In all the great cowboy stories, there is a common unifying thread: In his lifetime, a lone gunslinger always seems to accrue more enemies then friends.
Think of all the great cowboys: The Lone Ranger, John Wayne in The Searchers, Clint Eastwood’s poncho-wearing Man With No Name, even the black sheriff from Blazing Saddles. All spend their lives surrounded by enemies, their personal lives a torrent of anger and betrayal, where friends are fleeting and the next adversary is just over the horizon.
MMA has its own “Cowboy” and outside of his wide brimmed Stetson and proclivity for fist-fights he doesn’t have a whole lot in common with these men. His brash, outspoken ways would almost certainly rub Eastwood or the Duke the wrong way.
And yet, the law still seems to apply. Even though Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is making his official UFC debut on the televised prelims of UFC 126, he is already one of the most talked about fighters to make “the jump” from the WEC—mostly due to his ever-expanding list of enemies.
At the time of the merger, Cerrone wasn’t the champion of his division or even in a position of close contendership. Two losses to (then) champion Ben Henderson meant he was well outside the WEC lightweight title picture.
He had looked much improved in defeating bitter rival Jamie Varner and had notched up an impressive submission victory over Chris Horodecki—two solid wins to be sure.
But aside from those wins, and his penchant for go-for-broke action in his fights (for good or ill), Cerrone wasn’t riding much else into the “big leagues” of the UFC. Oh, he also wore a Stetson in the cage after his fights. And I suppose he could be a bit of a weenie from time to time, but that’s hardly a rare quality amongst professional fighters.
Yet strangely, somehow, he has become one of the most talked about, called out and widely discussed fighters making “the move” to the UFC. With Anthony Pettis’ title shot on indefinite hiatus, Jose Aldo still waiting for an opponent for his UFC debut and Dominick Cruz on the shelf with a broken hand, the only fighter who’s grabbing headlines and whose dance card seems to be filling up is Cerrone’s.
I remember conducting an interview with heavyweight Marcus “Money” Sursa last year shortly before he was set to headline a regional show in Clovis, N.M. The day of the event, I hop online to check the results of the show, only to read to my surprise that Sursa had a last-minute switch of opponent to Donald Cerrone, and a last-minute switch of venue to the dressing room floor backstage.
Something about Cerrone dating Sursa’s ex, or Sursa dating Cerrone’s ex. Someone looked at someone the wrong way, said the wrong thing. “Honor” was offended and blows were exchanged. Sursa was cut; his fight was cancelled. Someone went home with someone else’s girlfriend. The whole thing read like a spec script for an episode of Gossip Girl.
Such is the mercurial and somewhat chaotic nature of the “Cowboy.”
Rivalries and feuds seem to spring up around Cerrone almost out of thin air; we never see the genesis for ourselves and only the vaguest of explanations is ever put forth. We are told that him and another fighter now officially hate each other’s living guts, and that‘s that.
This quality has actually been a boon to Cerrone’s career. His longstanding feud with Jamie Varner kept interest in the WEC’s 155-pound division alive in the days when Varner was a black hole as champion (to be fair, he spent a lot of that time injured). It kept him in both the conversation and in the title picture, even if his in-cage performances didn’t merit it.
Before his move to the UFC was even official, “Cowboy” was already engaged in a war of words with ATT prospect Cole Miller. Something about Miller having defeated Cerrone’s friend Leonard Garcia, and harsh words or heated glances exchanged between the two men post-fight.
You know how it goes by this point, right?
Both guys are already booked in upcoming fights—Miller with Matt Wiman at “Fight for the Troops,” Cerrone with Paul Kelly at UFC 126—yet this grade school brouhaha guarantees both men another fight regardless of the outcome of their upcoming bouts.
Miller especially seems eager to lower his standards and slum himself down to “Cerrone’s level," a dubious claim for someone who’s never wrapped anything but the ATT battle flag around his waist and whose biggest win is British TUFer Ross Pearson.
But wait! Just as we’re getting used to that feud, another springs up, this time in the hallowed battleground known as Twitter. Mac Danzig got in on the action, making a cutting 140-character jab at Cerrone’s choice of headwear and proclivity for shooting off at the mouth, and questioning as Miller did his…well, I don’t know really. His job, I suppose? The fight he “didn’t earn” on the undercard of a UFC event vs. an unranked opponent?
Also, remember when Danzig was the red hot TUF winner who blew through his season of the reality show and not a 4-4 journeyman with a hairdo Justin Bieber would shake his head at? Yeah, good times.
Danzig by the way, earned his last fight—a PPV featured bout against a top-20, Joe Stevenson—by losing three straight and decisioning Justin Buchholz.
See, I’m seeing a common thread with everyone who gets into it with Cerrone. Jamie Varner. Marcus Sursa. Cole Miller. Mac Danzig. All these guys are tough, solid fighters with unspectacular records and very little casual fan recognition. In each case, a feud with Cerrone is just the thing they need to inject some fan interest and attention into their careers.
Okay, that’s probably not true in Sursa’s case, since he is way bigger than Cerrone and probably just wanted to fight his scheduled fight that night. Then go home and bang Cerrone’s girlfriend or whatever. But I digress.
Just be careful when you, to borrow more cowboy wisdom, grab the bull by the horns. Aside from the whole controversy angle, Cerrone is also a Greg Jackson-trained fighter with a penchant for going all out in his fights. His last few outings have shown a marked improvement in all his skills, and in his level of focus and dedication overall.
So call him out if you want, but don’t expect an easy win. For even when they seem hopelessly outnumbered or over matched, a good Cowboy always finds a way to ride off into the sunset.