Donald Cerrone (20-6-1, 7-3 UFC) vs. Evan Dunham (14-4, 7-4 UFC), at UFC 167
Two all action, well rounded, lightweights in similar positions in their respective careers finish up the prelims for UFC 167 in a fight that decides who climbs back up the LW ladder and who is headed toward gatekeeper status. Both of these guys won their first 4 UFC fights, both are 3-3 in their last 6 fights, and both are coming off losses to contender Rafael dos Anjos. Interesting….
Donald Cerrone comes from a Muay Thai background winning a couple of domestic titles in the United States before switching to MMA full time. “Cowboy” entered the spotlight after a thrilling “fight of the year” candidate with former WEC champion and fellow Muay Thai specialist “Razor” Rob McCullough in which Donald won by unanimous decision. After that Donald was off and running in the WEC putting on exciting fight after exciting fight. A few losses along the way lead to Donald adding the elements to his game that made him the well rounded fighter he is today with very dangerous strikes, a functional guard, and serviceable wrestling, exquisite conditioning, and useful size. A natural fighter, Donald’s finishing ability is owed to his keen sense of when to go in for the kill and when to hang back and pick his shots. You can see this killer instinct clearly in fights with Charles Oliveira, Dennis Siver, and Melvin Guillard. Cerrone’s losses have all been at the hands of guys who are or were a WEC/UFC champion or #1 contender, with the exception of dos Anjos who could very well be a win away from such a position. Considerable strengths aside, Cerrone is beatable. Varner and Henderson both out-grappled and very much out wrestled Cerrone in their 1st fights with him, Nate Diaz outworked him, Anthony Pettis was the more accurate striker, and dos Anjos was physically stronger and more explosive. Considering Donald has tightened up his wrestling considerably and is not likely to be burnt out like he may have been vs. Diaz, if he is to lose nowadays it will likely be to a sniper like Pettis or a talented brute like RDA.
The question here is can Evan Dunham employ those strategies effectively. He does have a history of unlikely wins so it is certainly a possibility he can win vs. Cerrone. I mean after all, we are talking about a guy that came into the UFC an unknown commodity and proceeded to out strike European kick boxer Per Eklund, hang with BJJ whiz Marcus Aurelio on the ground, finish the previously unfinished Efrain Escudero, and out hustle known hustler Tyson Griffin. The guys got nerves and he will need them in this fight with a good amount of status on the line. Evan comes from a BJJ background and had a fun run on the submission grappling circuit in the beginning of his MMA career but he has only submitted the aforementioned Efrain since being in the UFC and came close to doing the same to Tyson Griffin. There is no doubt the guy can roll but like many up n comers he has been less impressive as he started facing stiffer competition. Sean Sherk with wrestling and especially Melvin Guillard with striking both beat Dunham with superior strength and physical prowess, although Evan adjusted enough in the Sherk fight to make his decision loss a questionable call. Evan showed great composure, a nasty lunging knee to the body, and a stout left hand in the Sherk fight, and they remain formidable weapons of his as he continues to develop the striking part of his game.
I am leaning towards picking Cerrone for the win. He is physically impressive enough to replicate the success that guys like Sherk and Melvin had against Dunham and he is at least as skilled. And taking into account how both men have fared after their initial UFC hot streaks cooled off, Id venture to say Cerrone is also more capable of moving onward and upward after a tough loss. Cerrone will emerge the winner of a tough fight by late stoppage or decision.