Cerrone-Iaquinta lightweight showdown headlines UFC Ottawa

The UFC returns to Ottawa on Saturday and will feature a high-profile lightweight main event between “Ragin” Al Iaquinta and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

Al Iaquinta vs. Donald Cerrone

At one point, both fighters were making a case to be Conor McGregor’s next opponent, but they will ironically face each other next. Iaquinta (14-4-1 MMA, 9-3 UFC) is fresh off an impressive win over former title challenger Kevin Lee in December. The Long Island, N.Y., product is ranked fourth in the division and believes he’s knocking on the door for another chance to earn UFC gold.

Iaquinta was given a title shot in 2018, but it came on 24 hours notice after the UFC 223 debacle in Brooklyn. First, Tony Ferguson was injured at a media event seven days before he was to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight championship.

Then featherweight kingpin Max Holloway agreed to face “The Eagle” on six days of notice. However, “Blessed” was forced to end his weight cut by UFC doctors and was pulled from the fight.

Michael Chiesa was probably next in line, but he was deemed unable to compete after his face was cut by shattered glass when Conor McGregor and his crew infamously attacked the bus carrying Nurmagomedov.

Iaquinta had been scheduled for a three-round scrap with Paul Felder. Even without training for a five-round title fight, he went the distance with Nurmagomedov and, if anything, his stock went up.

Iaquinta’s most notable career wins have come over the likes of Lee (twice), Ross Pearson, Diego Sanchez, Joe Lauzon and Jorge Masvidal.

As for Cerrone (35-11-1 MMA, 22-8 UFC), he made a triumphant return to lightweight against Alexander Hernandez in January. After Hernandez spent fight week talking trash to the veteran, Cerrone diced him up for nearly nine minutes before garnering a second-round knockout win with a head kick and subsequent ground-and-pound strikes.

Like Iaquinta, the 36-year-old Cerrone has fought for the lightweight strap before, losing by first-round KO to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Orlando in December of 2015. Cerrone’s loss to Dos Anjos ended an eight-fight winning streak.

In search of a quick bounce-back spot, the UFC gave Cerrone a welterweight match for the UFC Pittsburgh headliner two months later against Alex Oliveira. He submitted Oliveria midway through the opening stanza.

Cerrone decided to stay at 170 pounds for a bit. All he did next was rip off three consecutive victories, including KO finishes of Patrick Cote, Rick Story and Matt Brown. Cote and Story had never been KO’d before in their respective careers.

A three-fight losing streak ensued, however, but Cerrone stopped the bleeding with a first-round KO win over Yancy Medeiros. He’s now won three of his last four. In fact, Cerrone has won 10 straight fights over 155-pounders NOT named Dos Anjos.

Six of Cerrone’s 11 career defeats have come against former champions, and a seventh came against a former WEC champ in Jamie Varner. Two other losses — to Nate Diaz and Darren Till – came against foes who once fought for a UFC belt.

Cerrone is the UFC’s all-time leader in wins (22), finishes (16) and post-fight bonuses (16).

Most books opened Iaquinta as a -145 favorite but on Friday, all shops had the New Yorker at either -120 or -125. Cerrone was the even-money underdog, while 5Dimes had the total at 3.5 rounds (‘under’ -117, ‘over’ +102).

Cerrone has a three-inch reach advantage and a two-inch edge in height, but he’s facing an elite wrestler who is equally capable of knocking opponents out. The 32-year-old Iaquinta has the four-year advantage in youth, and he hasn’t taken nearly the amount of punishment as Cerrone through the years. We like Iaquinta to get his hand raised in this must-see showdown.

Prediction: Iaquinta by KO/TKO

Derek Brunson vs. Elias Theodorou

Derek Brunson looks to end a two-fight losing skid against Elias Theodorou in a middleweight contest that’ll serve as the co-main event. Brunson (18-7 MMA, 9-5 UFC) suffered two devastating first-round knockouts to the likes of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Israel Adesanya in 2018, but the knockout artist himself, shouldn’t have to worry about getting finished by Theodorou.

Theodorou (16-2 MMA, 8-2 UFC) is a counter-puncher who he hasn’t finished an opponent since 2015. However, his clinch work and awkward style has him on a three-fight winning streak. Theodorou is 5-1 in his past six Octagon appearances.

Brunson has serious power and 14 career knockouts in the first round. He has only won two UFC fights that have gone the distance, the last one being in 2014. But Theodorou has never been finished in his professional career and boasts good conditioning, so this matchup is very intriguing.

William Hill opened this fight as a pick ’em (-110 either way) and the number hasn’t budged. A few other shops had Brunson favored in the -130 neighborhood in mid-April (5Dimes briefly got to -140 in Brunson’s favor), but it was -115 either way at the majority of spots on Friday afternoon.

The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -220, ‘under’ +180).

Given that it’s fair to say Theodorou hasn’t faced many fighters with Brunson’s power, this should be a win for the former Strikeforce standout.

Prediction: Brunson by KO/TKO

Cub Swanson vs. Shane Burgos

Cub Swanson (25-10 MMA, 10-6 UFC) will look to end a three-fight losing streak when he takes on Shane Burgos, a 28-year-old from the Bronx who is on the rise. Swanson was on the verge of a title shot in 2017, but defeats to top-five featherweights Brian Ortega, Frankie Edgar and Renato Moicano have dropped him to No. 10 in the 145-pound rankings.

Burgos (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) has earned a pair of Fight of the Night bonuses during his five-fight UFC tenure. Somewhat surprisingly, the 28-year-old opened as a +135 underdog at 5Dimes, but that didn’t last long.

Swanson, who is undoubtedly the biggest and most experienced opponent for Burgos, opened as a -175 “chalk” at 5Dimes. As of Friday, however, Burgos was installed as the healthy favorite in the -160 range at most books, leaving Swanson available at around +135 on the comeback.

Swanson has slowed down considerably since his last win back in April 2017, but those defeats clearly came against tougher competition. Burgos is going up in class in this situation in hopes of adding a huge name to his resume. We believe he’s up for the challenge.

Prediction: Burgos by decision

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