MMAOB staff writer Adam Martin takes a deeper look at the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 16, a five-round lightweight bout between fan favorites Justin Gaethje and Donald Cerrone. The event takes place Saturday, September 14 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Justin Gaethje (-190)
Gaethje (20-2) is one of the most exciting fighters in the game today. The 30-year-old American has been a source of pure entertainment the day he started doing MMA back in 2011, with 20 of his 22 pro fights ending inside the distance. It’s that kill-or-be-killed attitude that makes fans and the UFC brass love him so much. Since coming to the UFC, Gaethje has had five fights and has gone 3-2 with all of the fights ending inside the distance. He’s won six bonuses in five fights, owing to his exciting fighting style. In the UFC Gaethje has defeated Michael Johnson, Edson Barboza and James Vick by knockout while being knocked out by Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez. Either Gaethje gets knocked out or his opponents do, but it’s always exciting. Gaethje is a pressure-based striker with devastating leg kicks and power in his hands. He has excellent cardio and a solid chin, but he does get hit far too often and it’s cost him a few times. The one part about Gaethje’s game that people don’t talk about is his wrestling. Gaethje comes from a wrestling background, but because he’s been so good with his striking he hasn’t had to use his grappling. If he can start to utilize that part of his game he’ll be very hard to beat. For now, Gaethje will be known as an action fighter. But if he can go out there and beat Cerrone, he’ll turn into a full-fledged lightweight title contender.
Donald Cerrone (+165)
Cerrone (36-12, 1 NC) is the all-time winningest fighter in UFC history. the 36-year-old American has gotten his hand raised more than anyone inside the Octagon since coming to the UFC in 2011, and he’s been a top contender at both 155lbs and 170lbs during his time in the UFC. Cerrone has fought and defeated some the sport’s top fighters, including Al Iaquinta, Benson Henderson, Eddie Alvarez, Edson Barboza, Jim Miller and Jeremy Stephens. Of course, he has lost to a number of top fighters as well, including Tony Ferguson, Jorge Masvidal, Rafael dos Anjos, Nate Diaz and Darren Till. Cerrone is a very well-rounded fighter who is good everywhere. He has a tremendous striking arsenal on the feet and on the mat he can submit almost anyone. He also has underrated wrestling, great cardio and a really good chin. Cerrone has always been the bridesmaid and has never got to the top in the UFC. He has attempted to win the title in multiple weight classes but hasn’t got the job done. Maybe this is his time to win the belt. If he wants to do so, he’ll first have to get through Gaethje and that won’t be easy. But if Cerrone can fight smart and come in with a great gameplan, he can be a live dog here.
Fight Breakdown: This should be a fan-friendly fight between two of the game’s ultimate warriors. Gaethje has looked amazing in his last two fights, knocking out Vick and Barboza with ease to bounce back from his knockout losses to Poirier and Alvarez. Gaethje is always kill-or-be-killed, so you know he’s going to come out here looking for the finish, but he’s prepared to get finished himself. Cerrone is coming off an ugly TKO loss to Ferguson where his eye blew up on him, but before that he had been on a really nice roll in his return to 155lbs. Cerrone is a tremendous talent but he struggles when his opponents put pressure on him, and that’s what Gaethje excels at. I think this fight is going to look like Cerrone vs. dos Anjos, where RDA was able to stalk Cerrone and blast him early and finish him. I see the same thing happening here. I think Gaethje puts the pressure on early, attacks the body and head of Cerrone, and gets the finish in the first or second round to emerge as a title contender.
Prediction: Justin Gaethje wins via TKO