Everything you need to know about this weekend's UFC on Fox 17 main event bout between Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone.
The stakes suddenly are grander. And greener.
When UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos steps into the octagon for his first title defense in a rematch with Donald Cerrone on Saturday night at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. (10 p.m. ET, Fox), the shiny brass-and-leather strap will not be all that’s on the line. There’s a big-money fight on the horizon. BIG, big money.
Yes, there’s always a pile of cash—not to mention the intoxicating elixir of preeminence—sitting there for the taking when a champion steps up to fight. But in this case the stash potential has been wildly enriched by the possibility of the lightweight winner having a cash cow as his next dance partner. Last Saturday night, after Conor McGregor had stunned Jose Aldo to walk away with the featherweight belt, the Irishman talked about how his next stop probably will be the lightweight division.
So open up your wallets, gentlemen, and make room.
Nothing is set in stone, of course, until UFC president Dana White has his say. The 145-pound weight class does have a legitimate No. 1 contender in Frankie Edgar (who happens to be a former lightweight champ). And let’s not forget about Aldo, who before last weekend had reigned at featherweight for five years and not lost a fight in 10 years. But the survivor of Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone II could end up in the cage with the hugely popular McGregor, who has proven to be a magnet for financial windfalls.
Of course, that’s something that ought not consume the attention of the 155-pound champion and his challenger prior to Sunday. At this point, the mantra is “Be here now.” Dos Anjos and Cerrone have met before, in a 2013 fight that was highly competitive and went the distance before Dos Anjos had his arm raised. They know what each other is capable of. They know it demands their full concentration.
Dos Anjos (24–7) has been the champion since March, when he dominated Anthony Pettis. (That “Showtime” loss, by the way, came at a most inconvenient time for Madison Avenue, mere weeks before he was in every supermarket in the country, pictured with the belt slung over a shoulder on boxes of Wheaties. The cereal thus became “The Breakfast of Ex-Champions.”). Even with Dos Anjos coming off a knockout of former champ Benson Henderson, he wasn’t expected to dethrone the UFC’s flashiest champion. But the 31-year-old did just that, beating Pettis to the punch repeatedly on the way to extending his win streak to four in a row. He is No. 1 in the SI.com lightweight rankings.
Cerrone (28–6, 1 NC) has won eight straight fights since the loss to Dos Anjos. In his first four outings following the defeat, he finished his opponents and won postfight bonuses each time. “Cowboy” has become become known for an attitude of “anyone at any time.” Earlier this year, after coasting to a victory over then-unbeaten Myles Jury on Jan. 3, Cerrone came right back 15 days later when Benson Henderson’s scheduled opponent dropped out of their fight. Cerrone, who ranks third among 155-pounders in the SI.com tally, earned his second unanimous decision of the month.
In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of Saturday night’s five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s first three bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 7.
Rafael dos Anjos did not get off to a good start in the UFC. He lost his debut, in the fall of 2008, and a few months later was defeated again. But the jiu-jitsu-centric Brazilian gradually rounded out his game, and by the time he stepped into the octagon across from Donald Cerrone, in August 2013, he was on a four-fight win streak.
The run was extended to five that night, as Dos Anjos controlled the first two rounds of what was mostly a kickboxing contest on the way to a unanimous decision.
The Brazilian’s ascent was slowed by a speed bump named Khabib Nurmagomedov the following spring, but ever since then Dos Anjos has done nothing but rise. The knockout of Benson Henderson secured him a title shot, and he made the most of it.
His path is intersecting with Cerrone’s once again because “Cowboy” has been a nonstop wrecking machine in the time since his first go with Dos Anjos. He finished 2014 with four victories, and has three already this year. Riding an eight-fight winning streak, how could he be denied a shot at redemption and UFC gold?
