The next UFC event is the much-anticipated UFC 211 on May 13th. Headlining the card is a rematch between Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos for Miocic’s heavyweight title. UFC 211 is filled with so much yummy MMA goodness. The PPV card is the best of the year for hardcore fans. The type of card that will turn people into new fans.
Kicking off the PPV is a Sergio Pettis versus Henry Cejudo flyweight battle. This is an intriguing matchup between two talented top contenders. Cejudo comes in ranked #2 in the division while Pettis checks in at #6.
The winner is probably at least one fight a way from a title shot especially if it is Cejudo. It is hard to award him the next shot after the way Demetrious Johnson dominated and finished the Olympian in the first round. Then he lost his next fight to Joseph Benavidez. A win by Pettis would give him a four fight win streak. It is possible he could get the opportunity. More likely is a fight with another young talented contender in the #3 ranked Ray Borg. However, an impressive performance by Pettis could see him jump past Borg.
Currently the odds for this fight have Cejudo at -350 and Pettis at +285. This makes Pettis the biggest dog on the PPV. It makes sense that Cejudo, who has the more impressive resume, is the favorite. Cejudo has faced two of the best in Benavidez and Johnson. The fight with Benavidez was a close with Cejudo losing a SD that many felt he won. Pettis has some impressive wins but has not faced a fighter at the level of Cejudo.
Strengths and weaknesses
Cejudo the gold medalist
Under strengths, Wrestling is the first one you think of, given the Olympic gold medal. Boxing is another, he relies heavily on the jab, often using it to close the distance. And, once he is inside he likes to use the Clinch. It has been a strength for Cejudo, except against Johnson. This could be an area for him to exploit in this fight.
If he could mix in more dirty boxing he would become even more dangerous. Obviously when you think of wrestler and dirty boxing Randy Couture and Dan Henderson are pioneers of this technique. But, I am thinking more of Daniel Cormier’s fight with Alexander Gustafsson. Cormier used some nasty uppercuts against the taller fighter from the clinch. Cejudo could find success there against Pettis.
Pressure and Pace; despite a couple of tough weight cuts, Cejudo has shown strong cardio. Against Jussier Formiga, the third round was Cejudo’s best one of the fight. Speed and Quickness are two more of his assets.
When you combine those all together and you have a formidable fighter. One that is evolving and growing. Cejudo has displayed the traits you expect from an Olympic gold medalist. But there are some weaknesses in his game.
For an Olympic wrestler he relies heavily on his striking instead of blending the two together making it more difficult on his opponent. The threat is always there but only against Chris Cariaso did he use it offensively throughout the fight.
There is the lack of finishes. I feel that to be a special champion, or to defeat one, you need to be special yourself. One of the elements of greatness at this level is the ability to finish top quality opponents. The current flyweight champion is an example of this.
In 11 title fights Johnson checks in with six finishes. They share Cariaso as a common opponent and Johnson submitted him in the second round.
All four of Cejudo’s wins in the UFC have been decisions. The only finishes for him came in his first four fights. He displayed some power then with three TKO/KO wins and another by submission to strikes. His four opponents in those fights have a combined record of 6-17.
The cautiousness of his approach is seen in his striking where he will use a more point-style of fighting. He will land a nice combination, then get out. Even when he had Benavidez in trouble he was content to score rather than try to end the fight. This approach could get him into trouble with a fighter like Pettis with his Tae Kwon Do background.
It is easy to forget that Cejudo as the older fighter is the lesser experienced one in regards to MMA. He could put everything together or he could continue to dance at the edges of greatness. A finish or a dominant win in this fight is needed from him if he does not want to get lost in the growing flyweight division.
Pettis the phenom
When you are looking at Pettis’ strengths then you start with Striking. He attacks with all of his weapons, from all levels and angles. He employs excellent Movement. Pettis stays balanced, allowing him to strike moving forwards or backwards. He will also switch stances but does it very easily and naturally often using it to create space or a striking angle. Pettis also uses distance effectively, has good timing, and is very quick. Add in Complex Varied Combinations and it is easy to understand how he got the nickname of ‘The Phenom.’
His grappling is overlooked because of the striking but he has shown nice evolution in that area. Early in his career Pettis showed a tendency to be a little too comfortable off of his back. Instead of looking to get up he would spend time looking for submissions.
In his most recent fight with John Moraga, Pettis went for a guillotine, pulling guard instead of defending the takedown. However, on the ground Pettis quickly abandoned the submission attempt. Worked his feet onto Moraga’s hips, pushed him away and got back to his feet. Benavidez did the same thing against Cejudo to get back to his feet.
There is no doubt that Cejudo is the better pure wrestler but this is MMA. When Cejudo faced Pettis’ teammate, Chico Camus, he went 1 for 15 on his takedown attempts. Camus’ takedown defense numbers are similar to Pettis’ as Camus defended 72 percent of the takedowns in his UFC career. Pettis currently sits at 71 percent defended.
At only 23-years old, Pettis is 6-2 in the UFC and 15-2 overall. He is the more experienced MMA fighter of the two. Still, Cejudo has faced better overall competition in his shorter career in the UFC. This is Pettis’ toughest opponent of his career. It is difficult to know how he will respond to this challenge. Cejudo is also the best wrestler he has faced.
