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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Don’t blink. Get your popcorn ready. You’ll pay for the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge.

Whatever cliche you want to break out for this Saturday’s lightweight main event bout between Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje, feel free to use it because matchups like this are tailor-made for buzz and hyperbole. For ages, “Cowboy” has reigned as one of the UFC’s preeminent action fighters, with a cornucopia of spectacular finishes and classic battles to his name. Gaethje threatens to usurp Cerrone’s legacy someday, seemingly making up for lost time once the UFC finally snagged him as he’s won six post-fight bonuses in his first five appearances for the promotion.

Friends and former training partners, warriors cut from the same blood-stained cloth, Cerrone and Gaethje were destined to someday meet in the Octagon. They’ll do so in The Great White North, where Cerrone is a perfect 4-0.

Often overlooked despite being a career fight-finisher, Glover Teixeira takes on Nikita Krylov in the UFC Vancouver light heavyweight co-main event. Though Teixeira and Krylov probably won’t cut the same pace as the headliners, the potential for an explosive finish is just as likely if not more so. Twenty-five of Teixeira’s 29 pro wins have come by knockout or submission and—for better or for worse—Krylov has never gone to the judges in 31 fights.

In other main card action, Todd Duffee returns from a four-year hiatus to face Jeff Hughes in a heavyweight bout, Michel Pereira looks to capitalize on a sensational debut when he fights Vancouver’s own Tristan Connelly, middleweights Uriah Hall and Antonio Carlos Junior meet in a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, and Misha Cirkunov is tasked with halting the unbeaten run of light heavyweight prospect Jimmy Crute.

What: UFC Vancouver

Where: Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia

When: Saturday, Sept. 14. The entire card will air on the ESPN+ streaming service with the six-fight preliminaries beginning at 5 p.m. ET and the six-fight main card starting at 8 p.m. ET.


Donald Cerrone vs. Justin Gaethje

Look, there are a lot of external factors to consider here if you’re thinking Donald Cerrone wins:

1) “Dad Cerrone” is 3-1.

2) “Canadian Cowboy” is 4-0, as mentioned above.

3) Justin Gaethje might be going into this fight blind once the Rogers Arena lights start beaming into his eye holes.

That last one really almost made me change my mind.

But I just can’t pick against Gaethje in any fight that I expect to be contested primarily on the feet. No, he isn’t invincible there as he was cleanly beat by Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez. He can be out-strategized and Cerrone’s Muay Thai skills could be up to the task. It’s just difficult to picture Cerrone getting caught by one of Gaethje’s stingers and walking it off.

Because Cerrone will get hit. He doesn’t shy away from contact—not that that’s really an option with Gaethje—and we know he gives as good as he gets. Can he drag Gaethje into deep waters like Poirier and Alvarez did? That’s a risky proposition.

Perhaps Cerrone can goad Gaethje into going to the ground with him, a la his fight with Mike Perry, and Cerrone snatches a neck or an arm to become the first man to defeat Gaethje by submission (a technical submission, of course, given that Gaethje would rather nap or snap than tap). Perhaps he beats Gaethje to the punch and puts him in trouble before Gaethje even gets out of the gates.

Perhaps.

What is guaranteed is that this will be one of the most exciting fights of the year and that both men will see their wills tested. It’s the superhuman Gaethje who will endure.

Pick: Gaethje

Glover Teixeira vs. Nikita Krylov

Nikita Krylov is the ultimate glass cannon, he just hasn’t always been able to hit the target when matched up with top competition. He turned a corner in his last fight, submitting past foe Ovince Saint Preux and now he’s getting a legitimate shot to prove he’s a title contender. Krylov is only 27, so this isn’t a make-or-break opportunity, more of a nothing-to-lose situation for him than anything else.

That’s a good thing too because Teixeira feasts upon all but the most elite competition, so “The Miner” is due to hit another wall here. I don’t see Krylov having the striking needed to consistently find Teixeira’s chin, nor the overwhelming wrestling that has been one of Teixeira’s foils. Krylov is a creative striker and his spinning attacks could certainly give Teixeira pause, though the Brazilian veteran is sharp enough defensively that he shouldn’t be caught off-guard by any of that.

Krylov’s submission defense has been a weakness in the past and I expect Teixeira to exploit that here. After using his boxing to soften Krylov up, Teixeira will take him down and hunt for a finish on the ground.

Pick: Teixeira

Todd Duffee vs. Jeff Hughes

Let’s be real here: You don’t know what Todd Duffee is going to look like after four years out of competition and neither do I. With that being said, we can draw some conclusions from what we saw of Duffee’s work all those years ago.

