One of the UFC’s historically solid hands, Donald Cerrone makes yet another quick turnaround to fight on January 19 after a fast victory in Denver in early November. He’s definitely been winding down, but Cerrone’s last three showings have been respectable at the very worst, and he moves back down to lightweight to face a surging prospect and get some momentum behind another title run.
Alexander Hernandez made his debut at UFC 222 with a brutal finish of Beneil Dariush. After a win over Olivier Aubin-Mercier in Calgary, Hernandez is in position to make a legitimate impact at 155-pounds. A win over a staple like Cerrone would be invaluable to his attempts to climb the rankings, especially if he gets the win as resoundingly as he got his first one in the UFC.
This fight is between a man very easy to underrate in Cerrone, and one very easy to overrate in Hernandez. For all of his amazing finishes, one enduring narrative about Cerrone has been his inability to get the big one, and his losses tending to be catastrophic beatings; Cerrone has a few abundantly clear weaknesses that are crippling enough to paralyze him, especially when more than one is exploited by the same opponent. The most obvious is his Dunham-esque glass belly, as he’s reacted horribly to body shots throughout his career, but his boxing also isn’t good enough to handle adept straight-punchers like Darren Till and Nate Diaz. He doesn’t do well on the back foot, and most of his career losses (and three of his last four losses) have been to southpaws.
That said, Cerrone isn’t really the type of veteran to be absolutely smashed by anyone but the best; if allowed, he’s an aggressive kicker with reasonably powerful hands who can punish a reckless rush with one of the most liberally-used intercepting knees in the sport. Cerrone has also turned to his wrestling a lot more lately, shooting multiple times on Leon Edwards, and his grappling is as aggressive as his striking from the top (Oliveira) or the bottom (Dunham, Perry).
Alexander Hernandez largely doesn’t bring the factors that have historically troubled Cerrone. Hernandez is a promising prospect, no doubt; his finish of the underrated Beneil Dariush proved that he’s overwhelmingly athletic and aggressive, and gets off to a fast start (and that was largely the crux of his win over Dariush, a very slow starter who nevertheless has a brutal win over the ranked James Vick and gave Edson Barboza all he could handle). However, that first fight was deceiving.
Hernandez’s fight against Olivier Aubin-Mercier showed his game in a more extended fight, still high-paced but reliant on crashing into clinches to wrestle without a particularly refined striking game. Hernandez brings the pressure, to an extent, but it isn’t measured pressure; while Cerrone starts slowly enough that he can be overwhelmed (as shown somewhat by Robbie Lawler), once he’s in gear, he’s a hard man to run down with the threat of the knee up the center. If Hernandez can close distance, he has to contend with Cerrone’s formidable grappling, where if Cerrone can create space, he’s the better striker by a mile; craftier as an experienced veteran, technically sharper with his kicking, and Hernandez doesn’t have a dedicated southpaw game (his stance is somewhat amorphous) nor a proven body attack to stymie him.
There’s a good chance that an aging Cerrone is totally overwhelmed by the young Hernandez’s athleticism, as Dariush was; however, Hernandez is no longer an unknown quantity, so Cerrone should be ready to survive and dissuade a frantic firefight from the very beginning. If Cerrone gets into his rhythm, he should be able to find the opportunities to slow Hernandez in the open and probably find a finish.
Prediction: Cerrone via third-round submission. This writer caps Cerrone at -150.
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