5 YRS AGO – PENICK’S TAKE: UFC 137 continues Donald Cerrone’s surprising emergence as legitimate Lightweight Title challenger

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

Donald Cerrone (photo by Joshua Dahl © USA Today)

Five years ago this week, Jamie Penick wrote an editorial on the emergence of Donald Cerrone. Check out the column and put it in perspective with how Cerrone has done since. Although he lost his next fight after this column was written – a decision loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 141 – he has an overall 14-4 record the last five years and has won 11 of his last 12 fights.

The story of UFC 137 is surely going to remain Nick Diaz and his fantastic performance against B.J. Penn – along with his subsequent leapfrogging of Carlos Condit in the welterweight division – but there was another fighter on Saturday night who deserves some attention for his performance on the card.

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone has taken the UFC’s lightweight division by surprise this year, winning three straight fights into Saturday’s card in the organization and then adding a fourth in perhaps the most impressive performance of his career.

Staff08Penick_120Who could have seen this coming? It was just two years ago that Cerrone had suffered losses to both Jamie Varner and Ben Henderson in title fights, and then just last April that he lost a second time to Henderson. His wrestling was suspect, and he found himself on his back in all three of those fights, and got finished in quick fashion in the second Henderson fight. His striking game was still developing, but not necessarily seen as a truly dangerous weapon.

Yet here we are six fights and 18 months later, and Cerrone looks like one of the brightest contenders in the entire lightweight division. In fact, depending on what happens on Nov. 12 in the fight between Clay Guida and Ben Henderson, Cerrone could even find himself as the next in line for a shot at UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar.

The strides Cerrone has made in such a short time have been fascinating to watch, and as he continues to close some of the holes in his game, his already dangerous weapons are getting even better as well.

This progression started to show itself in Cerrone’s rematch with Jamie Varner last September. Five months after the second loss to Henderson, Cerrone absolutely dominated Varner, not only in the striking game but shockingly in the wrestling department as well. The defensive improvements he made in the wrestling department were impressive in and of themselves, but it was his offensive wrestling in the fight that really surprised.

Though his final WEC fight with Chris Horodecki was a little uninspired, Cerrone still pulled off a stoppage win to enter the UFC on a two-fight winning streak.

In his debut, Cerrone battled through a tough first round against a game Paul Kelly, then took over in the second and submitted him with a rear naked choke. His fight with Vagner Rocha didn’t feature much action, but Cerrone employed a smart strategy against an overmatched opponent on the feet, and was able to stay away from Rocha’s strengths to win his second straight in the UFC.

But those fights were just the appetizer. In August he took his third fight of the year, and demolished a fighter perceived to be a very good and dangerous striker in his own right in Charles Oliveira. That was the eye opener on Cerrone and the leap his striking game has taken. It was his first career stoppage win by strikes, and it came against a fighter who supposedly had the edge in that area coming in.

That leap in his striking game was even more apparent against Siver. Siver has proven himself over the last couple of years with a lot of very good performances, and his heavy hands and kicks were rightfully seen as dangerous weapons entering Saturday’s card.

Cerrone didn’t care.

Not only did Cerrone have no problem striking with Siver, it was Cerrone firing early and often. A beautiful double high kick led to the first major damage of the round, and Siver never really recovered. Cerrone kept on the attack, patiently looking for more openings, and as he sent Siver scrambling across the cage from another rocking strike, he took his back and choked him out.

Donald Cerrone’s emergence in 2011 has turned into one of the major storylines of the year, and he doesn’t have any plans of slowing down. He wants to fight again in December, and again, depending on what happens in the Guida-Henderson fight, the only way he’s held out from competing again is if he gets the next title shot.

The way he’s running, that shot is becoming something of an inevitability, but he’s in no hurry to get there. Whenever it comes, Cerrone’s going to be a formidable challenge for any fighter holding onto the UFC’s Lightweight Title.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS FLASHBACK:  5 YRS AGO NEWS ITEMS: Anderson Silva finally responds to Sonnen calling him out, Diaz excited, Jon Anik hired from ESPN

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