Donald Cerrone will look to set the record for UFC victories on Saturday when he meets rising prospect Leon Edwards in Singapore. But it’s not necessarily what he accomplished — it’s how he did it. Cerrone became a fan favorite due to his willingness to fight anyone at any time and consistently put on a show. The fact that he often spoke his mind outside the Octagon didn’t hurt either.
Of all our “Cowboy” Cerrone memories, which stand out the most? We asked our panel — MMA reporters Brett Okamoto and Ariel Helwani, MMA editors Greg Rosenstein and Jeff Wagenheim, SportsCenter hosts Max Bretos and Phil Murphy, and digital contributors Chamatkar Sandhu and Eric Tamiso — for their take.
Okamoto: I’ll admit upfront, this is a homer answer — but it’s the truth. Cerrone grew up in Colorado, which is also my home state. And my two favorite Cowboy memories happen to have taken place in the Denver area.
Back in 2010, Cerrone fought Jamie Varner in the WEC (which was later absorbed by the UFC), just north of Denver. Cerrone despised Varner. A fight in 2009 had ended in controversy, when Varner couldn’t continue after Cerrone landed an illegal knee. The rematch may have been Cerrone’s best performance ever, at least from a mental standpoint. He was a man possessed, and brimming with confidence.
Two years later, Cerrone fought his former teammate Melvin Guillard in Denver. Guillard nearly took his head off in the opening seconds, but Cerrone recovered and went on to knock him out with a head kick. It was one of the wildest first rounds in UFC history, and a career highlight for Cowboy.
Helwani: My most memorable Cerrone moment came minutes after his UFC debut.
On Feb. 5, 2011, Cerrone beat Paul Kelly via second-round submission. Cowboy took the fight on relatively short notice, and after the fight I asked him about where he was when he accepted his first UFC bout.
“I was actually in the hospital when they gave me the call,” Cerrone said. “My grandpa was up there, really sick. And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Go do what you have to do.’ And I showed up.”
I then asked Cerrone how his grandfather was feeling.
“He’s passed away,” Cerrone said, as he began to choke up.
Cerrone is as tough as they come. He has always been Mr. Anytime, Anywhere. A fighter’s fighter. That will forever be his legacy. But I’ll never forget the look on his face when he told me about his grandfather’s death. Here was a guy who had just realized his dream of winning a UFC fight … with a broken heart. That made his performance on that night, seven years ago in Las Vegas, that much more impressive.
Rosenstein: Cerrone will go down as one of the most entertaining fighters ever. When he’s competing, I’m watching no matter what. Cerrone will fight anyone, anywhere, anytime — smart or not — and you have to give him credit for that mindset. When I think of the quintessential Cowboy moment of his MMA career, I think back to a glorious 10-second period against Rick Story at UFC 202.
– UFC India (@UFCIndia) February 13, 2018
Midway through the second round, Cerrone does the following to Story:
• Left jab to the face
• Right hook to the stomach
• Left hook to the face
• Head kick
As Story is stumbling back, Cerrone unloads a barrage of punches from both hands and a knee to Story’s face that sends him to the mat. Cerrone finishes him with strikes on the ground. It was maybe the most brutal combination in UFC history, and one that sums up just the type of fighter he is.
Murphy: Picking one moment is tougher than Cerrone himself. Expectations for his fights have been remarkably high for almost a decade, and he routinely clears the bar.
Few match his résumé of head-kick knockouts — and listing any one of those is justifiable. But my Cowboy moment of choice is the combo he landed to beat Rick Story at UFC 202. The brainchild of acclaimed Jackson Wink MMA striking coach Brandon Gibson, the jab-body-jab, punctuated, of course, by a head kick, is among the prettiest violence I have ever seen in the Octagon.
If we’re talking about a favorite moment outside the cage, it was an interview I did with him on “MMA Live” previewing UFC 178, when Cerrone welcomed Eddie Alvarez to the UFC. Cowboy made it clear in the pre-tape he would much rather be on a Jet Ski than talking to me. The interview was so profanity-laden, I think we only salvaged 90 seconds of it. Keeping a straight face proved impossible for me.
Cowboy shoots straight — in and out of the cage. That, coupled with his rare blend of precision and fearlessness, makes him one of the most beloved fighters of this era.
