The Cowboy Rides Again: Why Donald Cerrone Always Answers When the UFC Calls

Tom TaylorContributor IMay 7, 2020

John Locher/Associated Press

Earlier this week, Donald Cerrone and his coaches jumped into his RV and trundled away from the BMF Ranch, his New Mexico training compound, in a cloud of dust. Their destination was Jacksonville, Florida—close to 1,500 miles away as the crow flies—where Cerrone is set to fight Anthony Pettis at UFC 249 this Saturday.  

Cerrone accepted this three-round welterweight bout with Pettis, a rematch of a 2013 lightweight fight that he lost by first-round TKO, on a little over two weeks' notice. For the typical fighter, that's nowhere near enough time to prepare for a fight—particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, when most gyms are closed. Yet the man known as "Cowboy" is not your typical fighter. In fact, nobody on the UFC's roster of more than 500 athletes is more synonymous with short-notice challenges of this kind than he is. 

UFC 249 will mark the end of the UFC's brief, pandemic-induced hiatus. It will be followed by two more events on May 13 and 16, also in Jacksonville. The UFC threw this trio of events together in record time, and Cowboy, the promotion's most reliable gunslinger, knew from the early going that he'd factor into the plans. 

"When they started scrambling, I knew I was going to get the call," Cowboy told Bleacher Report as his RV rolled through Mobile, Alabama, less than an hour's drive from the Florida-Alabama State Line.   

The moment the call came, Cowboy and his team began another frantic attempt to shoehorn an entire fight camp into a grossly insufficient timeframe. While he was able to get some good work in, he admits he's still not exactly in peak condition.

"I have my own ranch, my own gym, my own everything," he said proudly. "I don't have to go beg anyone to open a gym up. I have one right in my back yard.

"It's short notice, so we just got in there, got after it," he added. "I feel good. Fat and out of shape, but good."

Cowboy's cavalier tone might give you the impression that he's completely unflappable, but that's not the case. He's struggled with the mental side of competition previously, most recently in a 40-second TKO loss to MMA superstar Conor McGregor back in January.

It was the biggest fight of his career, and as he told ESPN, he really "didn't want to be there."

That wasn't the first time Cowboy endured this kind of struggle, and he doubts it'll be the last. Unfortunately, it's impossible for him to predict where his mind will be at come fight night.

"It's so hard because you don't know," he conceded. "You don't know what it's going to be like [mentally]. Sometimes everything's great. Sometimes it's not. I wish I had the answers, the steps for it, but unfortunately, I've done this so many times, and I know it's either on or off.

"It's just hoping for the best," he added. "We've tried talking to sports psychiatrists, I've tried all kinds of things. I don't know the answer."

Despite the ever-present possibility of a mental snafu on fight night, Cowboy has no reservations about accepting as many fights as he can manage. He's even willing to compete on the UFC's other two Jacksonville cards, mere days after his Saturday night skirmish with Pettis, should the need arise.  

"I'll park the bus down here and fight all three nights," he said. "Unfortunately, you're only as good as your last fight in this sport. I'll get three wins in a row and be a f--king hero again. 

"Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday," he added. "One week, three wins. Let's go. I'm driving the RV down to Florida to kick ass, take names, and go home with a f--king bucketful of money."

Cowboy's immediate priority, of course, is the Pettis rematch. There was some mutual animosity involved when they first met, but they've since become friends—though that won't change anything on fight night.

In fact, all it means is that Cowboy will invite his foe to join him for a few drinks when the action is in the rearview.

"I've got a whole f--king cooler full of Budweiser in the bus, so we're ready" he said with a laugh. "I don't even care if bars are open [in Jacksonville]. My RV in the Parking Lot with Some Budweisers and Some Friends is open, so we'll be alright. 

"We'll have our own block party—everybody can get their [COVID-19] swab before they enter the party."

By now, you should be getting a picture of what could be referred to as the Cowboy Way. He fights whenever he can, as hard as he can, and spends the rest of his time training and hanging out with his family and friends outside—oftentimes with a cooler of beer in tow.

From the sounds of it, he has no plans of deviating from that way of doing things anytime soon. At least, not until he's cemented his legacy as one of the most entertaining competitors in MMA history.

"I'll fight forever," he said. "As long as I keep passing these physicals and they let me go I'm going to keep doing it.

"[When all is said and done] I'm going to be the guy that, [fans] find out Cowboy is fighting, they find a bar or they pull up the app and they watch," he added. "That's it. That's all I've ever cared about. I want them to know that when I step in there, it's going to be one hell of a fight."


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