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Robbie Lawler vs. Donald Cerrone Is the Perfect Fight

Published by Bleacher Report on Fri, 09 Sep 2016

Be still, my beating heart.At Madison Square Garden on November 12, the UFC's first outing in New York since the legalization of MMA in the state, former welterweight champion and violence god Robbie Lawler will take on action fighter extraordinaire Donald Cerrone at UFC 205.It's literallyliterally, not figurativelythe perfect fight.Lawler vs. Cerrone is the platonic ideal of an action fight, the specific kind of technical and thrilling violence to which all others aspire.Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that Lawler lost his last fight, while Cerrone is riding a three-fight winning streak in his second act at 170 pounds. Lawler defended the welterweight belt twice, and Cerrone is a known quantity. We don't need to evaluate whether two fighters of this caliber belong near the top or place them on some sort of straightforward track toward a title shot.Both Lawler and Cerrone are past those kinds of questions.Lawler is a 15-year veteran of the professional MMA scene. His bouts with Johny Hendricks in 2014 and Rory MacDonald in 2015, both five-round wars with the welterweight title on the line, were the consensus fights of the year. He and Carlos Condit probably locked up the same honor in 2016 with their insane, back-and-forth slobberknocker on January 2.For his part, Cerrone holds the record for the most post-fight bonuses in the history of the Zuffa organization, notching a total of 18 in 32 combined fights in the UFC and WEC. He's the most active fighter in the UFC, participating in 22 fights since the beginning of 2011, practically all of them worth the price of admission.They're two of the most decorated action fighters in UFC history, and two of the very few who have provided such entertainment while still competing against the elite in their respective divisions.Both Cerrone and Lawler have fought a who's who of opposition over the years. Cerrone has fought four of the current top six (Eddie Alvarez, Rafael Dos Anjos, Nate Diaz and Edson Barboza) in the UFC lightweight division and holds a clear win over its champion, Alvarez. He faced former champions Benson Henderson twice and Anthony Pettis once. Lawler, for his part, has fought everyone from Nick Diaz and Jake Shields to Jacare Souza and Hendricks to Condit.All of this is a roundabout way of saying that neither man has anything to prove. While neither would begrudge holding the beltagain in Lawler's case or for the first time in Cerrone'sboth have made their bones in some of the best fights in recent memory.At this point in their long and illustrious careers, Cerrone and Lawler have to be in the game for the big fightsthe legendary fights that can set a legacy and guarantee large paydays.This is exactly that kind of fight.Without a title fight as the necessary motivation, something that Cerrone has occasionally alluded to over the years, both Lawler and Cerrone can focus on maximizing their earning power as they enter the latter stages of their careers. In short, both men are on their way to becoming money-weight fightersattractionsrather than feeling limited to a track that leads to the very top.All of thattitles, track records, historyis ancillary to the fight, though. At the end of the day, this is a great bout because of how the two men match up in the Octagon.Cerrone has reinvented himself since moving up to 170 pounds. He has improved his footwork and punching mechanics while finding more room to use his underutilized wrestling game. There's more pop in his hands, and he's countering effectively with both punches and takedowns. The threat of crushing leg kicks and sneaky head kicks is still present too.The combination of better footwork and counters that demand his opponent's respect has limited Cerrone's consistent liability: how much he has struggled with pressure.At his heart, Cerrone needs open space to operate. He cut excellent angles and cracked with his kicks in the center of the cage, but opponents who stuck to him and forced him backward, from Nate Diaz to Dos Anjos, caused him endless issues.Tighter, more technical footwork means Cerrone doesn't need as much space as he used to, and an effective counter game can make his opponents pay for their aggression.We're seeing the best version of Cerrone right now. He's become a truly compelling, technical fighter who retains the commitment to violence and action we've always respected in him.Fresh off a knockout at the brick fists of Tyron Woodley, Lawler might be closer to the end, but there's no denying what a riveting fighter he remains. The guy who had two wars with Hendricks and a great 25-minute fight with Matt Brown represented Lawler's technical peak, and fight by fight, he's fallen off that mountaintop just a bit.The jab he showcased so effectively against Hendricks has largely disappeared, and his kicks come much less often. His pace has dropped off as well, and it's possible he just can't afford to work in volume for long stretches anymore. The knockout loss to Woodley was the first time since 2004 Lawler's adamantium chin has cracked too.Still, even the guy who summoned his inner monster only in brief bursts against Condit is one of the most violent and awe-inspiring fighters we've ever seen. His counters are still sharp, and his power remains crushing.If the prospect of Cerrone's increasingly well-rounded and technical game against Lawler's knockout artistry and raw brutality doesn't appeal to you, it's probably time to find a new sport to follow. If you're not compelled by the idea of two of the greatest action fighters in the history of MMA going head-to-head, in Madison Square Garden no less, maybe you should make other plans on November 12.Action fights don't get any more meaningful than this in the context of their participants' legendary careers.Action fights don't get any better than this, either.
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