This weekend sees what promises to be the best UFC card of the year. Now we must hope all the main players make it to the cage intact. No repeats of shady weight cuts, hit and runs or funky test results. If we can avoid all that we’ll witness three great title fights and a hell of a lot of entertainment.
Part two will contain those title fights but for now, we look at one of the more potentially violent affairs on the card. Robbie Lawler (27-11-0) returns to action against Donald Cerrone (32-8-0). We last saw ‘Ruthless’ carried out on his shield after losing his belt to a Tyron Woodley haymaker.
Former lightweight contender, ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is also coming off a recent TKO loss to Jorge Masvidal. ‘Cowboy’ was tearing up the welterweight ranks before that mishap.
After missing out on UFC 205 and UFC 213, due to injuries on both sides, this welterweight clash finally goes down in Anaheim, California.
Before that, we start the fireworks with a light-heavyweight clash at the top end of the division. Number three, Jimi ‘Poster Boy’ Manuwa (17-2-0) looks to stamp his name on the next title shot with a victory over number five, Volkan Oezdemir (14-1-0).
Oezdemir will try to build on his recent upset starching of Misha Cirkunov. Twenty-seven of a combined 31 wins have come by way of finishes. So, yeah, this one may not go the distance.
Jimi Manuwa Vs Volkan Oezdemir (205lbs)
Thirty-seven-year-old Manuwa is at the peak of his MMA career. The Englishman recently KO’d Corey Anderson in London and finished former interim title challenger, Ovince St. Preux via punches in October 2016.
‘Poster Boy’ has bombs in both his kicks and punches, often relying on single, explosive shots to stop fights. He’s called out everyone in the division in his quest for a title shot and the match-makers found a willing Swiss, Volkan Oezdemir. The 27-year-old is Manuwa’s ninth octagon opponent and the next step toward the light heavyweight strap.
Oezdemir came into the UFC on short notice to take on the aforementioned ‘OSP’. A split decision win was followed by a sensational knockout of rising contender, Cirkunov, putting Oezdemir at four straight wins. His last and only loss came against Kelly Anundson in 2014 via neck crank. Ten of his 14 wins have come through his swarming striking game and he’s never been finished on the feet. Good news against the heavy-handed Manuwa.
‘Poster Boy’ can put down a static ‘OSP’ and frustratingly inconsistent Anderson but he’s come up short against division elites Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson. He seems destined to play gate keeper to the best.
Oezdemir may not be in that calibre but he’s ten years younger than Manuwa. He hides takedowns behind punches and should have the edge against the porous defence of Manuwa. If Ozedemir has sorted his cardio issues and can push Manuwa back with combinations it could be an early night. Both men can put the lights out but Ozedemir gets there first.
Prediction: Ozedemir via TKO, second round.
Robbie Lawler Vs Donald Cerrone (170lbs)
Robbie Lawler returned to the UFC for his second run in 2013 whereupon he became one of the scariest men at 170lbs. ‘Ruthless’ has won eight of his last ten, claiming the welterweight title in the process. He went to war twice against Johny Hendricks, before defending the belt in bloodbaths against Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit.
The power punching monster will leave himself open in order to land heavy shots and boosts a remarkable takedown defence. After a year’s absence ‘Ruthless’ is back for this barn-burner against Cerrone.
‘Cowboy’ won three straight fights at welterweight, finishing tough duels with Matt Brown and Rick Story. Those wins landed a rejuvenated Cerrone into the top ten and pitted him against Jorge Masvidal. It was to be too much, too soon for Cerrone, who packs fights together like sardines.
An extended break of six months should suit him, as he tends to return stronger form losses, and he will need to because ‘Ruthless’ is the toughest test anyone can ask for.
Having said that, Lawler is hittable. Cerrone fights in a similar style to Condit and therefore has the blueprint to hurt Lawler.
If he can land the crisp Muay Thai combinations that finished Rick Story, Cerrone could put down the former champion.
Lawler may be rusty whereas Cerrone doesn’t know the meaning of the word. ‘Cowboy’ will have an advantage on the ground if he can get it there too. Not likely, someone’s going out on the feet!
Prediction: Cerrone via TKO.
Colin Keane, Pundit Arena