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UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Siver - Toe to Toe Preview: Donald Cerrone vs. Benson Henderson

Phil and David cover all the bases in this very unlikely trilogy between still bruised Donald Cerrone, and his old WEC nemesis Benson Henderson, this Sunday in Boston.

Benson Henderson takes on Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 59 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 18th

Lightweight (150lbs)

Benson "Smooth" Henderson

Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone

Single line summary:

WEC never die!


Zuffa world takeover never die!

History Lesson / Introduction:

Phil: Two of the mainstays of the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting, Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone went head-to-head on two separate occasions, once for the interim WEC lightweight belt, and once for the belt proper, with Bendo coming out the victor both times. When they came over to the UFC, Henderson had consistent (if close) success, often eking out narrow decisions, including taking the championship. Cerrone would go on gaudy, violent runs before being stopped in his tracks. Henderson's consistency has taken a hit of late, as he was finished by Rafael dos Anjos and Anthony Pettis. Cerrone is taking this contest after fighting just two weeks ago. Taking the jet to Boston, because he's Cowboy, and that's how he do.

David: It's amusing to reflect on what fans and observers thought about the WEC guys coming over when they did. My predictions weren't any better, but I did feel like the Cerrone/Henderson/Pettis trio was like a diet version of Sherk/Penn/Edgar at the time. I'm still a little torn on seeing Cerrone fight so soon. I don't think it'll affect his performance, but I'm still not a fan in general if athletic commissions authorizing this kind of thing. Not being in a three round war shouldn't certify you; there are guys whose day to day training is more violent than the actual fights they experience. Anyway, enough sober reflecting! It's time to step to this!

What are the stakes?

Phil: Cerrone lost to Diaz. Cerrone lost to Pettis by Round 1 knockout. Cerrone lost to Rafael Dos Anjos, then RDA lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov. By any rights, Cerrone should be far back in the 155lb pecking order. But... he just keeps fighting. He just keeps piling on win after win. This fight is by far the greatest encapsulation of what Cerrone has been doing. An incredibly short notice bout against a man who beat him twice. If he pulls this off, it's difficult to deny him another crack at Pettis or Dos Anjos.

Whatever else, you just have to shake your head in awestruck and slightly scared admiration. Surely his ability to ride horses and jetskis is hindered by his enormous brass balls?

David: Yea but I'm afraid those enormous brass balls are gonna end up like this. After all, you fight long enough, and who knows what body parts end up where. Somehow the fight is spiritually fitting for both men. Henderson needs to get back on track, and to prove he's more than just the sum of favorable judging and Cowboy needs to prove that all this activity is actually helping him improve as a fighter. Both guys are elite, but they're also in modest danger of being the overachieving sub-Zuffa competitors they were once billed as.

Where do they want it?

Phil: This has to be one of the more spatially defined fights in recent years. Essentially, if Bendo can force Cowboy up against the cage with any regularity, he's probably going to win. If he can't, he's probably going to lose.

Cerrone works best when he is stalking opponents. An opponent who stays static (or one who moves forwards or backwards slowly) is meat for his style, because he'll just open up with the rangy kicking artillery. However, his footspeed isn't great, and his inside game is somewhat limited, with the exception of the step knee he uses to stop takedown attempts, and some slashing elbows. Therefore, when pushed up against the cage, it sometimes takes him a while to escape and reset.

At this stage in his career he's a powerful counter-wrestler, and is capable of stuffing well-timed shots and jumping on poorly set up ones with submission attempts, as when he hit Myles Jury with the omaplata sweep. He offers a broadly similar selection of threats and weaknesses as the champ, Pettis: there's a place where you can kind of weaken him, but it's awful difficult to get to, and an opponent who tries is going to be playing with fire the entire time.

David: At this point I feel like Cerrone can replicate what Pettis did to Henderson: not as quick obviously, but in terms of function he also has a supernatural ability to look for the setup to a submission with quickness. Especially as the fight transitions.

I do think fans are too quick to write Henderson off. At this point people get caught up in the decisions he may not have deserved, but he's rarely been an easy fight. Even now I think his overall game is underrated. Heavy leg kicks, strong punches when he throws committed, and solid grappling game to round out his offense have always been hampered by a lack of urgency to his game. Tyson Griffin is the poster boy for this tic-tac-not yet toe style of fighting. When he's leading the charge, and imposing his will, he's a strong fighter. But Cerrone's ability to threaten from various angles should give me the edge; and edge that seemed apparent in their first bout.

Insight from past fights:

Phil: The strange thing is with this bout is that these two fought twice before, and I don't know if either contest is massively relevant. Their first throwdown (an all-time classic) largely focused around Bendo taking Cowboy down, then fighting off submission attempts to land ground and pound. Of all the things that Bendo has improved, his offensive wrestling skills are not really among them, and Cerrone's takedown defense has skyrocketed in efficacy. In their second fight, Cerrone was clearly anxious to try that newfound wrestling game, and dove straight into a guillotine choke. It's hard to see either of those scenarios playing out again.

David: I was about to say the same thing. Rarely do two fights between two fighters tell us absolutely nothing, but behold, the exception. In addition, they're both the same fighters in spirit. While they've made certain improvements to their game, nothing so dramatic as to think two previous bouts wouldn't be foretelling otherwise. I feel like this fight is basically Cerrone's to lose though. Henderson seems to appear like he's at a crossroads, with the talk of moving to WW. Cerrone knows what needs to be done to afford a new jet ski with a UFC belt as a nice consolation prize.


Phil: I suppose Cerrone's insane scheduling of fighting two top-10 opponents within 2 weeks of one another needs to be mentioned, but he just doesn't seem to get tired and he doesn't seem to get injured. Cerrone's biggest problems have been mental rather than physical, and it seems that the whole "drivin' around in the RV, don't care who I'm fightin'" attitude (which he's cranked up to 11 of late) is a conscious attempt to just get himself to relax.

David: I would argue that Henderson is functionally no different when it comes to the mental game. There are times when he seems almost indifferent in the cage. He needs to carry a chip in his shoulder instead of that toothpick.


Phil and David: Cerrone by victory.

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