It took Donald Cerrone some time to shake out the cobwebs in his headlining fight opposite Al Iaquinta at UFC Fight Night 151 on Saturday in Ottawa, Ontario, but once “Cowboy” reached critical mass, he looked close to unstoppable. After spending two rounds going shot-for-shot with one of Long Island’s finest, Cerrone found his range and timing and started firing, outstriking “Raging Al” in a landslide over the last three rounds that saw the notoriously durable Iaquinta get knocked down twice. With the unanimous decision -- and likely a Top 5 ranking -- in the bag, Cerrone has now resumed his campaign for a title fight at 155 pounds. Failing that, he desires a dream matchup with Conor McGregor.
Further down the card, Derek Brunson moved back into the win column with a clinch- and takedown-heavy performance opposite Elias Theodorou in the co-main event, while embattled featherweight Cub Swanson dropped his fourth consecutive fight in a unanimous decision to relative newcomer Shane Burgos.
As usual, The Vanquished plays matchmaker for the main card losers, offering some comments on their performances before recommending what should come next for them inside the Octagon.
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder: Iaquinta was a slight favorite to beat the 36-year-old Cerrone, but “Dad Cowboy” proved to be on another level and soundly beat the Serra-Longo Fight Team product over five rounds, all while making a solid case for a title shot should Khabib Nurmagomedov or Dustin Poirier fall out of their unification bout planned for September. The winner of six of his last eight fights -- his other loss was to the aforementioned Nurmagomedov on a day’s notice -- Iaquinta is unlikely to have lost much stock in his defeat to Cerrone. However, he does figure to take a bit of a fall in the lightweight pecking order. A fight with the No. 9-ranked Felder, a man against whom Iaquinta has been booked twice, should be next.
Elias Theodorou vs. David Branch: Theodorou talked a big game ahead of his co-headliner with Brunson but failed to rise to the occasion when it counted. Over the course of three at times action-sparse rounds, “The Spartan” found himself taken down no fewer than four times, and though he managed to avoid Brunson’s power punches thanks to his hit-and-run style, he failed to mount much meaningful offense on his way to a unanimous decision loss. A fight with former two-division World Series of Fighting champion David Branch, currently on a two-fight skid, would serve as a solid litmus test for Theodorou’s Top 10 aspirations.
Cub Swanson vs. Yair Rodriguez: Not that long ago, Swanson -- then riding a four-fight winning streak -- said no to a short-notice UFC title shot, figuring that a win over Brian Ortega would give him the leverage to negotiate a better contract and solidify his status as the next championship contender. Since then, he has not tasted victory, with Burgos being the fourth consecutive man to hand him a loss. Though Swanson had his moments against “Hurricane Shane” and somehow earned a 30-27 score on one judge’s scorecard, the remaining two adjudicators saw it the other way. Swanson will likely drop out of the featherweight Top 10 by week’s end. As for what comes next, a fight with the 12th-ranked Rodriguez makes sense, if only for its violent potential.
Brad Katona vs. Cole Smith: Katona dropped all three rounds to Merab Dvalishvili, marking the first time the SBG Ireland export has lost in his professional career and exposing serious deficiencies in his ground game. At 27, “Superman” has plenty of time to right the ship but should set his sights on some lower-ranked fish while he irons out the chinks in his armor. A fight with the recently signed Smith fits the bill.
Sergey Spivak vs. Amir Aliakbari: Fans got to see very little of the skills that got Spivak signed to the UFC on short notice, as Walt Harris decimated “The Polar Bear” in a cool 50 seconds and destroyed the Ukrainian’s undefeated record in the process. Spivak’s next fight should be opposite Iranian wrestler Aliakbari, who recently announced he had signed with the UFC.
Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Charles Byrd: Hometown boy Barriault was hoping to hand former sparring partner Andrew Sanchez a setback and begin his assault on the middleweight ranks in the main card opener, but he dropped a unanimous decision that will put his lofty aspirations on ice for the time being. Byrd, who has lost two of his three UFC bouts, would make for a suitable sophomore dance partner.