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The Ultimate Fighting Championship seems undecided about whether or not it cares about Canada, but UFC Fight Night 158 on Saturday provides Vancouver, British Columbia, with a strong card. In fact, this may actually be a deeper card than the UFC 240 card out of Edmonton, Alberta, a little more than a month ago, as this constitutes one of the better lineups the promotion has put together in terms of pure ESPN+ shows. Instead of going the typical route of relying on local fighters, the UFC actually bothered to get ranked and interesting fighters from around the globe, and as a result, the entire main card has some sense of stakes and excitement. Beyond that, the prelims are your usual 2019 affair: nothing particularly important but with some spots of solid action.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Cowboy vs. Gaethje” preview:
LightweightsJustin Gaethje (20-2) vs. Donald Cerrone (36-12)
ODDS: Gaethje (-190), Cerrone (+165)
It took a bit of time, but the UFC finally got around to booking this corker of a fight between two of its kings of violence. It is funny to think that there was some question about whether or not Cerrone could hang in the UFC once the promotion absorbed World Extreme Cagefighting, as “Cowboy” has spent the last eight years rewriting the UFC’s record books through an unmatched combination of proclivity and success. Cerrone has had his share of high-profile losses, but one of the benefits of fighting so many times a year is that after every setback he finds himself back on a winning streak in short order. After his long-awaited lightweight title shot ended in just 66 seconds against Rafael dos Anjos, Cerrone moved up to welterweight in 2016 and seemingly found a new home, going an impressive 4-0 over the course of the calendar year. Things wound up stalling out, as Cerrone then went on a 2-4 stretch, but the improvements he showed at 170 pounds have served him well in his return to lightweight. The massive weight cuts remain a bit frightening, but Cerrone shows no ill effects inside the cage and has even seemingly gotten past his tendency to start slow, turning back relative upstarts Alexander Hernandez and Al Iaquinta without much issue. Tony Ferguson proved to be too steep of a challenge, but Cerrone remains firmly in the second tier of lightweight contenders, and given his name recognition and goodwill with the fans, he is never too far from another title shot. However, bouncing back from the loss to Ferguson will not be easy, as Gaethje continues to represent one of the toughest fights in the sport.
If Cerrone is unmatched in terms of the quantity of violence he has brought to the cage, then Gaethje is similarly without peer as far as how much brutality he brings into each individual fight. Gaethje comes from a wrestling background, but he does not use it much outside of keeping the fight standing, where his style is tailor-made to ignite a war every time out. Gaethje simply applies constant and relentless pressure, which is built into everything he does; even on defense, Gaethje simply raises his forearms in front of his face just so he can get back to throwing punches and causing havoc. During his run in the World Series of Fighting, nobody managed to steer “The Highlight” off his game plan, though things have been a bit more difficult since Gaethje came over to the UFC. Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier managed to slowly break down Gaethje and finish him, though it took a ton of discipline and a willingness to take damage in order to do so. Since the Poirier loss a year and a half ago, Gaethje has gone about reminding everyone that he remains a top contender, as he ran through James Vick and Edson Barboza in a combined four minutes. Like Cerrone, Gaethje has enough notoriety and goodwill that he will get the benefit of the doubt in terms of big and exciting matchups. With a win here, one of those matchups may just be for lightweight gold.
Since this fight was announced, it has been hyped as a possible “Fight of the Year” contender, which it certainly could be if it lasts multiple rounds. However, that seems like a big if. Cerrone has always struggled against constant volume and pressure, which became an even bigger issue at 170 pounds. Even against a lower-output fighter like Darren Till, as soon as Cerrone got hurt, he found himself unable to scare off his opponent as he went in for the kill. That has been lessened somewhat back down at lightweight, where Cerrone has relative size and power advantages once again, but Hernandez was both defensively open and willing to wrestle with him and Iaquinta was somewhat surprisingly scared off once Cerrone started delivering some hard shots from range. Gaethje’s one-dimensional defense gives Cerrone some opportunities, particularly with his kicking game and particularly if “Cowboy” decides to work the body. However, it seems inevitable that Gaethje is going to keep chasing down Cerrone in order to apply pressure. Given that Gaethje does not seem to vulnerable to being scared off until he is knocked unconscious, it looks like that as soon as he seizes control of this fight, things will be over in fairly short order. The pick is Gaethje via first-round knockout.
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