Saturday’s UFC Vancouver headliner features two of the most dynamic fighters in the UFC as No. 4-ranked lightweight Donald Cerrone battles fifth-ranked Justin Gaethje.
Between the two, they have 24 UFC fight-night bonuses (18 for Cerrone and six for Gaethje) and 38 wins via stoppage (20 for Cerrone and 18 for Gaethje).
The fireworks will be exploding in the “Great White North,” but what does a victory do for the person who emerges from the smoke in the most profound division in the UFC?
At this stage of their respective careers, a win means slightly more for Gaethje because Cerrone is closer to the end while Gaethje is just entering his prime.
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Gaethje (20-2) has taken the UFC by storm since debuting in the company in July 2017, going 3-2 in the process. Looking at the record is paltry because of the relentless and exciting style Gaethje brings into the Octagon, which keeps his name in the minds of people when it comes to top contenders.
Bringing home the most significant win puts Gaethje in one of two directions: a fight against Conor McGregor or the winner of the expected lightweight title fight expected to take place at either UFC 245 on Dec. 14 or the beginning of 2020 between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.
In an interview in August with ESPN, McGregor said he was going to face Gaethje at the end of July at Madison Square Garden, but a broken left hand and subsequent surgery didn’t allow it to materialize.
That route would be the best option to go for Gaethje. He’d get to take on the biggest name in the history of the sport and their styles complement each other well because both guys are always looking for the knockout. Why wait for a title fight that is unlikely to occur until the summer instead of securing the biggest payday of your career and the chance to knock off McGregor in one fell swoop? A victory and Gaethje’s name becomes more prominent, more opportunities outside the cage and a crack at the belt would still be there waiting for “The Highlight.”
For Cerrone (36-12), the path would have been easier if he would’ve beaten Tony Ferguson at UFC 238. He quite arguably won the first round, but Ferguson turned up the intensity in the second and looked to be on his way to finish or a decision win. But the bout didn’t reach its conclusion when Cerrone blew out his broken nose between rounds two and three which caused his right eye to swell up to the point that the fight had to be stopped.
Cerrone is still 2-1 since his return to 155 pounds at the beginning of the year. Like Gaethje, getting the “W” this weekend could also net him the McGregor ticket. It appeared they were earmarked to fight at UFC 239, but the former two-division champion balked at the offer because it would have served as the co-main event when that matchup is a main-event worthy contest.
Considering the UFC gave Nate Diaz-Jorge Masvidal top billing for UFC 244, perhaps and rightfully so, the company would do the same for either one of those fights for whoever wins this weekend. But will McGregor want to attempt to go the “Cowboy” route once again considering where talks went the first time around?
If Ferguson wins against Nurmagomedov, there’s no chance Cerrone would be next in line. Nurmagomedov is hell-bent on trying to convince the UFC to make a super fight with him and Georges St-Pierre and the McGregor rematch will always be there, considering the financial success of their UFC 229 bout and the heated rivalry that still and will always exist.
The most likely option for Cerrone if he wins would be the former interim champion, Dustin Poirier. The thought of a Cerrone-Poirier clash is a tasty one because like Gaethje-McGregor, their styles are similar and it would prove to be a highly entertaining affair.
So while we contemplate these options for Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje, let’s get ready to see two guys who are going to leave their blood, sweat and tears and provide perhaps the best fight of 2019.
The loser falls back into the middle of the pack, while the winner breaks from a crowded field to become a significant player in the lightweight division.
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