Donald Cerrone vs. Al Iaquinta headlines UFC Ottawa this May 4, 2019 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
One sentence summary
David: Streets of Rage (and Age)
Phil: Unchanged men in a changing land
Record: Donald Cerrone 35-11-1NC | Al Iaquinta 14-4-1 NC
Odds: Donald Cerrone +110 | Al Iaquinta -120
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Cerrone has the kind of style that should age him like a keg of beer, but instead he’s turned into a 90’s bully brother-beating fine wine. It’s not magic at work. Forest elves didn’t stab him with a magic ice knife, and he wasn’t revived after a hangover on Hollywood’s version of Indian Burial Ground. Cerrone’s always been kind of a badass in the cage, and he remains so. Being well-rounded is kind of a lameduck talent these days, but if it’s good for anything, it’s getting fewer sticks and stones throw at you by Father Time.
Phil: Cowboy is back at lightweight for one last run and... hm. It’s not that Mike Perry and Alexander Hernandez aren’t good wins, but perhaps this is the way that Cowboy declines? Rather than the wheels all falling off at once, as we all predicted would happen, it’s more that his streaks will get shorter and the losses punctuating them will line up more readily, until the gravity inevitably pulls in one direction. Maybe that’s the wrong take though: maybe this really is a new, fatherhood-inspired version of Cowboy that is ready to take his career to those peaks that it never reached before. Basic biological realities tend to argue against it, but when has he cared about them?
David: There’s always one. One guy the UFC begrudgingly keeps around despite winning almost every fight, who makes them look all the worse when you can lose, and literally fight for the title right after. In a different weight class. The UFC might not see, or even care about the internal consistency of how they determine challengers. But people like Iaquinta don’t have to. They can just feel the buffoonery. To sweat and just bleed for four years without losing a fight, yet be forced to go into real estate because you gotta have options despite winning and winning inside the world’s leader in professional mixed martial arts is...well, it’s something.
Phil: The leverage of the UFC has strengthened since the ESPN deal. Before, there were fighters like McGregor who were able to virtually dictate the direction that matchmaking would take. With fat guaranteed payouts for every single PPV, even this leverage has disappeared for the upper tier of stars. One other effect it might have had, though: reducing the ability of people like Dana to influence the direction of where fighters go through sheer whimsy and grudges. Hence we have vocally unruly fighters like Askren and Iaquinta being put into spots that they never would have before. I’m not sure that that’s a positive thing: perhaps it simply indicates that the UFC’s corporate machine has evolved beyond the point where it cares about trivial rebellions.
What’s at stake?
David: Just each other’s brainstem.
Phil: Realistically, the best spot anyone can get at the moment is as an injury (or legal-related absence) replacement for one of the top 4 spots at lightweight, which are otherwise locked down for the foreseeable future: Khabib vs Poirier, McGregor and Ferguson. Iaquinta still isn’t that popular with the UFC, and Cowboy’s spotty recent record will make it hard for the loser to recover.
Where do they want it?
David: Cerrone was once a prototype for the “well-rounded” fighter. A threat on the feet, and on the ground. What more could you want? What we’re seeing with Cerrone’s late career success is the nuance lost in Cerrone’s well roundedness. He is, first and foremost, a tactician. The Robbie Lawler fight was a great example. Lawler made the unexpected move to blitz Cerrone (something Lawler wasn’t known for) in their bout, and Cerrone made a great adjustment to keep a high guard to insert elbows, and counter elbows to keep from being open. He has rarely been a fighter to outright lose from bell to bell. When he does lose, it’s because his body can only stop punches, not bullets. And unfortunately for him, he’s in a field of them. That’s the interesting question for me: Iaquinta doesn’t really have that kind of style. Yea 4 of his last 6 wins are by TKO/KO, but look at that competition. It’s nothing but spare Sengoku parts, and TUF cold pizza.
Phil: With all the data you could ever want, we now have a fairly strong picture of who Cowboy is. He’s amazing at fighting a few types of styles, like blitzers, and pure counterfighters. He lands counter knees on the first, and mixes up kicks on the second. He’s good at some other style matchups: pure wrestlers face the knee threat again, together with the submission and counter-wrestling threat, and short or slow boxers get carved up on the outside once more. He is bad against defined pressure fighters, boxers with range parity or advantage, and against body shots in general. The question here, then, is how much Iaquinta matches up to any of those archetypes, and the most interesting facet is that he doesn’t quite slip into any of them.
