The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns this week for an event that will break up the four weeks separating UFC 225 and International Fight Week’s UFC 226. Rising welterweight contender Leon Edwards will attempt to follow in the footsteps of countryman Darren Till when he locks horns with Donald Cerrone. Till launched himself into the top 10 with an emphatic knockout of the fan-favorite “Cowboy,” and “Rocky” will look to do the same.
The co-headliner will see hulking finishers Ovince St. Preux and Tyson Pedro duke it out, as Pedro seeks to graduate from prospect to contender at the expense of the former title challenger. The rest of the card sees plenty of young talent from Asia and Oceania. We’ll see which of them can make the leap from regional ticket-seller to global commodity.
Without further discourse, let’s get to the analysis and picks for UFC Fight Night 132.
Fight Pass Main Card
Cerrone (33-9, 1 N/C) vs. Leon
Odds: Edwards (-210), Cerrone (+175)
At 35, Cerrone is likely done competing for a shot at the welterweight or lightweight titles. But that doesn’t seem to bother the affable adrenaline junkie, who has always fought for a good time and to put on fan-friendly performances, rather than the typical compulsion to be “the best in the world.” The Colorado native will likely settle into a role as a gatekeeper to the top 15 for the next couple years if his durability doesn’t fall off a cliff.
That was the question hanging over him going into his February bout with Yancy Medeiros. On the heels of three straight losses, two by ugly stoppage, many questioned whether Cerrone still had what it took to compete in the upper echelon at 170 pounds. “Cowboy” will be tied forever to his exciting, action-packed style and the breakneck pace with which he accepts new opponents. Unfortunately, those defining characteristics seem to have finally caught up to him.
Even in his win over Medeiros, the Jackson-Wink MMA product looked uncomfortable getting hit, flinching away from shots that wouldn’t have bothered him 18 months ago. Cerrone has fought so frequently that opponents know exactly how to attack him: he isn’t comfortable being pressured hard, he starts slow and he is susceptible to the body. His once-iron chin isn’t what it used to be, either. Robbie Lawler and Till both went after him with a vengeance to capitalize on those first two weaknesses. Medeiros attacked too, but that is exactly what Medeiros always does, and his lack of defense left enough holes for Cerrone, still an offensive powerhouse, to exploit. Perhaps his confidence will be renewed after knocking out the Hawaiian. His ability to absorb punishment, recover and respond in kind is tied heavily to that confidence.
Unless he changes up his strategy for Cerrone -- not altogether unlikely, given what everyone knows about the New Mexico resident -- Edwards doesn’t seem to present a particularly dangerous style matchup for him. The Brit is a slick southpaw striker who has recently found success wrestling and threatening offense from top position. His striking output is frustratingly low and straightforward. The American Kickboxing Academy transplant fires a blistering 1-2 but often reaches on the cross without taking his feet with him. When he does, it is devastating. His left body kick is punishing, as are his knees at close range. When pressured, the Brit demonstrates solid lateral footwork that, coupled with his upper body movement and counterpunching, makes him difficult to corral. He is generally heavy on his front leg, though, which a kicker like Cerrone could take advantage of.
But Edwards lately has seemed more comfortable putting foes on their backs, and he has proven surprisingly adept at it. He can hit trips in tie-ups or shoot a double behind a combination. Edwards is a solid scrambler with an active guard, but he has shown a real knack for sneaking around to the back while opponents fight to get to their feet, even against the cage. That ability is what led to his rear-naked choke of Albert Tumenov and to establishing the position that led to his last-second TKO of Peter Sobotta.
Till was another long, powerful southpaw who blasted Cerrone with a 1-2 and put him down. But the hulking Liverpudlian had to trap Cerrone on the cage and let those 1-2s go early and often before connecting with the fight-ending blows. Edwards doesn’t have the same physical dimensions or willingness to stay ultra-aggressive. He could tag “Cowboy” and put it on the aging veteran to garner the stoppage, but if he can’t manage it, he’ll have a hard time winning rounds. Cerrone is far more active - even at this advanced stage of his career - and varied in his kickboxing attack. The Jackson-Wink stalwart is also at least Edwards’ equal in the wrestling department and will have an advantage in the grappling department unless he is badly compromised. Edwards’ tendency to fight at a longer range and not push a hellacious pace play well for Cerrone. He will have the time he needs to get warmed up and the space to uncork the full breadth of his muay Thai arsenal. Edwards will get after him aggressively and desperately after falling behind on the scorecards, but by then it will be too late. Cerrone shows off again how deep his game has become in capturing a unanimous decision.
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