Donald Cerrone punches Charles Oliveira at UFC on Versus 5 back in August. Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Back in December when the UFC announced that it would absorb the WEC, lightweights were one of the hot topics among fans. WEC title contender Ben Henderson and WEC champion Anthony Pettis were the sole focus of a discussion about which WEC lightweights would fare the best against the elite level talent that awaited them in the UFC. Donald Cerrone didn't get the memo.
The 28-year-old Colorado-born fighter has impressed in his three fights inside the Octagon since his debut in February. He submitted British bruiser Paul Kelly in a Fight of the Night performance at UFC 126, dominated Vagner Rocha in a lopsided unanimous decision at UFC 131, and knocked out hot prospect Charles Oliveira in his most recent performance at UFC on Versus 5 in August. While the level of competition he's faced hasn't been on par with the likes of both Henderson and Pettis, that's all set to change on Saturday night at UFC 137.
The "Cowboy" will square off against Germany's Dennis Siver as the headliner for the UFC 137 preliminary card airing on Spike TV. It couldn't be more perfect for the casual fans it aims to draw in. Both men have a knack for producing bonus-worthy performances, and the outcome of the fight could lead to more fruitful opportunities for the victor.
For Cerrone, the bout could serve as a momentous middle finger to his critics. Kelly, Rocha, and Oliveira weren't considered creme of the crop lightweights, merely challenges for a fighter who many thought would succumb to the skills of UFC-caliber talent. Cerrone proved those critics wrong, but can he erase the overall thought that he'll never break into the consensus top ten ranking floating around in everyone's head?
He's close. Siver sits on the outside looking in after his victory over a surging George Sotiropoulos at UFC 127 in February. The subsequent knockout loss to Rafael dos Anjos all but eliminated Sotiropoulos from contention talk, making room for Siver's name to begin making the rounds among pundits. A follow-up win over Matt Wiman at UFC 132, while controversial, still keeps Siver in the limelight. Cerrone now has the opportunity to steal that momentum, and recent turns in the UFC's lightweight title hunt could make his name the topic of discussion with an impressive win on Saturday.
Jim Miller's derailment at the hands of Ben Henderson, Melvin Guillard's submission loss to Joe Lauzon, and Anthony Pettis' blemish against Clay Guida make the top ten wide open for fresh talent. A win won't secure contention by any stretch of the imagination, but it will put Cerrone into the relevant fights that matter, likely against some of the names just mentioned.
Cerrone was once considered an extremely raw talent, possessing brutal Muay Thai skills, apt grappling ability, and the physical gifts to compliment both of those arts. He was, however, prone to throwing gameplans out the window once a fight began, ignorning the advice of his mentor Greg Jackson. How times have changed.
Those issues have faded with maturity. Cerrone's stone cold demeanor, technically improved ranged attack, and tortuos grappling game have combined to create a fighter nobody is calling UFC matchmaker Joe Silva asking to fight. Can Cerrone eventually compete for the title? I have my doubts, but I also thought his immaturity would be the end of him when he made his way into the UFC. We'll find out Saturday if Cerrone has what it takes to break into the lightweight's division upper ranks.