As a young fighter his mistakes have been the kind you see from a younger talented one. His two losses came in fights he was winning but made a mistake in each one. Instead of allowing the losses and mistakes to become setbacks, Pettis has used them to evolve into a better fighter.
It should be noted that like Cejudo, the young Pettis also has no finishes in the UFC. It is less troublesome to me at this point in his career because of his age. Pettis is still developing as a fighter and still growing. The finishes could start to come as he continues to grow and evolve.
Against Moraga we saw flashes of the power in the first round from Pettis. He rocked Moraga with a little under 30-seconds left in the round before dropping him in the closing seconds of it. Many young fighters would have come out in the second round looking for the finish flush with excitement. That is also a good way to get finished, especially against Moraga who has four finishes in five UFC wins.
At first glance this is an old school classic striker versus grappler matchup. We have Cejudo, the Olympic gold medalist, taking on Pettis, the young phenom who started training Tae Kwon Do as a child; but that would be over simplifying this fight. Cejudo, as noted before, likes to strike while Pettis has worked on his grappling. These are two fighters who are competent in all phases.
For this fight the grappling could play a big part if Cejudo decides to use it. In his UFC career Cejudo has only attempted 35 takedowns in six fights. Again, 15 of the 35 came in the Camus fight. That averages out to four takedown attempts in the other five fights. He has landed a total of 11. Not what you would expect from the Olympian. Where you see the expected dominance is on the defensive side. His takedown defense has been perfect in the UFC.
His general fight pattern is to set a high pace, use his jab to set up combinations. If he can strike his way into the clinch he will. In the clinch he looks, to use knees, maybe attempt a takedown, and mixes in the occasional elbow especially on the break. It is more about control, scoring points than getting a finish. If he does not have the opening to move into the clinch Cejudo will bounce out, move and look to start over again.
Against Johnson it was hard to learn much. In the fight with Benavidez we did see Cejudo sitting down on his strikes more and adding in some kicks. The sitting down brought some more power, and he stunned Benavidez a couple of times but did not get him the finish. He would have won the fight if not for losing a point in the first round due to groin strikes.
While Pettis likes to use, length, movement, combinations, attacks to all levels, and the occasional takedown. As the younger fighter he is evolving more in and out of the octagon. Both fighters have struggled with their weight and both have it under control. But, it seems to be easier for Pettis while Cejudo looked horrible at weigh-ins for the Benavidez fight.
It is also interesting that Pettis has the same amount takedowns in the UFC as Cejudo with 11 in 26 attempts. Sure, he has two more fights but you would think that Cejudo would have many more. When the fight goes to the ground Cejudo strikes more. In a pure grappling battle Cejudo has a huge advantage it could be an advantage in this fight if he chooses to use it.
Paths to Glory
How does each fighter win this fight?
While Cejudo has grown and evolved in his career it has been more of a tweaking approach. His striking gets a little sharper. He added some leg and body kicks against Benavidez but his overall approach has been the same. It is difficult to argue against it given the success he has experienced.
Given that, I expect that he will employ a similar approach as he has in the past. I look for him to use his jab to start his combinations to work his way inside of Pettis’ outside range. He will look to strike his way into the clinch, control Pettis, land some strikes and look for a takedown. How often he is able to get inside and how often he attempts the takedown could decide how this fight unfolds. How often he is able to get the takedown will also play a big part.
If Cejudo either decides to strike with Pettis or cannot secure the takedowns or dominant clinch position he will lose this fight.
There is little doubt that Pettis is the superior striker. Blending his Tae Kwon Do origins with an MMA focus on the other elements of the sport. Turning him into a well-rounded fighter at the young age of 23-years old. One that saw him takedown the Arizona State wrestler Moraga in their fight.
I do not think that Pettis will look to takedown Cejudo but I do expect he will make Cejudo work for them. First Cejudo is going to have to work his way inside of the long and taller Pettis. This will not be easy. Pettis uses distance effectively, has excellent movement and stays balanced allowing him to strike while on the move.
For Pettis it is simple. Keep the fight standing allow his striking to take over. When the fight goes to the ground get up quickly. And, do not have one of those lapses that he had against Ryan Benoit and Alex Cacaeres. Since the loss to Benoit, Pettis faced three tough veterans and defeated each of them. Each one was a step up in competition. This fight is his toughest to date.
The more I have watched the past couple of fights for these two, the more I come away impressed by Pettis. The way these two fight I like Pettis to score the upset. Cejudo chooses too often to strike with his opponents instead of using his grappling. Pettis has struggled for times with counter-strikers but Cejudo is more of an aggressive lead-the-dance type of fighter.
Now, if Cejudo would start to implement some dirty boxing elements to his striking I would like his chances better. But, I think he will struggle to get inside of the longer and taller fighter to get to the clinch. The more striking exchanges he gets into with Pettis the better it is for Pettis.
I like Pettis to score the upset and emerge from this fight as a new contender. It probably leads not directly to Johnson, but instead a fight with Ray Borg another 23-year old exciting flyweight for a chance at ‘Mighty Mouse’ and his title.