The Ultimate Fighting Championship closes out its 2015 schedule with a bang, as Rafael dos Anjos defends his lightweight title against Donald Cerrone in the UFC on Fox 17 main event this Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. It will serve as a rematch to an August 2013 encounter won by dos Anjos before he became champion.
In the co-headliner, former heavyweight titleholder Junior dos Santos faces Alistair Overeem. The rest of the main card features a lightweight clash pitting Blackzilians rep Michael Johnson against Nate Diaz and a women’s strawweight battle pairing Randa Markos with unbeaten newcomer Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Let us take a look at each UFC on Fox 17 matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Lightweight ChampionshipRafael dos Anjos (24-7) vs Donald Cerrone (28-6)
THE MATCHUP: One of the most interesting aspects of this rematch is the sheer well-roundedness of the fighters involved and the different routes by which they discovered their many facets.
Cerrone began his career as a kickboxer, using his jiu-jitsu to finish off hurt opponents and defend himself when taken down. Over the years, his wrestling has improved and allowed him to fight off takedowns very effectively, therefore freeing him up to become even more aggressive with his strikes. Cerrone is a vicious kicker with a varied arsenal, picking apart opponents with everything from front kicks to the body, crushing leg kicks and awkward switch kicks to the head. Boxing is still a weak point for Cerrone, though his combination punching has improved in the last year. Defensively, however, he is still there to be hit, made vulnerable by an upright stance and generally linear footwork.
Dos Anjos’ development is almost a perfect opposite to Cerrone’s. The champion has been a student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu since he was 13 years old and currently owns a third-degree black belt under Aldo Januario. After a bumpy start in the UFC, dos Anjos began to polish his striking skills, working at both Evolve MMA in Singapore and Kings MMA in California. No longer a limited grappler, dos Anjos possesses some of the hardest kicks in the lightweight division, and his meat-and-potatoes boxing game was more than enough to knock out Benson Henderson -- he remains the only man to have ever done so -- and utterly dominate renowned kickboxer and then-champion Anthony Pettis.
With two such skilled and multi-faceted fighters, we have to look at the X-factors to determine who holds the edge. On the one hand, this represents a battle between some of the best coaches in the sport. “Cowboy” has master game planner Greg Jackson in his corner, as well as longtime muay Thai coach Henry Smith, who has a keen eye for tactical adjustments and a solid understanding of Cerrone’s mindset. Dos Anjos, of course, has Chute Boxe O.G. Rafael Cordeiro on his side, not only one of the best striking coaches around but a calm, encouraging presence in the corner who seeks always to bolster his fighter’s confidence.
THE ODDS: dos Anjos (-211), Cerrone (+181)
THE PICK: Curiously, the hardcore MMA community seems pretty certain that Cerrone is the better fighter here. Perhaps it is the frankly baseless notion that dos Anjos has only been performing so well because of steroids and will have therefore lost a step after the IV ban. Setting aside the fact that Cerrone, not dos Anjos, has actually failed a drug test in the past, I have great faith in the Brazilian’s ability to keep performing up to the high standard set in his title win over Pettis. That performance should not have been as shocking as it was, given the impressive victories over Henderson, Nate Diaz and Cerrone that preceded it. Yes, “Cowboy” looks sharper than ever but so does dos Anjos, and Cerrone has never dealt well with heavy pressure, especially early in fights. It will be close, and it bears remembering that Cerrone seemed to be getting into a rhythm in the third and final round of their first fight, but dos Anjos will not give him as much room to breathe this time. The champion retains his title via unanimous decision.
Next Fight » Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem