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After a few years in which the Ultimate Fighting Championship seemed to neglect the Great White North, it has been nice to see Canada get some solid second-tier cards. UFC Fight Night 151 on Saturday in Ottawa, Ontario, is no exception. The headliner is legitimately excellent in terms of stakes, action and star power, and there are fun fights up and down the card, sometimes even without the Canadian tokenism that sometimes overwhelms these events. The UFC schedule is always crushing, but this is one of the cards that is worth your time.
Now to the breakdown for UFC Fight Night 151:
LightweightsAl Iaquinta (14-4-1) vs. Donald Cerrone (35-11)
ODDS: Iaquinta (-140), Cerrone (+120)
Does Cerrone have another run at 155 pounds left in him? Just a few years ago, the thought seemed absurd. After capping his 2015 campaign with a brutal loss to then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, Cerrone moved up to welterweight and enjoyed a scorching run, winning four fights in mostly one-sided fashion. However, success in his new weight class quickly dried up. Whether it was age and a tough schedule finally catching up to Cerrone, or just his taking on larger opponents, “Cowboy” suddenly found himself unable to scare off his opponents in one-sided stoppage losses. In 2017, Cerrone failed for the first time in his career to post a win in a calendar year, but 2018 saw the fan favorite keep his head above water against a weaker strength of schedule, all the while teasing a cut back to 155 pounds. That finally happened in January, and it was a surprisingly successful return. Cerrone mostly turned back the pressure of surging prospect Alexander Hernandez, eventually turning up the heat enough to score a second-round finish. Thanks to a weight cut that has always been tough, Cerrone probably cannot keep the insane schedule to which he has grown accustomed, but the win over Hernandez proved that he still a concern back at his original weight class. The time has now come to prove that he is an actual contender against Iaquinta.
If Cerrone has found his success by being a company man and taking every fight available, “Raging Al” has become a top lightweight via the exact opposite approach. Injuries slowed the start of Iaquinta’s UFC career, but once he got going, the Long Islander started working his way up the ranks. There was usually one moment per fight in which Iaquinta nearly got himself submitted, but overall, his solid wrestling and strong boxing earned him win after win. Come 2015, however, things started to fall apart between Iaquinta and the UFC. Iaquinta’s infamous profanity-laden promo after his split decision win over Jorge Masvidal did not exactly endear him to management, and the two sides stewed over further knee surgeries for Iaquinta; he claimed it was a nagging injury suffered from his time on “The Ultimate Fighter,” while the UFC balked at allowing its insurance to cover the costs. The stalemate -- which included a retirement from Iaquinta -- resulted in over a two-year layoff. After knocking out Diego Sanchez and retiring again, Iaquinta somehow managed to fall backwards into a lightweight title fight. Between injuries and dollies and all sorts of madness, UFC 223 fell apart at the seams, and Iaquinta was suddenly the best option available to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov just miles away from Iaquinta’s hometown. The fight was purely a moral victory, as Iaquinta mostly just survived for five rounds, but as an established main eventer, Iaquinta late managed to secure an opportunity against Kevin Lee, which resulted in “Raging Al” nabbing a win and proving himself as a top lightweight.
This is an absolutely fascinating matchup that can go either way. At first blush, this seems like a walk for Iaquinta, as he is content to stalk forward as needed, and effective, powerful pressure has always been Cerrone’s weakness. However, Cerrone survives a bit better at 155 pounds, mostly due to his size advantage, and while Iaquinta is effective moving forward, he is not quite as fast-moving or high-volume as someone who could get Cerrone out of there quickly. There is a solid chance that over five rounds Cerrone can stay at range, hit effective strikes and stay out of danger as he continues to warm up. There is also the complete opposite approach, as Cerrone has started focusing more on his underrated wrestling game; Iaquinta’s efforts against Nurmagomedov and Lee suggest that “Cowboy” will not be able to fully dominate the fight there. With that said, Iaquinta’s historically weak submission defense could provide an opening for Cerrone at some point during the fight. There are big concerns for Cerrone -- Iaquinta is a smart enough boxer to work on Cerrone’s notoriously weak body, and the New Yorker is a much more proven five-round fighter at lightweight -- but this looks like the type of fight that might get Cerrone knocked out at 170 pounds but is manageable at 155. He will have to walk a tightrope, but the pick is Cerrone via decision.
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