By Adam Martin
After a crazy weekend of MMA that culminated in an epic UFC 194, it’s not exactly surprising that UFC on FOX 17 is flying under the radar, but it’s a solid card from top to bottom that features a fantastic lightweight title fight between champion Rafael dos Anjos and challenger Donald Cerrone. It’s a rematch of the pair’s excellent three-round bout from 2013 that dos Anjos won via unanimous decision, and with RDA on a four-fight win streak and Cerrone on an eight-fight win streak, the time has come for both to fight once again, only this time for ultimate supremacy, with the winner emerging after five rounds or less with the title.
When the first fight between these two men took place, not many could have seen these two meeting in a rematch just over two years later with the title on the line. In dos Anjos’ case, he lost his very next fight after the Cerrone bout to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a fight where his wrestling was exposed, while for Cerrone the loss to RDA was his third loss in six fights, and at the time it looked like he was going to turn into a gatekeeper, not the #1 contender.
Fast forward just 28 months to the present. RDA has reeled off four straight victories over Jason High, Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, and Anthony Pettis, while Cerrone has won eight in a row against Evan Dunham, Adriano Martins, Edson Barboza, Jim Miller, Eddie Alvarez, Myles Jury, the aforementioned Henderson, and John Makdessi. Between the two of them, they have essentially cleaned out the UFC lightweight division, the strongest weight class in the sport
In addition to his wrestling, dos Anjos has also improved his striking quite a bit. When he first came into the UFC, he was basically just a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, not a complete MMA fighter. Think back to his UFC debut at UFC 91 against Jeremy Stephens where he was brutally knocked out with a video-game style uppercut. It didn’t come naturally for dos Anjos, but over the years he has improved his striking, and in the last year especially, he’s morphed into one of the most dangerous standup fighters in the division, knocking out Henderson, destroying Diaz with leg kicks, and even beating the feared striker Pettis in the standup when they fought. RDA’s evolution in both the standup and the wrestling has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Pettis knocked him out with a body kick, and just a few fights before that, Diaz beat him up in a slugfest. For a while there, it was looking like Cerrone was going down the path we’ve seen so many other fighters go, partying too much and not taking the sport seriously, even though the talent was there. Thankfully, though, he started to take MMA more serious, and now you see a guy who is not just an exciting action fighter known for fun fights, but one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division.
Against Makdessi in his last fight, he showed off his killer Muay Thai, an aspect of his game that he displayed against Alvarez, against Martins, and against Miller in his wins over them. Against Barboza, he showed improved boxing. Against Dunham, he showed he still has an elite submission game, something he forgot about for a stretch in his early UFC days. But perhaps most impressive has been Cerrone’s evolution of his wrestling game, showing off strong takedown and top control ability in fights against Henderson and against Jury. No one ever thought of Cerrone as a wrestler, but his ability to get takedowns at crucial times won him fights he wasn’t expected to win, and he should be commended for getting better at that part of his game.
This weekend at UFC on FOX 17, two of the most improved fighters in the lightweight division will fight for the title, and it will be interesting to see how the fight plays out. Considering the improvement’s RDA has made, and considering he won the first fight just over two years ago, you have to favor him, but Cerrone has clearly evolved as a mixed martial artist as well, and it would be silly to count him out. This is a great matchup, plain and simple, and when the winner gets his hand raised, we will find out who has improved more.
UFC on Fox 17
• Rafael dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone (UFC Lightweight Championship)
UFC on FOX 17: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 takes place on December 19, 2015 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.