Last Five Fights
3/14/15 - Anthony Pettis - W (UD 5)
5/23/15 - John Makdessi - W (TKO 2)
12/13/14 - Nate Diaz - W (UD 3)
1/18/15 - Benson Henderson - W (UD 3)
8/23/14 - Benson Henderson - W (KO 1)
1/3/15 - Myles Jury - W (UD 3)
6/7/14 - Jason High - W (TKO 2)
9/27/14 - Eddie Alvarez - W (UD 3)
4/19/14 - Khabib Nurmagomedov - L (UD 3)
7/16/14 - Jim Miller - W (KO 2)
Tale of the Tape
Oct. 26, 1984
March 29, 1983
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
28-6 (1 NC)
*Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
Other Numbers to Count On
820: Significant strikes landed by Donald Cerrone in his busy UFC career, ninth most among the promotion’s active fighters, according to FightMetric statistics.
69.5: Percentage of significant strikes successfully defended by Rafael dos Anjos, placing him 10th among active UFC fighters.
210: Days since Cerrone’s last bout, in May. Prior to that, he had two fights just this year and four each in 2014 and 2013. Is he well rested or rusty?
When last these two met…
We’ve already seen what these two can do against each other. This time expect to see more of it.
Dos Anjos set the pace of the first meeting, at least for the first two rounds. He was almost constantly moving forward, not in an overly aggressive way but just to engage Cerrone on his own terms. “Cowboy” is not one to retreat, but he was unable to get into his own stalking rhythm until the final round, by which point he was down two rounds on the scorecards and needed a finish. That was not to be.
To change the outcome in the rematch, Cerrone needs to flip the script. He needs to be the one moving forward. Dos Anjos is comfortable engaging, and throwing caution to the wind against him is ill-advised. But “Cowboy” can't sit back and allow himself to be picked apart. He must lead the dance.
Both fighters are better than they were last time. Both have stored away the knowledge of having been in with the other. Both will be aided in integrating that know-how by strong coaches—Rafael Cordeiro for Dos Anjos, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn for Cerrone. So expect to see two toolboxes opened wide and two diverse arsenals of combat techniques being utilized liberally. No feeling-out process necessary. It’ll be go time from the get-go.
Dos Anjos is the favorite, with a money line ranging from -195 (bet $195 to win $100) to -240 (bet $240 to win $100) at various sportsbooks. The line on Cerrone ranges from +160 (bet $100 to win $160) to +186 (bet $100 to win $186).
A couple of X-factors would suggest a different result this time. One is that seven of the UFC’s 10 champions lost in 2015, making belt-holders an endangered species. The counter argument: Dos Anjos was one of the challengers who made that power shift happen, with his thrashing of Anthony Pettis in March. The other factor that might make one lean toward the challenger? This is a five-round fight, and last time Cerrone, in a three-rounder, shifted the momentum his way in the third. Then again, Dos Anjos did just fine in the championship rounds against Pettis. And think about it: The Brazilian champion, in his last two fights, has knocked out Benson Henderson in the first round and dominated Pettis for five. Dos Anjos by decision.
“Now we have USADA testing every day. So I think it’s going to be a whole new animal in there. That’s for damn sure.” —Cerrone, speaking to reporters, alluding to increased US Anti-Doping testing and alluding to rumors concerning Dos Anjos.
“He’s just trying to make accusations. But if you look at my record, I have a clean record. I have been tested a lot of times for this fight. … Dec. 19, he’s going to get what he deserves, and we’ll see what he has to say afterward.” —Dos Anjos, responding to Cerrone’s veiled accusation.
The Rest of the Card
Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem, heavyweight; Michael Johnson vs. Nate Diaz, lightweight; Randa Markos vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz, strawweight.
Preliminary card (5 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Charles Oliveira vs. Myles Jury, featherweight; C.B. Dolloway vs. Nate Marquardt, middleweight; Sarah Kaufman vs. Valentina Shevchecnko, women’s bantamweight; Josh Samman vs. Tamdan McCrory, middleweight; Nik Lentz vs. Danny Castillo, lightweight; Cole Miller vs. Jim Alers, featherweight.
Online prelims (3:30 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman, welterweight; Hayder Hassan vs. Vicente Luque, welterweight; Luiz Henrique vs. Francis Ngannou, heavyweight.
Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on the Fox network as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. There will be an hour-long postfight show on Fox Sports 1, starting at 10 p.m. ET.