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Donald
Cerrone
will step inside the Octagon for the fourth time in
2019 when he takes on Justin
Gaethje
in the
UFC Fight Night 158
main event on Saturday at Rogers Arena in
Vancouver, British Columbia. A dream matchup pits two of the most
exciting and ruthless strikers in
Ultimate Fighting Championship
against one another, with the
winner perhaps moving one step closer to a title shot. While both
men are predominantly strikers, they possess underrated grappling
skills. Cerrone’s stance and striking tendencies resemble a
high-level Nak Muay, and he can finish a fight on the ground with
his jiu-jitsu. Gaethje, meanwhile, is an aggressive wrestle-boxer
who will punt his opponent’s legs and defend any takedowns heading
his way.

Their showdown provides the material for this edition of The Film
Room.

When working on the lead, “Cowboy” prefers to strike in long
combinations. Like any muay Thai-based fighter, he loves to start
and end combinations with kicks, which have set up some of the best
knockouts of his career. In his leading attacks, he rarely
overextends on punches or puts himself out of position to defend.
He will occasionally get overzealous and cross his feet while
walking forward with combos, but overall, he is tactical and
patient. With 12 years of professional experience, Cerrone is
comfortable striking at range or in the pocket. However, Gaethje is
perhaps the smartest inside fighter in MMA today, so as much as we
may want to see “Cowboy” play into his style and give us a “Fight
of the Year” contender, it would be best for him to stay patient
and work on the outside.

Gaethje is at his best when plodding forward with a high guard and
forcing opponents to the cage, where he can pick them apart in the
pocket. Keep an eye on how he will change his pace during these
exchanges. Sometimes he swings for the fences until somebody drops,
and other times, he is intelligently picking his shots while
keeping constant pace and pressure on the opponent. Gaethje’s
ability to mix up his attacks highlights his exchanges in the
pocket. Many fighters will attack the head and body, but Gaethje
adds another threat by mixing in leg kicks at close range. Leg
kicks are usually distance strikes, and most fighters are not
thinking about them when trading in the pocket. As a result, they
work wonders in wild exchanges.

Gaethje might be the most exciting fighter in the UFC today, but
his bread-and-butter technique will always be the standard-issue
leg kick. Leg kicks generally are not seen as fight-ending strikes,
but Gaethje is one of the few MMA fighters who have multiple
technical knockout wins via leg kicks. More importantly, they limit
the movement of opponents and make it easier for Gaethje to trap
them against the cage and force exchanges in the pocket. He will
lead with leg kicks, counter with leg kicks and even throw some
while clinching against the cage. In summation, Gaethje is the most
creative leg kicker in MMA today.

Staying true to his muay Thai base, Cerrone also throws lots of leg
kicks. Notice how often he uses them on the counter. This is common
in muay Thai but rarely done in MMA, and they could work perfectly
against Gaethje when he is plodding forward with his hands.

Intercepting knees would also work well against Gaethje. They are
not used nearly enough in MMA, but they are the perfect counters
for aggressive opponents who like to headhunt. All Cerrone has to
do is raise his knee upwards and let the opponent run into it.
Eddie
Alvarez
used this a few times against Gaethje, and each time,
it stopped him in his tracks and forced him to reset at range.

Gaethje’s takedown defense and grappling background are often
afterthoughts due to his exciting style. Despite being known for
his striking, Gaethje was an NCAA All-American wrestler at the
University of Northern Colorado. He has offered up very little in
the way of offensive wrestling, but he wields some of the best
takedown defense in the division. Even with his stance square and
out of position, he can defend takedowns and secure top
position.

Cerrone’s ability to fight effectively on the feet and on the
ground makes him one of the most dynamic offensive competitors of
all-time. Seventeen of his 34 career wins have resulted in
submissions, nearly doubling his number of knockouts (nine). He
generally only relies on his grappling when he fails to get the job
done on the feet, so we might see him shooting for desperation
takedowns.

Like every fighter who enters the cage, “Cowboy” has his
imperfections. He is good at staying defensively responsible when
working on the lead and not leaving himself open for counters, but
he historically struggles with pushy opponents who force him to
work off his back foot. This could spell trouble for him against
Gaethje, who can be quite aggressive and is adept at mixing in
counters with his leading attacks.

The bull guard defense worked wonders for Gaethje outside of the
UFC, but he has started to face more competent fighters with the
ability to exploit the deficiencies of this style. Since he keeps
his hands high, Gaethje is prone to body shots and any strikes up
the middle, like the knees mentioned earlier and uppercuts. Alvarez
perfectly exploited these holes and ripped to the body any chance
he could, mixing in knees up the middle to give Gaethje the first
loss of his career. Advertisement

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