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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Austin

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Austin Cerrone vs Medeiros Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Donald Cerrone moved into a tie for two of the most important records in UFC history on Sunday.

Yet his career is very different from those he’s tied with.

Cerrone’s 20th UFC win, a first-round stoppage of Yancy Medeiros, tied him with Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping for most career wins. His 14th finish ties him with Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva for most in that category.

If his performance in Austin, Tex., where he knocked Medeiros down three times en route to a stoppage win at 4:58 of the first round is any indication, he should be favored to hold both of those records outright soon enough.

The records speak obviously to longevity, but as well, a willingness to fight frequently and a popularity level where the company wants to use him frequently. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Cerrone spent more than three years that, if he came around today, would have been in the UFC, as one of the top lightweights in the WEC. The WEC was a Zuffa owned sister promotion to the UFC, and Cerrone was one of that company’s biggest stars in almost his entire run with the company.

Cerrone picked up six wins, and another four submission finishes, in that organization, so for total wins within the major parent organization he’s already ran away with both key records. Including those years, he’s also the record holder for most performance bonuses with 13 in UFC and five more in WEC. The UFC record is 15 held jointly by Nate Diaz and Joe Lauzon, with Cerrone tied with Silva for third place.

His willingness to fight often has tied him with for those two records in only seven years in UFC. St-Pierre’s career has spanned 14 years in UFC, including one multi-year break. Bisping has been in UFC almost 12 years. Silva also has nearly 12 years tenure in the UFC. Belfort’s 21 years between his first and last UFC fight is by far the longest of anyone in the history of the organization, although he was in the UFC for 13 of those 21 years

But unlike the four names he shares the key records with, he has never won a championship in either organization. He lost three times in title fights in WEC, and once, to Rafael dos Anjos in a lightweight title fight in 2015. And almost every one of his losses until recent years was either in a championship fight, or a fight that, had he won, he likely would have gotten a championship fight. One can say that in whatever weight class he’s fought, from 2009 to 2016 he was one of the best in the world in, but never the best.

One can argue that Cerrone is the outright king of the very good but not championship-level fighters in UFC history. It’s a title that Bisping seemed destined to wear until a shocking upset win in a title fight he only got as a late replacement changed the narrative of his career. And at this stage of the game, whatever slim chances Cerrone has of ever winning a championship would be more likely be as a short-notice replacement fighter if a challenger gets injured later.

Cerrone had never lost two fights in a row until last year, when he went 0 for 3, and being stopped twice by punches, leading to questions whether time, or perhaps more damage, had caught up with him.

One win doesn’t answer those questions. Cerrone is now 34, and his body has gone through the punishment of 74 professional fights, between MMA, kickboxing and boxing, dating back more than 14 years. And those were mostly punishing fights. Cerrone’s name on the marquee usually means action fights, which is one of the reasons he’s remained popular for so long, and could still main event on Sunday after three straight losses.

At this stage of his career, he’s also not perfect for any weight class. He likely was weakening himself for years getting down to 155. But at 170, he’s physically smaller than most of his opponents. He moved up from lightweight because any paths to championships appeared closed to him after his loss to dos Anjos. But the three losses in a row last year did the same thing as a welterweight.

Still, he’s the best bet to own those records soon. He makes a habit of fighting as frequently as anyone on the roster. Who knows if St-Pierre will ever fight again and it’s doubtful, even if he does, that it will be as many more fights.

Bisping, based on what he’s said of late, is either retiring now, or after one more fight. Belfort has also said he’s retiring after his next fight. And Silva is almost 43 and facing a potential lengthy suspension for his latest drug test failure.

When the book closes on Cerrone’s career, he’s likely to have a number of key records, and will be remembered more fondly by fans than all but the most popular of the modern champions. But that never winning the big one will keep him from being fully accepted as a top tier all-time great. In a sense, one could put him in the category with Bisping and Urijah Faber, who had long careers as popular fighters, but Bisping changed his narrative. Faber had a great career, but never won the big one in UFC, but Faber at least had the long championship run in WEC.

Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars from Sunday night.

DONALD CERRONE - One of the byproduct of those records is that Cerrone (33-10, 1 no contest) can lose three in a row, and not only keep his job, but be rehabbed to a great degree by one win. Still, he’s a long way from championship contending. Just because of his name value, he could be viably booked against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (14-2-1), who is the No. 1 contender at welterweight.

He also could move back to lightweight. As a welterweight, more likely opponents would be Kamaru Usman (12-1), a rising star who has been begging for a name fighter, or Santiago Ponzinibbio (26-3), another very good fighter looking for a name win to move him into a prime contender status.

YANCY MEDEIROS - Medeiros (15-5, 1 no contest) could next face Mike Perry (11-2), provided Perry beats Max Griffin this coming Saturday night in Orlando, Fla. It’s also possible with a win on FOX that Perry will be groomed for a bigger name. Neil Magny (20-6) is another fighter you could put Medeiros in with next.

DERRICK LEWIS - Lewis (19-5, 1 no contest) is a personality with a lot of wins, but has yet to have a signature win over a top heavyweight. He lost to Mark Hunt in a fight that could have propelled him to a higher level. After Sunday’s win over Marcin Tybura, he brought up Francis Ngannou (11-2). While that would seem like a reach, right now in an attempt to rehab Ngannou after his loss to Stipe Miocic, it is a fight that could be made. If they would have a bigger name opponent for Ngannou, Lewis could be reasonably put against Alistair Overeem (43-16), which would be his highest profile fight. He could also face Curtis Blaydes (9-1), given Blaydes has momentum from beating Hunt last week.

JAMES VICK - Vick (13-1) scored his biggest career win over Francisco Trinaldo (22-6). With nine wins in 10 UFC fights, he can viably be put in with just about anyone in the lightweight division. The fighters who currently don’t have anything on their schedule who fit the bill the best are Kevin Lee (16-3) and Edson Barboza (19-5).

CURTIS MILLENDER - Millender (15-3) became someone to watch in the welterweight division with a second-round stoppage in a fight he dominated against Thiago Alves (27-12), a longtime highly ranked contender.

It was his seventh win in a row and next tests could be someone like Dong Hyun Kim (22-4-1) or Alex Oliveira (18-4-1).