The first of two championship bouts that will headline the WEC's inaugural pay-per-view event will feature a lightweight title showdown between current WEC Lightweight champion Ben "Smooth" Henderson (11-1, 4-0 WEC) and two-time challenger Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (11-2, 4-2-0-1 WEC) in a rematch of their WEC Interim Lightweight championship battle at WEC 43 back in October. The first encounter crowned Henderson the WEC Interim Lightweight champion, and he went on to defeat Jamie Varner in a title unification bout at WEC 46 via guillotine choke.
Interestingly enough, there was some controversy surrounding the scoring of their first encounter. Cerrone easily won round four and five, but the judges felt that Henderson took one, two, and three -- scoring the fight 48-47 in favor of Henderson. The fight itself was very tough to score, and to give you a sense of how close it was -- FightMetric scored it a dead even draw after five rounds of action.
We could probably argue for days about who actually won the fight in relation to the judging criteria, but the decision was made and Henderson went on to take the WEC Lightweight title exactly three months later. But the action in the first fight does give us an idea of how the second encounter might play out.
Most notably, Henderson's submission defense and top control attacks will need to improve if he wants to finish off Cerrone. While Henderson did escape the clutches of unconsciousness on multiple occasions in the fight, Cerrone won't make the same mistake twice. Rest assured, Cerrone will have cleared up any problems that he had in those attempts and secure tighter holds on Henderson... if that's even possible.
From top control, Henderson did a lot of damage as he stood up and out of Cerrone's guard while raining down punches. Cerrone's chin kept him in the fight for the long haul, but he can't take that type of damage again. If Henderson can replicate that type of gameplan with aggressive takedowns while avoiding the submissions of Cerrone, he could have a very successful night battering Cerrone on the way to victory.
As previously mentioned, Cerrone needs to tighten his submissions. I'm not exactly sure if Henderson simply has the knack for escaping Cerrone's attempts, or if Cerrone was slightly off the mark in securing the holds. It was certainly hard to tell in the case of the chokes in the early rounds.
Cerrone has stated that he believes Henderson can be knocked out, which obviously hints at a gameplan leaning toward testing his chin. With his lengthy frame and Muay Thai striking, he could very well pepper Henderson with shots. The problem is that he'll once again give up takedowns without improved defense.
I'm leaning toward Cerrone in this fight, but I think it's relatively close. Cerrone has the length and reach to edge out Henderson standing, but Henderson has good conditioning, solid wrestling, and heavy hands from the top. I see the fight playing out much like the last fight, but I think Cerrone has the tools to be more effective since he's already had a dose of what Henderson has to offer. Cerrone also tends to gain a second wind as the fight hits the late rounds, and that could be a deciding factor if Henderson slows again.