Donald Cerrone says he's actively trying to solve the recurring problem that has plagued him in fights: slow starts. He found one solution last night: fast finishes.
Cerrone overcame another rough beginning, including a pair of point deductions for unintentional low blows, by taking advantage of his superb ground game, eventually scoring a third-round rear naked choke win over Ed Ratcliff in the main event of WEC 45 from The Pearl at The Palms Las Vegas.
"I had no change of attack," he said regarding any new strategy following his point deductions. "I've been working with a psychiatrist trying to get my mental game right, starting hard and finishing hard. I think it was good. I didn't have to change anything."
Cerrone (11-2, 1 no contest), came out aggressively, but got in trouble throwing knees from the clinch, fouling Ratcliff twice in the first round and once in the second. The illegal strikes cost him two points, and put Ratcliff in the driver's seat. But while Ratcliff surprised Cerrone in the standup department, particularly with leg kicks that took Cerrone off his feet more than once, he had no answer on the ground.
In both the first and second rounds, Ratcliff found himself dangerously close to being finished on the ground as the round ran out.
By the third, however, it appeared he was on the verge of the upset.
"I was out there fighting with heart and instinct," Ratcliff said. "He did what he had to do and got the win, so congratulations to him."
Cerrone, who apologized for the illegal knees and said they were unintentional, could get a crack at the WEC lightweight champion after current reigning champ Jamie Varner and interim champ Ben Henderson unify the belts on Jan. 10.
Asked his thoughts on the matchup, Cerrone, who has a long-running feud with Varner, didn't mince his words.
"I hope Ben wins," he said. "I like Ben but Jamie is not a good guy. Best of luck to both of them. I just can't wait to fight again."
Meanwhile, in the bantamweight division, contender Joseph Benavidez bounced back from his first career loss in style, scoring a first-round TKO of Rani Yahya in just 95 seconds.
During an exchange, Benavidez (11-1) dropped Yahya with an overhand right to the jaw. He followed Yahya to the mat and dropped a series of hard punches before referee Kim Winslow stepped in to call a halt to the action.
"The key was to stay on my feet as much as I could," said Benavidez, who rebounded from a loss to Dominick Cruz in August. "I knew when I went on the ground, I'd be comfortable anyways. I'm ready to fight him anywhere but you dont want to go on the ground with a grappler like Yahya."
Lightweight Anthony Njokuani ruined the WEC debut of Chris Horodecki, battering the former IFL star en route to a first-round TKO victory.
Utilizing a sizeable reach advantage, Njokuani (12-2) landed the decisive blow off a scramble. As both men returned to their feet, Horodecki -- perhaps thinking he was out of Njokuani's range -- turned his back as he retreated.
As he did that, Njokuani threw a head kick that landed, sending Horodecki crashing to the canvas. Njokuani followed him down and cut through his defense with strikes until Horodecki turned away. No longer defending himself, the fight was stopped at 3:33 of the round.
"He just turned his back. I saw the opening and went for it," Njokuani said of the game-changing kick. "Then, Bam, on the button, baby."
The win was the third straight for Njokuani since losing to current interim champion Ben Henderson in his WEC debut.
In a bantamweight bout opening the Versus broadcast, Scott Jorgensen (8-3) showcased his continued improvement, earning a unanimous decision over Takeya Mizugaki.
Jorgensen won each of the first two rounds, and held off a game Mizugaki in the third to take the bout on all three judges' scorecards.
For full WEC 45 results, click here.