As much as Donald Cerrone fans enjoy watching him beat contenders, we salivate at the thought of him besting someone “elite.” Cerrone 2.0 is a far cry from the man who crumpled against Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, and Rafael Dos Anjos back in the day. So the announcement that Cerrone would take on Tony Ferguson at lightweight should be cause for celebration. If there’s a fighter over whom a win guarantees a title shot, it’s the guy that’s first in line for a title shot.
But… this is Tony Ferguson, the most dangerous lightweight on the planet. How can “Cowboy” win?
1. Leg Kicks
When Al Iaquinta counted off the injuries suffered against Cerrone, it wasn’t the broken nose or fractured orbital that got him worst; it was the leg kicks.
Very little of Cerrone’s towering 6-foot frame translates to his reach, but his legs show the length well. Even though his legs lack the raw muscle of other leg kickers like Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje, the sheer amount of time they have to accelerate means they land like home run swings at max range. Ferguson possesses slender legs as well, and a few solid shots onto his injury-prone knees will change the fight.
2. Slow starter
One of the reasons Ferguson is so dangerous is that you can drop him, bloody him and he won’t care. Lando Vannata, Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis all inflicted massive damage only for Ferguson to finish them later. But as Justin Gaethje proved in back to back losses, there’s only so long you can trade with your chin.
Will Cerrone be the one to crack it? It’s possible.
Ferguson may be riding an 11 (!!!) fight win streak, but he’s only fought three times in the past three years with an injury in between. Ring rust can be serious, especially in a division as brutal as lightweight. And severe to someone who already starts slow like Ferguson. Cerrone’s fight rate makes my joints hurt just reading about it, but he’s never out of practice. With three wins in six months and the last two at lightweight, Cerrone can step in next week and fire on all cylinders.
That’s all well and good but let me restate this: Tony Ferguson is the most dangerous lightweight on the planet. So Cerrone losing is equally (if not more) plausible. And for very good reasons.
Ferguson stands an inch shorter than Cerrone, but possesses a gorilla’s reach of 76″. Cerrone may be a better boxer than years past, but it’s still his primary weakness. Both Alexander Hernandez and Al Iaquinta had their best moments when they got into the pocket and forced Cerrone to trade. Cowboy manages these boxing exchanges by controlling the distance, stepping in or back to keep opponents in his sweet spots.
But Ferguson loves landing long, thudding punches to the head and body. He will be the one adjusting and forcing Cerrone out of his comfort zone. If Jorge Masvidal could rip Cerrone’s body and come over the top, Ferguson most certainly can as well.
2. No intercepting knees
Cerrone’s “resurgence” at lightweight after a rough stretch can be attributed in large part to his intercepting knees. Because he’s so tall and long for a lightweight, opponents have to explode forward to touch his chin. Instead of skipping away, Cerrone now opts to slam knees into their midsection. These aren’t the liver-dissolving knees of Alistair Overeem but they hurt. Eddie Alvarez nearly TKO’d Cerrone in his UFC debut but slowed as the taller man read his dives and pulverized his gut.
But Ferguson has a reach advantage and so doesn’t need to dive in. His hardest shots will be well outside the range at which Cerrone can sap his gas tank with knees. Thus, he denies him his most effective counter.
3. Recovery time
There’s being active and there’s being dumb. And Cerrone, lovable people’s champ as he is, frequently straddles the line.
Iaquinta looked far uglier at the end of their bout, but Cerrone took decent damage as well. The gap between that fight and his bout with Ferguson is… five weeks. That’s barely enough time for a training camp, let alone recover from a five-round fight. Especially when entering against a beast like Ferguson. El Cucuy may start slow, but if he can rattle a worn Cerrone with a single good punch it won’t matter.
And so we as fans look on as a man who may be a danger to himself as much as he is to others tries, one last time, to earn a shot for gold. And he could do it. But I wouldn’t count on it.
Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone will feature on the main card of the upcoming UFC 238 pay-per-view. The event is exclusive to ESPN+. Learn more.