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Who should Donald Cerrone fight at lightweight in 2019?
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Who should Donald Cerrone fight at lightweight in 2019?

Donald Cerrone vs. Rick Story

After his first-round submission of Mike Perry in early November, Donald Cerrone announced that he is interested in returning to lightweight.

That isn’t something that many thought we would be hearing, just a short while ago. When Cerrone lost to rising star Darren Till back in October of last year, many thought that he would be retired at this point in 2018. But in his next outing, Cerrone took down Yancy Medeiros, who was riding a three-fight winning streak going into the main event matchup. Most recently, he beat Perry to improve to 2-1 in his last three fights.

Now, Cerrone is not only back around but is moving down to a new division to test his luck at 155-pounds. The UFC hasn’t named a lightweight opponent yet, but there’s plenty of talk going on about potential ones. After all, lightweight is considered one of the deepest divisions in MMA at the moment.

Which matchups are being talked about, and which one is the most likely?

Conor McGregor

There have been talks of Conor McGregor fighting Cerrone, but McGregor is linked to a lot of fights and the predictions don’t always come true. We haven’t seen any serious moves towards McGregor fighting Georges St-Pierre, for example, despite the rumours making it seem like a likely fight to make. Does this one make any more sense than that?

Well, not really. From a rankings perspective, it would be a huge jump up for Cowboy. Cerrone is only #12 in the UFC rankings at welterweight, while McGregor sits at #2 in the lightweight division following his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a title fight. While Cerrone does have a large reputation in the MMA world, that doesn’t necessarily warrant giving him a fight with someone ten spots above him in the rankings immediately.

From a business perspective, there are also more profitable fights to make. McGregor is still a bigger draw than perhaps anyone in the promotion, despite losing the belt, and the UFC cares about taking advantage of that. Last time, they were able to hype up his fight to even casual fans because it was against an opponent that has been completely dominant in recent years. Hardcore fans will always turn up to watch Cerrone fight, but the UFC doesn’t have as good of an angle to promote him to casual fans as they would with, say, a more recently successful fighter like Dustin Poirier or Tony Ferguson.

Is that saying that the fight wouldn’t be exciting or worth watching? No. It’s interesting, to say the least. But if the fight is being made on merit, there are fighters higher up the standings who could face McGregor, and if it’s being made to sell the most pay-per-views, there are also other fighters that have done more for the UFC lately and therefore can be marketed better to casual fans who aren’t as acutely aware of Cerrone’s long record in the sport and his history of success in both the WEC and UFC.

Justin Gaethje

Out of all the potential opponents, this seems like the most realistic one. This fight is also the most likely to end with an exciting knockout. Additionally, it makes sense when you consider the past fights of both fighters. They’re both coming off of wins, but at the same time, are trying to reestablish themselves as contenders and could make use of a winning streak in that regard.

Cerrone most recently defeated Mike Perry, while Gaethje took down James Vick in August to avoid going 1-3 in his first four UFC fights. Gaethje sits at #6 in the lightweight rankings, so there’s less of a gap between him and Cerrone based on their current positions in their respective divisions.

Also, the fight is easy to sell to anyone who likes striking, which is basically everyone. There won’t be any shortage of it in this matchup and if this fight does happen, one should expect plenty of leg kicks and not just boxing. Cerrone is a Muay Thai practitioner, while Gaethje has a wrestling background but has integrated powerful leg kicks into his gameplan with a lot of success. It would easily be the main event on pretty much any Fight Night card and would make a solid addition to a pay-per-view card as well.

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With both fighters having large fanbases, exciting styles, and very similar recent circumstances, it’s hard to come up with reasons why this shouldn’t be the next fight for Donald Cerrone.

Dan Hooker

This one is a longshot. Hooker’s name hasn’t been floated in conversations at all about Cerrone’s potential opponent, but this one makes a lot of sense if the UFC wants to use Cerrone as an experienced veteran who can help boost the popularity of rising fighters. Hooker is currently #14 in the lightweight rankings so Cerrone would likely be the favorite in this one.

That’s not to say that Hooker doesn’t deserve the fight, because his recent record is better than most of the fighters who have been suggested as potential opponents. Hooker is on a four-fight winning streak, after all, with his most recent win coming in July against Gilbert Burns.

The 28-year-old already has a reputation for knockouts and has delivered finishes in every fight of his winning streak. During that streak, two of the knockouts came via knee to the head, the first of the two coming in June of last year and earning a Performance of the Night bonus. Hooker hasn’t lost since 2016, and is in a position to make the top ten soon, so why shouldn’t he get to prove himself against a beloved veteran in a fight that would likely help out his popularity, win or lose?

With that being said, it’s a stretch for the UFC to make this fight. It would also have to wait until next year because Hooker is scheduled to face Edson Barboza in December. Still, if Cerrone gets a “gatekeeper” matchup, this is the one to make.

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