If there’s a fighter who had a better 2014 than Donald Cerrone, we haven’t seen him. In fact, he was The MMA Corner’s Fighter of the Year for 2014, and made plenty of best-of lists elsewhere as well. Why? Well, lets face it, winning four fights in a calendar year at a high level, winning three straight performance bonuses, and  getting yourself ranked fourth in the division in the process is a pretty impressive year for a fighter in any division, but in a stacked UFC lightweight division, it’s doubly impressive.

Though Rafael dos Anjos or Khabib Nurmagomedov are likely to get the next title shot, Cerrone has made a case for one of his own. The only problem is that he has already faced, and been defeated by lightweight champion Anthony Pettis — back before Pettis won the title. Now, it’s a matter of whether Cerrone has done enough to warrant a rematch with Pettis over bouts with fighters the champ has never been tested against. Fresh opponents in title fights keep the division moving, after all, but Cerrone has definitely improved since he last fought “Showtime” and a rematch could be warranted if his success continues. And though Cerrone has never squared off against either dos Anjos or Nurmagomedov himself, he no doubt would, with his anyone, any time, anywhere approach to fighting. In the meantime, however there’s Myles Jury to be concerned about.

Jury, Cerrone’s opponent in the co-headliner of UFC 182 on January 3rd, has gone on a quiet run in the lightweight division that has brought him all the way to eighth in the UFC’s official rankings. Undefeated in his career with a 15-0 record that Cerrone would no doubt like to spoil, Jury has taken out top names such as Takanori Gomi and Diego Sanchez, both of whom faced Jury in 2014. With the UFC since 2012, he’s an Ultimate Fighter alumni who actually appeared on two seasons of the show (TUF 13, where he tore his ACL and was forced off, and later TUF 15), yet won neither then came into the UFC anyway and went on a tear.

He has flown under the radar until recently, but after the Sanchez and Gomi fights, he was due for a big name. Enter Cowboy Cerrone, one the of biggest “characters” in the UFC, who happens to be one of their best all around fighters as well.

This is a dangerous match-up for either fighter in the sense that both have all the skills and technique to win the fight, meaning it will all come down to who executes their game plan better come fight night.

What does Cowboy Cerrone need to do to win?

Avoid the Takedown

Jury is going to shoot in on Cerrone at some point or other. Takedowns are a perceived weakness for Cerrone, who boasts a 67% takedown defense. Jury is a solid wrestler, so Cerrone needs to be on his guard. The key, however, is not throwing his strengths completely out the window in order to cover up a weakness. Jury is 12 for 18 in the UFC when it comes to takedowns, so stuffing them is possible. Cerrone needs to keep this standing.

Use Those Kicks Often And Early

Donald Cerrone has some fantastic kicks. Leg kicks, body kicks, head kicks. While he needs to avoid the takedown game of Jury, who took up wrestling as a kid, he also needs to chop away at his opponent. Jury has one of the best striking defences in the UFC, with his striking defence listed as 76% by the UFC, making it well above average, as well as having the record for the least amount of significant strikes absorbed per minute in UFC lightweight history. To really connect, then, Cerrone is going to have to put up some impressive numbers.

Fight Fire With Fire and Be Elusive

Myles Jury has picked apart guys who like to brawl, and that’s just not the way to approach him. Jury is a skilled tactician who has solid striking accuracy and isn’t going to just walk forward swinging, although he’d appreciate it if more opponents would. That didn’t go well for Diego Sanchez, and it won’t go well for Cowboy if he tries it. Luckily, Cowboy is a much more well-rounded fighter than the Sanchez. He should already have a good idea of what Jury is capable of going in (though he has said in the past he doesn’t watch much video, but take that with a grain of salt or assume his coaches do).

Jab Jab Jab

And jab and jab and jab some more. We saw Cerrone do this early in the Alvarez fight, where he spoiled Eddie Alvarez’s “Welcome to the UFC” party. Though he doesn’t have as much of a height and reach advantage against Jury (in fact the fighters are basically equal in reach, although Cerrone is listed as being a few inches taller than Jury), it’s still a solid approach, especially given Jury’s ability to avoid damage. Jabs can wear fighters down gradually, and don’t take up as much energy as unloading some heavier strikes does.

There’s a lot on the line in this fight, as the winner may put himself a fight away from a title shot (or less, depending on the always troublesome injury bug). Cerrone has opened as the favorite in this bout, but it’s by no means a lop-sided fight. Cowboy needs to bring his A-game to this rodeo.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.