By Thomas Gerbasi
This Saturday night at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas, WEC closes out its 2009 campaign with a bang with WEC 45: Cerrone vs Ratcliff. Before the top guns of the organization take to the cage, let's look at a main card that will keep you on the edge of your seats from start to finish.
SCOTT JORGENSEN VS TAKEYA MIZUGAKI
This could end up being an unofficial title elimination bout, given Jorgensen’s two wins (over Noah Thomas and Frank Gomez) and one razor-thin loss (to Antonio Banuelos) in 2009 and Mizugaki’s two battles with Miguel Torres and Jeff Curran. Whatever the future for the winner though, the fight itself should be an interesting clash of styles.
Mizugaki is a banger with a granite chin and a full gas tank, and he also showed in his win over Curran that he can survive on the mat if necessary. Jorgensen is all-action as well, and at 27, he looks to be coming into his prime at the perfect time after a very impressive 2009 campaign.
Guys who have good striking games – Banuelos, Damacio Page – have given Jorgensen some problems since his defense is porous at times, which is good news for Mizugaki. But with Jorgensen’s busy style and solid ground game, the question may be who will win in the cardio department. Jorgensen has already put in five rounds in three bouts this year and Mizugaki eight in two fights, so neither is showing any signs of slowing down. Its cliché, but this one may just come down to who wants it more.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Action, action, action. Bantamweights are known for being cardio machines, but guys like Jorgensen and Mizugaki take it to a new level. But while all this is going on, see if Jorgensen is going to immediately look for the takedown to work his ground and pound game. Mizugaki showed that he can survive and win on the mat against Curran, but Jorgensen’s ground game is a lot more active and punishing, which could make things interesting. On the feet, Mizugaki probably has the heavier hands, but Jorgensen may be quicker, and we all know that speed kills in the fight game.
RANI YAHYA VS JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ
This is another bantamweight battle that could have title implications, especially if Yahya wins, since that would make it four in a row for him. And the impressive part of his current three fight winning streak is that he has taken out Yoshiro Maeda, Eddie Wineland, and John Hosman by submission, all in the first round. Doing the same to Benavidez would be quite the feather in the Brazilian’s cap, but the Sacramento product isn’t about to go away without a fight. I spoke to Benavidez after his close decision loss to Dominick Cruz in August, and he told me that while it’s tough to switch things up when things are going well, a loss has definitely been the spark for him to figure out what he was doing wrong, tighten his game up, and get back on track. He sounds more motivated than ever, and while he brings a solid all-around game to the cage this weekend, his greatest benefit is that he knows what Yahya brings to the table and what he’s going to try to do. Yahya is coming into The Palms to submit Benavidez – end of story. Whatever it takes to get him to the mat and get him out of there, he will do. Luckily for Benavidez, his takedown defense is solid, which makes it more difficult for Yahya to get him where he wants him. Classic matchup of styles here.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Yahya is going to go all out to get Benavidez locked up and tapped out. Who can forget his pursuit of Mark Hominick back in 2007 before submitting the Canadian in 79 seconds? And nine times out of ten, if he gets his hands on you, you’re tapping out. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and then-bantamweight champ Chase Beebe was able to survive a number of submission attempts before going on to win a five round unanimous decision over Yahya, so Benavidez’ key is to keep Yahya away from him early – a tough task since he’s giving up two inches in height and three in reach – and then pick things up in rounds two and three, when fatigue and sweat may reduce Yahya’s chances of finishing things. Though in fairness, we have to point out that Yahya does have two third round submission wins on his record, so Benavidez must be aware at all times, and that’s truly the key for the Team Alpha Male member – stay focused for 15 minutes or his night might end early.
CHRIS HORODECKI VS ANTHONY NJOKUANI
An intriguing matchup of lightweights is on tap when Anthony Njokuani takes on WEC newcomer Chris Horodecki. To diehard MMA fans, Horodecki is no rookie though, as the Canadian has competed in the IFL and TKO organizations since turning pro at the age of 18 in 2005. “The Polish Hammer”, just 22, is probably best remembered for two three round split decision wins over current WEC standout Bart Palaszewski and splitting two fights with Ryan Schultz. Njokuani may be the biggest (literally at 6-0) test of his career though, and while Horodecki likes to bang, “The Assassin” may not be the guy you want to do that with. Njokuani is a Muay Thai ace who looks to be coming into his own after back to back KO of the night wins over Bart Palaszewski and Muhsin Corbbrey. His only problem has been on the mat, where he has been submitted by Donald Cerrone and Ben Henderson, but there’s no shame in losing to those two. So while the striking edge may go to Njokuani, does Horodecki have the wrestling and submission game necessary to take his opponent down and either submit him or ground and pound his way to a win?
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Will Horodecki stick to his usual strategy of banging it out with a guy who has been training in Muay Thai for over nine years and who seems to be getting better and better on the feet each time out? Plus, at 5 foot 8, Horodecki will be dealing with some issues getting inside on the 6 footer. Can he survive the incoming fire to reach his goal, and once he gets there, can he avoid the clinch long enough to rip off some uppercuts or body shots? Also, how will Horodecki and Njokuani deal with outside the cage issues in this fight. Horodecki is making his debut in the WEC? Will the first-time jitters take him down, or will his experience in the IFL make up for that? On the Njokuani side, he’s on the fight poster and is a lot more in demand by the media leading up to this fight. How is he dealing with his first big fight in the spotlight? May not seem like much, but you’d be surprised how often such things rear their heads on fight night.
DONALD CERRONE VS ED RATCLIFF
While Jamie Varner and Ben Henderson get ready to compete for the WEC lightweight title on January 10th, Donald Cerrone and Ed Ratcliff will have a scrap of their own with the idea of fighting the winner of Varner-Henderson. For Cerrone, it would be his third try for a portion of the belt, and he’s got plenty of motivation for either Varner or Henderson after his 2009 wars with both. For Ratcliff, it would be his first title shot, but this bout with Cerrone isn’t his first unofficial eliminator, as he was submitted by Marcus Hicks in March of 2008. So there’s plenty at stake here, and this isn’t only a main event with a lot on the line, it’s a nice meeting of two guys who like to stand and trade. But here’s the rub – Cerrone is a Muay Thai champ who can more than handle himself on the feet. Ratcliff, a black belt in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, can certainly say the same thing; yet what Cerrone has that Ratcliff doesn’t is a similarly effective ground game that has seen him win nine of his ten fights by submission. Ratcliff won his pro debut in 2005 by submission and hasn’t tapped out anyone since. So…with Ratcliff calling for a standup fight, will Cerrone oblige and let his ego do the talking, or will he go to wherever his chances for victory are best, which in this case may be the mat? Whatever the final answer is, it should be fun finding out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The ego question is the biggest one – will Ratcliff goad Cerrone into a brawl that gives “9mm” his best chance for victory? If the fight becomes a toe-to-toe brawl, Ratcliff can crack, as shown by his 2007 stoppage of Alex Karalexis and his four other TKO / KO victories. Cerrone has never finished anyone in MMA with his fists or feet yet, so on paper you could give the edge to Ratcliff. A couple other things to look out for: Having fought 11 rounds in three fights in 2009, is Cerrone going to be burned out on December 19th? His wars with Varner and Henderson weren’t easy five rounders (if there even is such a thing), so it will be interesting to see how Cerrone responds if the fight gets out of the first round. Also, Cerrone has not been shy about his desire to get back to a title shot against the winner of the January 10th main event. So, is he looking past Ratcliff? That would be a mistake of epic proportions, because Ratcliff is hungry for his own shot at the belt, and he knows that he’s not getting one without a big win over Cerrone.