By Ryan McKinnon
Every MMA fan should be excited with anticipation for the welterweight fight between Donald ʻCowboyʼ Cerrone, and Kelvin Gastelum on November 12th. Two questions attach themselves to this bout. Firstly, ʻHow will Donald Cerrone fair against his largest welterweight opponent to date?ʼ Gastelum is built more like a minimiddleweight than a 170 pounder. Due to difficulties grappling and competing with middleweights, Gastelum moved down a weight class, only to miss weight twice. The second question asks, ʻdoes Gastelum have enough IQ to neutralize Cerroneʼs striking, and get the win?ʼ The stakes for either fighter are quite high. Losing to Cerrone puts Gastelum somewhere on the fringe of the top 10 rankings. Losing to Gastelum might knock Cerrone down a few pegs on his determined march to a championship fight between the winner of Woodley and Wonderboy. Cerrone vs Wonderboy? Oh sweet baby Jesus. Thatʼs a striking fanʼs dream come true.
Gastelum is built like a primate. He is densely muscled at 5ʼ9”. His 71” inch reach has done some damage in his striking exchanges. His head looks like itʼs impervious to damage. He is a juggernaut. Heʼs tough, durable, and moves forward with intention. Gastelum has an edge in the wrestling category over Cerrone because of his skill and determination to get the takedown. Cerrone has demonstrated his wrestling prowess at welterweight after his fight with Rick Story, a fighter that Gastelum beat via split decision in 2014. However, Gastelum is a very different wrestler. His size advantage may prove to be a problem for Cerrone if he winds up on top. Gastelum might be able to hold his own standing, but the rewards associated with him landing a significant strike donʼt outweigh the risks involved by exchanging for too long. If Gastelum allows Cerrone to find his range and timing, Cerrone has a greater likelihood of winning the fight via KO. Gastelum has a better chance of winning if he can get Cerrone to commit to a forward moving attack, and time a takedown. From there, Gastelum needs to be aware of Cerroneʼs extremely active guard. This will be a true test of Gastelumʼs top game. Keeping Cerrone pinned down is a fight in and of itself, but is a better alternative to striking. Gatelumʼs only concern should be to win this fight. Thereʼs no honour lost by playing a well controlled top game. GSP made a career out of it. Gastelum would be wise to employ this strategy.
Cerrone has been a fan favourite since his debut in 2007. Recently his move to welterweight has earned him even more admiration from everyone in the industry. He is great with fans and the media, and enters every single fight with the intention to finish by any means necessary. Anything less is a loss to Cerrone, who prides himself on his ability to find ways to finish his opponents.
At 6ʼ1” Cerrone is the longer, taller fighter. His 73” inch reach is only two inches longer than Gastelumʼs but he uses it far better than any other fighter in the UFC. He will definitely need to bring his A game this Saturday . His last two fights at welterweight answered criticsʼ questions about his ability to handle heavier men. He dispatched Patrick Cote in 3 rounds, which is a rare feat against a very tough Canadian who had never been finished in that fashion. He also defeated Rick Story in very impressive fashion. So far, Cerrone looks fantastic at welterweight.
In order to beat Gastelum, Cerrone must be aware of the power that a middleweight turned welterweight possesses. Neutralizing Gastelumʼs power punches is his key to victory. He has an extremely wide arsenal of kicks and long punches that can land. Cerroneʼs biggest advantage when it comes to kicking is his active guard an insanely good takedown defense. When a kicker has good Jiu Jitsu, he can let his legs fly without the fear of ending up on his back. Cerrone can smash Gastelumʼs lead leg, thereby limiting his mobility. As the fight goes on, the leg kicks will eventually slow Gastelum to a halt, opening up an opportunity for Cerrone to finish via TKO.
Should Cerrone win this Saturday, he will prove that his campaign at welterweight is deserved of a title shot, and not a ill-planned attempt to pick on fighters with a low striking acumen. If all goes well, Cerrone and his fans will be rewarded with a championship fight between him and the winner of Woodley/Wonderboy.