Bretos: Fighting Benson Henderson two weeks after facing Myles Jury at UFC 182 was mind-blowing to me. He then beat Henderson — although I’m not 100 percent sure he truly did — but that’s not the point. The guy loves fighting, and just when you think the tread is off the tires, well, there he goes again.
Wagenheim: When I think about Donald Cerrone, I get thirsty. Maybe it’s because every time I’ve seen “Cowboy” on the dais at a UFC postfight press conference, he has had two bottles of Budweiser in front of him. Always two. One is for drinking, the other an empty for spitting out the brown juice from his chewing tobacco. What impresses me as much as the man’s fighting skills: I’ve never seen him swig from the wrong beer bottle.
One weekend four years ago in Atlantic City, the morning after Cerrone had scored a head-kick KO to concussively close out a UFC show at Revel Casino Hotel, I was headed out onto the boardwalk for breakfast. There on a side street, backed up to the hotel loading dock, was a Budweiser delivery truck. “Cowboy must be packing up to head home,” joked my buddy. (On our way back from breakfast, there was a Miller Brewing Co. truck at the dock. This struck us as funny because Cerrone’s opponent the night before had been Jim Miller, another beer aficionado.)
The beer-lover persona fits Cowboy Cerrone with wholehearted authenticity because, even with his extraordinary combat skills, he is just a regular guy. He’s all about the fight — not the hype, not the backstory, not the snake-oil insults. He’s in this game because he loves to test himself, anytime, anywhere. Fans love him for that, and so does Dana White. The UFC president knows that whenever a scheduled lightweight or welterweight fight falls apart at the last minute, he’s going to get a message from Cerrone: “I know a guy.”
Cerrone smiles at weigh-in faceoffs. He’ll shake your hand and mean it. Frostiness applies only to this guy’s choice of beverages. But don’t mistake geniality for weakness, because on fight night Donald Cerrone will kick you upside the head. That’s what he did to Miller in Atlantic City, patiently and precisely and with no tell. He then stepped away from his opponent’s semi-awake body, had his hand raised, put on his cowboy hat and rode off to crack open a beer. Or two.
Sandhu: In a career littered with highlight-reel knockouts, Cerrone certainly has a treasure trove of finishes. The one that comes to mind, right away, is the beautiful four-hit combo that ultimately led to the finish in his fight with Rick Story at UFC 202 back in August 2016.
A left jab, a right to the body, a left hook and then the head kick — all while Story was bent over in pain from the body shot — was just a brilliant display of technique and timing. It earned him yet another performance of the night bonus, something he’s made a habit of in the UFC (13 fight-night bonuses to date). That sequence also got the “Super Saiyan” treatment from internet and social media graphic artist Ray Rod, which went viral.
If you search “Donald Cerrone” under the GIFs tab on Twitter, it’s still among the top results. It’s one thing to practice combinations like that in practice, but to pull it off in a fight, at the very top level, in the fashion that Cerrone did, putting the sweet science on display like that was truly the best of MMA and his striking ability. Remarkably that was only the second time Story had been finished in his career, and the first time ever by strikes. He hasn’t fought since, although he’s set to make his long-awaited return in the Professional Fighters League next month.
Tamiso: The first time I ever saw Cowboy in person was at a 2010 Ring of Combat event in Atlantic City. As you’d expect, Cerrone wore a button-down shirt with the cuffs rolled back, a cowboy hat and had a lip packed with chewing tobacco. He was as cool as can be, just having a good time supporting teammates while looking for his favorite adult beverage.
The moment inside a fight that most represents the spirit of Cerrone is from his win against Myles Jury at UFC 182. It wasn’t his most entertaining fight, as there were boos from the Las Vegas crowd. In the final 10 seconds of a bout well in hand, an angry Cerrone whipped a series of hellacious leg kicks to a grounded Jury. The fight was 30-27 on all three cards, but he wanted to leave a stamp on it.
In the post-fight news conference, with three beer bottles and another packed lip, Cerrone didn’t mince words about how mad he was about how the fight went and his intentions at the end. “Oh, the f— you kicks? That’s what that was. I was either trying to kick and break my leg or his — I was very upset.” It’s that cool demeanor matched with the fiery desire inside the Octagon that any Cowboy fan loves.