Donald Cerrone vs. Justin Gaethje: Lightweight fight preview, breakdown

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
(R-L) Donald Cerrone punches Al Iaquinta in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Canadian Tire Centre on May 4, 2019 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Getty Images)
(R-L) Donald Cerrone punches Al Iaquinta in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Canadian Tire Centre on May 4, 2019 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Getty Images)

Saturday’s UFC main event pits two dangerous strikers against one another who are more well-rounded than they get credit for — Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje. There certainly exists the possibility that this fight goes to the ground, but I’m anticipating much of it will be fought on the feet.

So, below, we’re taking a summary look at important areas of the coming fight, when it comes to fighting on the feet. This is truly a fight that either man is capable of winning, and doing so in dramatic fashion.

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Neither shies away from center-of-the-ring strike exchanges, but a close-quarters brawl potentially benefits Gaethje more, while Cerrone may give himself a good chance while minimizing risk if he is able to successfully fight at a long range and cut angles to avoid fighting on his opponent’s terms.

Pressure fighting

(L-R) Justin Gaethje punches Edson Barboza of Brazil in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Wells Fargo Center on March 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)
(L-R) Justin Gaethje punches Edson Barboza of Brazil in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Wells Fargo Center on March 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)

Gaethje swings with wide punches, a lot (though he has a good jab and rear roundhouse kick to the leg). He covers distance with these shots, able to connect on and even knock opponents out when they think they’re out of range.

It also makes him hittable. Cerrone will need to time straight shots down the middle, in the midst of firefights, to make Gaethje pay for his aggressiveness. It won’t be easy, especially since Gaethje likes to pressure. Cerrone is best as a sniper when he can dictate the pace of a fight, at range. Opponents who have given him trouble, like Nate Diaz, have pressured him relentlessly.

That’s the type of talking Gaethje does. He isn’t just all aggression, either — he has good footwork and cuts off the cage well before attacking.

In the clinch

Gaethje, once an excellent collegiate wrestler, doesn’t work for takedowns all too often. He does, however, regularly clinch up and pin opponents against the cage.

That allows Gaethje to rest and wear down opponents who have already been overwhelmed by his pressure-striking, and it also gives him a safe out when he’s in the middle of a close-range fire-fight and wants to change things up.

Gaethje doesn’t often actively look for takedowns from the clinch, but he is great about trying to be first on separation from the clinch, throwing punches as opponents back away and might be tempted to take a breath with their guard down after thinking they’ve escaped danger just because they’ve escaped his grasp.

Cerrone has excellent trips when he gets into Thai boxing-style clinches. He also has good takedown defense when needed.

He’ll need to match Gaethje’s attention to detail when it comes to aggression upon separation from the clinch, even if he’s worn out.

Long distance

If they stay at distance, Cerrone has the length and kicking skill to do damage to Gaethje. The body kick is there for Cerrone, if he throws it with well-timed aggression. He’ll want to set up the kicks with punches, however, so as not to become too predictable and easily countered with an overhand from Gaethje if he leads with kicks.

If Cerrone can anticipate Gaethje’s charges to the inside and effectively angle-out, he’ll have his best shot. This fight is being billed as a guaranteed slugfest, and there’s no doubt we’ll see plenty of aggression in it.

True enough, either man is capable of scoring a knockout in the midst of a shoot-em-up exchange. They’ve both got power in all limbs and good timing. If Cerrone is able to out-maneuver Gaethje with his footwork at the very moment’s Gaethje charges in, his counters will be more effective, and he’ll be able to push action when he wants, instead of when prompted by his opponent.

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