David: Iaquinta’s not the kind of fighter you bust out the beer and popcorn over. His talents are not overt or obvious enough that he can rely on a few specific strikes, or tactics to funnel those strikes into big wins. Iaquinta’s a nickel and dime fighter — letting his boxing technique, and slithery defense slowly drown his opponent in a battle of attrition. Al is fearless. Maybe being in real estate during the subprime crisis helped. Maybe it’s just the raw thrill of the prizefighting slaughter. Whatever the case, he fought Khabib without a fuss when everyone else seemed “afraid” and his bout with Kevin Lee was a great showcase for the overused cliche that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Which is moderately condescending and inaccurate, as if Lee didn’t work as hard, or as if Iaquinta isn’t as talented. Anyway! Iaquinta excels with his lateral movement, shifting in tricky but subtle ways to cut through opponent defenses with a bricking jab, and mixing his follow up strikes with a variety of kicks, straight rights, body work and yes — when the mood strikes, a flying heel hook.
Phil: Iaquinta has been a tricky chap to nail down. He’s defined in his style, but it would be hard to define him as being one of the best in the division at his own speciality- is he one of the best boxers at 155? Like, maybe, but would you pick him to beat Poirier, or McGregor? Beyond that, he’s not a tremendously diverse striker (although he can mix in a nice inside leg or body kick), and nor is he a crushing hitter, although he clearly hits hard. Instead he is rawhide tough, crafty, well-coached and surprisingly well-rounded in subtle ways. He doesn’t get out past his feet, he has good, efficient footwork and can sit down on his punches without gassing himself out. He’s tough to take down (evidenced by the way that the takedowns stopped coming for both Khabib and Kevin Lee) and tough to keep there.
Insight from past fights
David: As mentioned above, Iaquinta doesn’t represent any obvious facsimile for Cerrone. Where I think Cerrone might be hindered here is that a lot of his recent fights have been against pure crasher banger types. Donald’s fight with Yancy Medeiros was pure prizefighting goofballery. Yancy just attacked him like he was in a fistfight with Kevin McAllister. Perry, Brown, etc — none of these guys have even close to what Iaquinta is capable of. At the same time, Iaquinta has been exploited on the ground. My insta-reaction to this is that Cerrone is not a great wrestler. If he he does get Iaquinta to the ground, it’ll come from some mad scramble.
Phil: The Masvidal fight strikes me here- while the book on Cerrone has often been “southpaw pressure” I think this one really exposed how vulnerable he is to those who can force boxing exchanges on him. Masvidal is neither a defined pressure fighter or a southpaw, but he was someone long and rangy enough, and skilled enough to sit at the slice of range just inside Cerrone’s kicks and force him into boxing exchanges over and over until Cerrone’s relatively lack of depth and durability there was exposed. Similarly, Leon Edwards might be a southpaw but he’s no-one’s idea of a pressure fighter. However, he just sat at the end of his punching range and lobbed in one-twos past Cerrone’s jab, and punished him on clinch breaks.
David: I’m in the middle of watching the Dallas Stars in the playoffs, and enjoying the fact that a ton of small market teams are competing for the Stanley Cup: including a team called a “bunch of jerks” by an idiot dinosaur Canadian icon. If you don’t mind, I will skip this section.
Phil: I gotchu fam. Cerrone might get old, Al might get distracted by a sweet deal on a Long Island condo.
David: This is a tough one. I don’t see Cerrone losing a war of attrition to Iaquinta. Mainly because that is not how Cerrone typically loses, and I don’t feel like Iaquinta has enough explosiveness to a) tag Cerrone enough to rattle him and b) survive a dangerous scramble on the ground over the course of five rounds. However, I’m thinking of the Cerrone of the yesteryear. I also think Iaquinta’s boxing could be a nightmare in some ways. Cerrone doesn’t do as much damage at range — especially with the way Iaquinta fights at range. If Al is sliding in and out, landing the jab and occasionally hitting a clean liver/body shot, defeat is entirely possible. So who the hell even knows on this one. Al Iaquinta by Decision.
Phil: This is a very tricky one to call. On the one hand, Iaquinta is efficient but not particularly quick with his footwork. It is entirely possible that Cerrone just carves him up from the outside with leg and body kicks, and backs out while covering the retreat with the left hook (or goes for the takedown and clinch threat) when it looks like Al might close. However, I think Al *can* close, in part because he has bizarrely long arms, and has managed to make his boxing functional against some surprising reach and even technique disparities. I think that much like Cub Swanson further down the card, this one might be a bit of an “I’m not sure where Cowboy is” pick. He can flatten greenhorns, sure, but Al has been around the block, and I just trust Iaquinta to last deep in fights, I trust him to understand that the boxing range is his range and to stick there. It’s a tremendously close fight and the BE staff picks are frankly a little concerning in how one-sided they are, but I’m sticking with Al Iaquinta by TKO, round 3.