ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — If the UFC could bioengineer a fighter, he would probably look and sound quite a bit like Donald Cerrone.
"Cowboy" is everything the UFC could want in an employee. He’s never turned down a fight. He’ll compete anywhere against anyone. He has an exciting style. He’s charismatic and connects with fans. Cerrone also doesn’t rock the boat and isn’t in danger of becoming bigger than the UFC’s brand.
Outside a penchant for thrill seeking that makes UFC president Dana White squeamish, Cerrone is basically the company’s model athlete.
"If there’s a guy that everyone’s saying they’re scared to fight, I’ll go ahead and step up," said Cerrone, who meets Jim Miller in the main event of UFC Fight Night here at Revel on Wednesday night (FOX Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET). "I don’t mind. That Khabib [Nurmagomedov] dude? Bring his ass on, too. I don’t care. Who? When? Doesn’t matter to me. Chasing the belt, that’s the overall goal, for sure. I just want to fight."
That Khabib dude? Bring his ass on, too. I don’t care. Who? When? Doesn’t matter to me.
Those words probably sound downright musical to White and really to most fans, too. There’s a reason why UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but hasn’t quite clicked with the fanbase. It’s because there’s a perception that he picks and chooses opponents and ducks rivals. Both of those theories are ridiculous, but they are out there.
Cerrone, meanwhile, hopes to set the UFC record for most fights in a year and he’s on pace to get the six he wants. The Miller bout will make three in 2014. Cerrone was ready to step in and fight one week after he beat Edson Barboza in April when a fighter fell off UFC 172 with an injury. White wouldn’t let him. But Cerrone was ready.
"Whoever wants to sign the contract, man," Cerrone said. "I say that and I mean it. I see a lot of guys that want to sit, pretend they’re hurt, secure their position in the top 10. I don’t care. If the last place guy wants to step up and fight me, c’mon. I’m with it. That’s how I feel. If you want to get in there and fight, let’s go. I don’t have any problem fighting anybody rank-wise, it don’t matter."
Maybe Cerrone is just being realistic. He’s the No. 6 lightweight in the UFC’s official contender rankings. But he’s already been knocked out by the champion, Anthony Pettis, and has fallen twice to top contender Benson Henderson. "Cowboy" has had a hard time getting over the hump toward a title shot, but isn’t a gatekeeper and remains relevant in the division because of his attitude and how he markets himself.
Donald Cerrone’s tools of the trade.
Calling it marketing might even be a stretch — Cerrone is who he is. He drinks Budweisers during post-fight press conferences. He spends almost every penny he makes fighting, including on a sprawling ranch in New Mexico. He road-trips to fights in his 44-foot RV, which is stocked to the gills with guns. He wears camo hats and boots and supports NASCAR.
Cerrone is an every man until he steps into the Octagon and then he becomes a human highlight reel with jaw-jarring knockouts, slick submissions and wild brawls on his resume.
Add all those things up and that’s why he’s headlining this card in Atlantic City. Cerrone is one of the cornerstones of the 155-pound division and the UFC will promote him that way, because he plays the game, unlike Jones and Nick and Nate Diaz. The brothers are in the middle of a contract squabble with the UFC and are sitting out until changes are made — basically they want more money.
Nate Diaz called Cerrone out on Twitter this week with a very thinly veiled shot at him as a company man. White responded on UFC.com on Tuesday night, defending Cerrone and blasting Diaz.
"Nate can do whatever he wants to do," White said. "Nate can sit out and not suck any UFC whatever, for as long as he wants to. Who cares, he’s a grown man. … Sit out for as long as you want, sit out the rest of your career, it’s your decision. But to start making fun of guys who actually like to fight, and guys who go out there and put on unbelievable fights and people love to see him? (Cowboy) steps up and does what he does. People love Cowboy Cerrone."
That’s a clever bit of promotion by the UFC. Take a controversial tweet and turn it into a way to pump up your Wednesday night headliner. Cerrone gets that kind of treatment, because he gets it. There’s a growing counter-culture among UFC fighters and Cerrone is not part of it. "Cowboy" walks the line and does it with aplomb.
"The legacy of ‘Cowboy,’ I want to know when I’m fighting, people say I’m buying that pay-per-view, I’m pulling off the road, we’re finding a bar, because I know this fight is going down," Cerrone said. "That’s what I want."
White probably couldn’t have said it better himself.