What you need to know about Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone


When Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone steps inside the Octagon to face Conor McGregor on Jan. 18, it will be his sixth fight in 14 months. Too much for a 36-year-old? No, that’s just “Cowboy” being “Cowboy.”

Since his UFC debut in 2011, Cerrone has fought four or more times in six of those nine years — 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. That’s the most of any fighter. The man likes to stay active.

What might trigger alarm bells, however, is how the most recent Cowboy fights have played out. After putting a rough 1-3 patch behind him by winning three in a row, Cerrone took on Tony Ferguson in June, and by the end of the second round he was battered like never before. His right eye was swollen to the point where he could not see. The cageside doctor stopped the bout between rounds, and Cerrone had a gruesome TKO loss.

Three months later, Cowboy was back in the Octagon, but not for long. Justin Gaethje beat him to the punch from the start, landing looping right hands, left hooks and leg kicks while Cerrone seemed frozen, measuring Gaethje for counterattacks that never came. A big right hand hurt Cerrone midway through the round, and Gaethje pounced on him for the finish at 4:18. It wasn’t the first time Cerrone had been stopped in a first round, but never before had he looked as sluggish. It appeared as though the years had caught up to him.

With that as a backdrop, Cerrone was selected as the opponent for McGregor’s comeback fight. After an inactive spell of just one MMA bout in over three years, a trouncing by Khabib Nurmagomedov, McGregor needs a win. His safest path back to the top of the game leads through Cerrone.

Here are 10 things to know about the fighter they call “Cowboy”:

He’s made the most of his opportunities

Cerrone (36-13, 1 NC) owns the UFC records for victories (23), finishes (16) and knockdowns (20). He shares the records for most fights (33, tied with Jim Miller) and most fights in a 12-month span (six, tied with Sam Alvey).

That yearlong spurt of activity began with Cerrone’s first-round knockout of Adriano Martins on Jan. 25, 2014 — one of his UFC-record seven head-kick KOs — and ended with a Jan. 18, 2015 win over Benson Henderson via unanimous decision. In between were four more wins, over a murderers’ row of Edson Barboza, Jim Miller, Eddie Alvarez and Myles Jury. These victories were part of an eight-fight win streak covering just 18 months.

Bonus, baby

No one has cashed more UFC postfight bonus checks. Over the course of Cerrone’s 33 fights for the promotion, he has been awarded 18 bonuses, which break down like this: seven for Performance of the Night, six for Fight of the Night, three for Knockout of the Night and two for Submission of the Night.

In his four bouts before losing to Gaethje on Sept. 14, he took home five bonuses (including both Performance and Fight of the Night for his TKO of Alexander Hernandez in January).

Oh, the near misses

Cerrone has never been a champion, but he has had multiple chances at some carnival’s golden ring. His only shot at a UFC belt came on Dec. 19, 2015, when he rode into his lightweight challenge of Rafael Dos Anjos on an eight-fight winning streak, but was TKO’d in just 1 minute, 6 seconds.

Back during his days with the World Extreme Cagefighting, which was the UFC’s sister organization for lighter weight classes, Cerrone went for the 155-pound belt three times in a span of 15 months. He began the run for glory by losing a disputed technical decision on Jan. 25, 2009, after landing an illegal kick that rendered Jamie Varner unable to continue. Almost nine months later, with Varner still out of action, Cerrone fought for an interim strap on Oct. 10 against future UFC champ Benson Henderson. He lost a unanimous decision. Then, on April 24, 2011, with Henderson now in possession of the real belt, Cerrone fought a rematch with Benson and dropped another decision.

“Cowboy” and “Bendo” completed their trilogy in 2015 in the UFC, with Cerrone taking the decision in a non-title fight. The main event that night featured Conor McGregor.

The OG of BMF

Jorge Masvidal captured the BMF belt with a TKO over Nate Diaz on Nov. 2, but that designation long ago was claimed by a vast piece of property in New Mexico called the BMF Ranch. That’s what Cerrone named his home base 30 miles east of Albuquerque. He lives and trains on that land, along with other fighters he has invited to live and play there. Along with a spacious gym, a fighters-built sauna and living quarters for many, there is a paintball field and areas for dirt biking, snowmobiling and as many adventurous recreational activities as Cowboy can dream up.

King of beer drinkers

If you notice two bottles of Budweiser on the table in front of Cerrone at a UFC postfight news conference, it’s not a case of him being a two-fisted drinker. One of the bottles is an empty he finished before he came to the dais. He brought it along as a spittoon of sorts, a repository for him to spit out the brown juice from his chewing tobacco. The other bottle in front of him has cold beer in it. Cowboy never swigs from the wrong bottle.

A real cowboy (giddy up)

Cerrone isn’t some Nashville pop singer donning a cowboy hat as a stage prop. He earned his spurs growing up in Colorado. Raised by his grandparents, who were both physicians, Cerrone rode bulls as a teenager and ended up following rodeos around the region as a competitor. He was part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and aspired to join the top-level Professional Bull Riders tour.

Even after he gave up rodeo life to pursue MMA, Cerrone kept the bull-riding dream alive. He regularly attended PBR events, to the point where Dana White was asked if the UFC would allow Cerrone to ride on the pro tour. “Hell no,” said the promotion president. So Cerrone became involved in the sport in a less treacherous way, buying a bull, which he entered — but did not ride — in a PBR event in Las Vegas. The bull’s name: Don’t Tell Dana.

Danger is his middle name

Well, actually, that’s the middle name Cerrone and his partner, Lindsay, bestowed on their son, Dacson, who was born in June 2018. But Cerrone himself grew up in Colorado with a thirst for rock climbing, mountain biking, four-wheeling and pursuing every dangerous activity he could find. Then he found fighting.

“I know a guy”

Those are the words Cerrone has become known to utter whenever the UFC has had a scheduled fight fall apart and been in need of a replacement.

Such was the case in 2015, in a particularly astounding way. Cerrone had just started the year on a strong run, defeating Myles Jury by unanimous decision on Jan. 3 for his sixth straight win. Time to rest on his laurels? Not Cowboy. He heard afterward that Eddie Alvarez was injured and had to drop out of his Jan. 18 fight with Benson Henderson. So Cerrone made a call.

Just 15 days after the Jury fight, he was back in the Octagon facing Henderson, his old friend, who had twice beaten him. This time Cerrone got the decision win.

Short notice has never been a problem for Cerrone. Nineteen of his 33 UFC fights have come within 100 days of his previous bout.

Before the cage, there was a ring

MMA was not Cerrone’s first professional combat sport. He initially took up boxing, although that career was short-lived. He lost his pro debut in 2003 via second-round TKO to Geoffrey Spruiell, and that was it for the sweet science.

Cerrone fared better, much better, in Muay Thai kickboxing, where he compiled a 28-0-1 pro record with 18 knockouts, winning the S-1 Muay Thai U.S. lightweight tournament and the Dominion Warrior lightweight world championship in 2006.

By then, he was also competing in MMA as a pro, and that soon became his primary path.

Dr. Cowboy?

“I was looking to go to medical school to be a doctor,” Cerrone told the The Vail Daily in 2006 after a Muay Thai fight. “That’s what I started out to do. My grandmother and grandfather and mother are doctors, and that was the path they were forcing me down. But fighting is the path I was meant to go.”

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