Dana White's most recent video blog included a scene where the UFC president informs the fighters competing tonight at WEC 48 that all fight bonuses earned will be worth $65,000, a fact that had co-main eventers Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Benson “Smooth” Henderson smiling. Henderson and Cerrone were smiling because there is probably no one on the card more likely to walk away with a fight bonus than the lightweight pair. The two men squared off at WEC 43 in October for the chance to earn the Interim WEC Lightweight championship. That night they engaged in a five round, back and forth battle that became an instant classic and earned both men Fight of the Night honors; with many asserting that the scrap deserved the Fight of the Year award.
Both men are one fight removed from their first meeting and both men looked stellar in their last performances. Cerrone picked up a submission win, along with Fight of the Night honors, when he took on Ed Ratcliff at WEC 45 in December. Henderson kept his momentum going forward by choking out WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner at WEC 46, unifying the WEC lightweight title in the process. Now the two mile-a-minute scrappers are poised to meet again in the co-main event of WEC 48: Aldo Vs. Faber; with Cerrone in pursuit of Henderson's lightweight strap.
The story of this fight has not changed. Both fighters have no doubt polished their existing games and added more weapons to their arsenal but it is hard to imagine that either one has developed a secret weapon to defeat the other in only seven months. This fight will come down to heart, skill and defense; just as it did in their first go-around.
The last time they fought, Cerrone caught Henderson in some very tight and very close submissions. While it was Henderson who utilized his wrestling to determine where the fight would take place, it was Cerrone who was constantly threatening to finish the fight. Even off of his back Cerrone proved to be a formidable threat as he was constantly searching for submissions. Add his slick ground game with his solid striking skills and go-for-broke attitude and you have a well-rounded fighter who will stay in his opponent's face from bell to bell, always looking for ways to end the fight. The key to victory for Cerrone is to utilize his striking while they are upright and to stifle Henderson's offense by constantly trying for submissions on the ground, preventing the champion from hitting a groove.
Ben Henderson has not lost in ten fights and has finished fights by submission, KO, and TKO, proving that he can be just as dangerous as Cerrone. He has proven incredibly difficult to submit, as Cerrone and Varner found out in both of their bouts with Henderson, and his only professional loss came by knockout in his second fight ever. “Smooth” has an incredibly sound ground game that is augmented by the fact that he is hard to tap out. He also possesses serviceable striking but had a hard time dealing with Jamie Varner's standup in their fight. Henderson will need to mix up takedowns and striking to keep Cerrone off balance and, if he can avoid Cerrone's submission attempts, he has a good chance at winning by doing his best to wear Cerrone down and by employing a ground and pound attack when Cerrone's submission attempts lose some gas.
Cerrone, Varner, and Henderson are all hovering at the top of the WEC's lightweight division. With Cerrone having lost to both men in very close decisions that could have gone either way, he has to be more motivated than ever to claim the division's top spot. The bottom line is that Cerrone has more ways to win this fight. Henderson will not be able to submit him and Cerrone likely has the advantage in the striking department. I would not be surprised to see Cerrone cinch up a submission in one of the later rounds to take home the belt, but this is MMA so I would not be surprised to see Henderson make his first successful title defense either. This is likely to be the most closely contested fight on the card and it is all but guaranteed that both men will be benefitting from the beefed up bonuses Dana White has provided.