UFC 160: Velasquez vs. Silva 2 opens up the PPV with a Lightweight scrap that used to be customary for big events: two exciting fighters who didn't earn their UFC stripes on the roster of a reality show. In other words, this one should deliver.
The man they call "cowboy" feels like he's led a less successful career than the one he's actually had. He's only lost twice in the UFC, yet he doesn't seem primed to break out like his WEC contemporaries, and has been thoroughly dominated in his two high profile fights to Anthony Pettis, and Nate Diaz.
It's possible Cerrone may be the kind of fighter who can lose the mental edge quickly, easily rattled in the face of adversity. Which would be a shame assuming it's true. Cerrone is one of the most exciting fighters in the division. He has a crowd pleasing style no matter where the fight goes. For all the acclaim directed at his striking, he seems to do best when his striking is compliment by his submission prowess. Many still believe he deserved the nod over Benson Henderson in their first WEC bout.
Noons is the anti-matter to Cerrone; a fighter whose career feels more successful than the one he's actually had. After beating Nick Diaz in EliteXC in 2007, he was an Eddie Alvarez type. A fighter who seemed like a potential star with an exciting style, but who needed a pond with a bigger audience, too distanced from the UFC for hardcore fans' taste.
Yet he's 1-4 in his last five. While his last bout against Ryan Couture was certainly questionable, the loss still puts him in an unenviable position.
What both men can do: Obviously, the hope of Joe Silva is that both men throw caution into the wind, and pretend to be sand-bottomed plastic cylinders who will come back for more after each violently landed punch. Joe Silva as Albert Bandura.
Both men are certainly capable. Cerrone's strength is his ability to establish distance with his jab, and his leg kicks when motivated. He's got a hard straight right, and brutal knees. In addition, his killer instinct shows up on the ground as well.
Noons is pretty similar except he's much more traditional. He limits his striking to his boxing ability, and his grappling is primarily used to keep the fight on the feet rather than threaten from (or reverse) guard. In recent years he's done a much better job of using leg kicks, and a snapping front kick to compliment his active jab, and ability to establish distance.
What both men can't do: Both guys are interesting cases of where technical craft meets mental inertia. Cerrone couldn't put together combinations when Nate starting swarming him, and just seemed intimidated by Pettis' patient, calculated style. If you do any one thing on the feet better than Donald, he seems to freeze up.
I don't think Noons meets that criteria. Noons does a lot of pawing, feinting, and generally throws a lot of strikes that are meant to keep distance rather than establish it with violent presence. For that reason, I think Cerrone wins this one. The catch scratching that is likely to go on in the first minute will make Donald feel empowered, and so once he feels like he's in the driver's seat, it should bring out the aggressive fighter we're used to seeing. Everyone Cerrone has lost to has either been a champion at some point, or has contended for one.
Right now, Noons feels like a shell of the contender he was once was. However, his power is still something that will remain a factor for as long as the fight stays on the feet. Though Noons has some fairly sturdy takedown defense, I like Cerrone to catch him at some point with a submission finish.
He won't feel too comfortable on the feet playing with KJ's right hand to the body, but comfortable enough to stagger Noons with some shots.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone by RNC, round 3.