The MMA universe was expecting big fights for UFC's maiden voyage at the iconic Madison Square Garden. When the promotion announced former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler versus division jumping supremo Donald Cerrone, we rejoiced for a contest that was guaranteed to be an action-packed epic.
In his last two fights before losing his belt to Tyron Woodley, Lawler played a starring role in two of the greatest welterweight title fights ever.
Two epic back and forth classics with Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit wowed the masses and considering his whole resurgence began when everybody had written him off as a potential title contender, Lawler would have been out to send a message against the game Cerrone.
A Reason to Stay at Welterweight
Even before the Bud-swilling Jackson's fighter made Rick Story his third emphatic victory in as many outings as a welterweight, Cerrone was considering a move back down to lightweight to challenge Eddie Alvarez.
With a potential championship fight with Conor McGregor on the cards for the lightweight champion, Lawler provided Cerrone with a perfect reason to stay at the higher weight class. As a former welterweight champion, Robbie Lawler is a perfect indicator as to where Cerrone's title hopes lie in the new division.
Lawler's patent for legendary bouts would have potentially led to Cerrone being even more highly regarded even if he failed to have his hand raised. Although both Condit and MacDonald did not dethrone Lawler, their names can barely be mentioned without their contests with the former champion being brought up.
Cerrone himself has looked like a new man at 170 lbs. His 'Performance of the Night' victory over Alex Oliveira to introduce him to the weight class brought with it a new urgency that we never saw consistently during his time at lightweight.
He was devastating in the striking exchanges against kickboxing standout Patrick Cote, and as if that wasn't enough to convince people, his second round knockout of Rick Story came by way of a combination that looked straight out of a video game.
Lawler matched Cerrone's momentum perfectly, but unfortunately, the MMA Gods laugh when we make plans and last week 'Ruthless Robbie' pulled himself from the bout.
Although no reason was given for his withdrawal, the November 12 date seem quite close to his knockout loss to Woodley at UFC 201. Usually, six months is the minimum time suggested to stay out of competition after suffering such a brutal stoppage. At 34 years of age and with over 15 years of fighting under his belt, it could be best for Lawler to stay on the sidelines for a little bit longer.
Going with Gastelum
The most obvious replacement for Cerrone based on how disappointed the fans were with Lawler's exit was newly unsuspended cult hero Nick Diaz. Diaz's named matched the prestige of the first event in the legendary venue and given Cerrone's history with his brother Nate, there would be plenty of intrigue surrounding the showdown.
Yesterday's news from MMAFighting.com claimed that Kelvin Gastelum stepping in as Lawler's replacement for the Cerrone bout was "in the works", and the MMA universe has sounded its unenthused disapproval.
Although Gastelum is still a top ranked contender, according to the promotion's official rankings he sits once place head of Cerrone in sixth, his last bout with Johny Hendricks wasn't one of the most memorable fights on a lackluster UFC 200 card. Despite it being the biggest win of the 24-year-old's career, he didn't seem to turn a lot of heads with the victory.
Gastelum is infamous for failing to make the welterweight limit, which won't be music to Cerrone's ears considering how little he cuts at the new category. According to his recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, Cerrone cuts around five pounds to make the welterweight limit.
Gastelum has failed to make weight three times out of eight performances in the division and if he comes in as high as 180 lbs, like he did against Tyron Woodley, 'Cowboy' will probably greatly outsized by him.
The TUF 17 fighter can be an incredibly awkward opponent and has been involved in some very forgettable fights that have gone the distance over the years. There is no doubting he is a prospect given how young he is, but the manner in which he earns his victory is not the most fan-friendly.
Cerrone will simply take Gastelum's place in the ranking spot ahead of him if he takes a win at Madison Square Garden. The only way to guarantee himself a bigger surge in trajectory would be to add him to the list of emphatic wins he has enjoyed in the new weight class. However, having only ever been bested by split decision the odds of Cerrone dispatching 'Mini Cain' are stacked against him.