Cerrone vs. Gaethje could be an all-time fight


Justin Gaethje speaks with reporters during open workouts at Rogers Arena on Sept. 11, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Rich Lam/Zuffa LLC)
Justin Gaethje speaks with reporters during open workouts at Rogers Arena on Sept. 11, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Rich Lam/Zuffa LLC)

The moment the news broke that Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje would meet Saturday in the main event of UFC Vancouver, a collective euphoria set in on the MMA fan base. If ever there was a fight that had the potential to be Fight of the Night, Fight of the Year, Fight of the Decade, Fight of the UFC History, it is this one.

It’s all about attitude.

To understand why fans are so excited, consider what Gaethje, the former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion, told reporters at an open workout scrum in Vancouver:

“I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t try to knock him out, like I try with every opponent,” Gaethje said.

Cerrone has set such a standard in his long career for entertaining, back-and-forth fights that foes feel they’re not doing right by him if they fight cautiously and strategically.

He has the most UFC wins in history, with 23, and is second with most fights, at 33. He’s won the most bonuses in the promotion’s history with 18, which includes six Fight of the Night bonuses. He also has the most finishes in UFC history.

Gaethje is the modern-day Cerrone, though. Since joining the UFC in 2017, he’s won a fight night bonus in each of his five bouts and has been in Fight of the Night in four of them.

It doesn’t take much to get Cerrone excited to fight, but knowing that Gaethje will be standing opposite him on Saturday has him more amped than normal.

“Hell yeah,” he said when asked if he gets more excited for fights like this that figure to be a shootout. “It’s a lot more fun when we’re engaging and throwing down in the center of the Octagon.”

Then, in one of the great understatements in sports history, he added deadpan, “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem in this fight. I think we’ll know where to find each other.”

Gaethje has been in 22 fights and won 20 of them, 17 of them by knockout. So there is a risk to anyone who gets in there and engages with Gaethje.

Cerrone, though, said Gaethje’s strength is also his weakness.

“He sets that great pace, but it’s also his weakness,” Cerrone said. “He takes a lot of damage and it sets him up for a lot of counter strikes and shots.”

Gaethje acknowledges that, and said that he’s altered his approach after he lost back-to-back fights to Eddie Alvarez on Dec. 2, 2017, and Dustin Poirier on April 14, 2018. Both were Fight of the Night, but they also represent the only losses of his 22-fight career.

He said he believes his new approach has been a positive for him.

“I really changed the way I fight after I took those two losses,” Gaethje said. “I was able to go back to the drawing board and if you go back and watch, you’ll see I’m dropping when it comes to strikes per minute. I’ve got to pick my shots, and my main focus is to not get hit. I haven’t gotten hit the last two fights and that’s my goal on Saturday night. But Cowboy is great and I can’t diminish what he has done or who he is.”

Who he is is one of the most entertaining fighters in the history of mixed martial arts.

That’s not going to change much.

“Man, I just get in there and fight my ass off until they pull me away and tell me to stop,” Cerrone said. “Just get out there and fight, plain and simple. It’s not a secret.”

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