profile have never been higher. The Jackson-Wink MMA mainstay fought the perfect fight against Oliveira, using the Brazilian’s hyper-aggression against him. Cerrone ducked inside for a takedown, carved through the Oliveira guard to full mount and framed the fight-ending triangle choke from the top before rolling to his back for the finish. His 16 victories inside the Octagon tie him for fifth on the UFC’s all-time list, along with Anderson Silva, Demian Maia, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Frank Mir. The oft-injured Alves has not fought since Carlos Condit smashed his nose in May. However, as a natural welterweight, the American Top Team-trained Brazilian would provide a more substantial test for Cerrone at 170 pounds.
Derek Brunson vs. Gegard Mousasi-Thales Leites winner: It has become impossible to ignore Brunson at 185 pounds. The 32-year-old North Carolina native rolled to his fourth straight win in the co-headliner, as he pulverized Roan Carneiro with ground-and-pound and forced a stoppage 2:38 into the first round. Since his failed encounter with Yoel Romero in 2014, Brunson has rattled off victories over Carneiro, Sam Alvey, Ed Herman and Lorenz Larkin. Only Romero (seven fights) and reigning champion Luke Rockhold (five fights) have longer current winning streaks in the middleweight division. Mousasi will face Leites at UFC Fight Night “Silva vs. Bisping” on Feb. 27 in London.
Cody Garbrandt vs. John Lineker: Garbrandt made the best of a difficult situation, as the Team Alpha Male prospect improved to 8-0 with his first-round finish on multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Augusto Mendes. The 24-year-old has stopped seven of his first eight opponents, five of them inside the first round, and has the look of a fighter who could create substantial waves in the bantamweight division. Lineker was originally paired with Garbrandt before a bout with Dengue fever forced his withdrawal.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Charles Oliveira: A finalist on “The Ultimate Fighter 14,” Bermudez put a troubling two-fight losing streak behind him with a unanimous decision over former Shooto champion Tatsuya Kawajiri. He beat Kawajiri at his own game, bullying his way into clinches, executing takedowns and generally making life miserable for the Japanese veteran. Bermudez, who entered the cage on the heels of back-to-back losses to Ricardo Lamas and Jeremy Stephens, now owns an 8-3 record in the UFC. The gifted Oliveira last fought at UFC on Fox 19 in December, when he tapped Myles Jury with a first-round guillotine choke. The 26-year-old Brazilian has compiled a 5-1 mark across his last six appearances.
Chris Camozzi vs. Tamdan McCrory: Camozzi barely broke a sweat in authoring his first UFC finish in almost four years. The victim: Joe Riggs. Camozzi stunned the former World Extreme Cagefighting champion with a lunging jab and then proceeded to assault him with repeated knees to the head, breaking his forearm in the process. The beating lasted all of 26 seconds and gave Camozzi his fourth win in five outings. McCrory returned to the UFC for the first time in more than six years on Dec. 19, when he submitted Josh Samman with a third-round triangle choke.