Duffee, now 33, was rushed into big fights way too soon and that stunted his development. He fought Alistair Overeem in his eighth pro bout. Four fights later, he fought Frank Mir. As physically gifted as they come, Duffee wasn’t given the chance to develop like any normal prospect and so having time off to work on rounding out his skills may have been the best possible scenario for him. Let’s hope for his sake that his chin has regenerated in the interim as well.

Hughes is a fine matchup for him, both in that he’s a solid test for a returning fighter in Duffee’s situation and that he won’t be afraid to stand and trade with if it comes to it. It’s not that Hughes is a brawler per se, but he won’t be intimidated even with Duffee’s history of dynamite KOs.

The logical pick here is Hughes given that he’s actually been more active and shown promise in his career so far... so naturally I’m leaning towards the unknown potential of Duffee against my better judgment.

Pick: Duffee

Michel Pereira vs. Tristan Connelly

What was originally expected to be another showcase for Michel Pereira has suddenly hit a few snags. Visa issues led to the late withdrawal of Pereira’s originally scheduled opponent Sergey Khandozhko, a Muay Thai specialist who likely would have given Pereira more than enough room to exercise his more wild tendencies inside the cage; stepping in on less than one week’s notice is Tristan Connelly, a considerably smaller foe who nevertheless presents his own challenges.

Add in the fact that Pereira came in a pound heavy for this fight and one could question if he could be in bad shape come fight night (of course, one could also point out that he is likely to have an even more pronounced size advantage). Connelly is also a grinder and he’ll look to take Pereira down and drain his gas tank, disappointing fans who are hoping to see more of Pereira’s high-flying antics.

While Connelly’s wrestling background is exactly the kind of base one would need to defuse “Demolidor,” the poundage he’s giving up and the short prep time are going to work against him. It’s one thing to believe you won’t be thrown off by Pereira’s style, it’s another thing altogether to have to deal with it when he’s barreling at you from an impossible angle, legs and elbows flying every which way.

Credit to Connelly for taking this one, but the legend of Pereira should continue to grow for now.

Pick: Pereira

Uriah Hall vs. Antonio Carlos Junior

Though this is rightfully being described as a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, it’s not as if Uriah Hall will immediately be a dead duck should Antonio Carlos Junior get his grips in. Hall has always had strong takedown and submission defense, and the ability to generate huge amounts of power with little setup. At his best, Hall can hang with anyone at 185 pounds and has, but what Hall you’ll see on fight night is anybody’s guess.

A safer bet is the strong and steady “Shoeface,” one of the best grapplers in all of MMA and an opponent who has the style to stifle Hall. Even when Hall has stayed upright, he’s often allowed his opponents to dictate the pace of the fight leading to performances that are unsatisfying to both him and fans when he never finds that perfect moment to unleash one of his brilliant striking techniques.

If Carlos Junior can’t close the distance, he’s a dead duck. He just doesn’t have the striking vocabulary to point fight with Hall and he knows it. What Carlos Junior will have to avoid is going for exhausting takedown attempts early, even though it will be tempting to get Hall down as soon as possible. One or two successful takedown attempts will go a long way towards shutting Hall down and allowing Carlos Junior to work for a decision win.

Pick: Carlos Junior

Misha Cirkunov vs. Jimmy Crute

Light on his feet with excellent finishing instincts, Jimmy Crute is well-suited to deal with the sheer power of Misha Cirkunov. Nobody is going to mistake Cirkunov for Demetrious Johnson when it comes to speed and maneuverability. However, if he’s worked on his angles and cutting off the cage, he’ll do some serious damage to Crute once he gets his hands on him.

Crute isn’t a liability on the ground, though in the case of Cirkunov he’ll be better served putting his defense to good use to slow Cirkunov’s grappling offense and get the fight back to the feet. Though he’s not the rangiest light heavyweight, Crute makes good use of kicks and he shouldn’t be afraid to throw them unless Cirkunov proves he can make him pay by timing a takedown or trip off of them.

Cirkunov has his back to the wall here, which might make him more dangerous than ever. That said, Crute’s striking and mobility will be too much for Cirkunov to deal with.

Pick: Crute

Undercard

Augusto Sakai def. Marcin Tybura

Miles Johns def. Cole Smith

Brad Katona def. Hunter Azure

Chas Skelly def. Jordan Griffin

Ryan MacDonald def. Louis Smolka

Austin Hubbard def. Kyle Prepolec