Donald Cerrone is an Octagon rookie no longer.
On Tuesday, fresh off a clear-cut unanimous decision victory over Jeremy Stephens at UFC on Fuel TV 3, the “Cowboy” affirmed that 2012 will be his year to shine.
“Whoever I have to fight to get the belt, I’ll fight. This is my year. I want [the title],” Cerrone, 29, told Fox Sports after his one-sided nod over Stephens at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va. “Last year was my rookie year [in the UFC]. Fighting for the belt [last year would have been] a big deal. Now, I can sit back and look at what I need to do, and I’m ready.”
Cerrone entered the cage Tuesday night coming off a serious setback against the surging Nate Diaz, who decisively out-struck Cerrone Dec. 30 en route to a unanimous decision. Nearly five months later, Cerrone says that the experience is by no means behind him.
“It’s not in the rear-view mirror. That wasn’t me. I was off,” said Cerrone. “I’m not making excuses. He was the better man. He looked great in his last fight [against Jim Miller]. My hat is off to the dude. He’s really turning the corner in his career. There’s just a bad taste in my mouth. I really want to fight him, and I am 100-percent confident that I can beat him.
“Coming off that last fight sucked. Mainly, [tonight] was about going out there and having fun,” said Cerrone. “It’s hard to make that transition from [executing techniques in the gym to using them in a fight].”
Tuesday night was anything but fun for Stephens, who continually found himself standing on the end of his lanky opponent’s range. Though Cerrone managed to execute a takedown in the second round, the Jackson’s MMA representative did not produce the type of offense on the mat that he was hoping to showcase.
“[Stephens] did exactly what I thought he was going to do, which was come and stand and brawl. I was able to use my length and move, and hopefully I used a little more head movement [than in my last fight],” said Cerrone. “I wanted to take him down and work my ground [game]. I was looking for a submission. Of course, everyone likes to see a finish, so I’m kind of upset with myself there. I wish this training camp could have been a little more in-depth, but s--- happens.”
Cerrone’s training time was limited after contracting a staph infection in his knee that required him to visit the emergency room. Additionally, Cerrone had an intestinal ailment which caused him to return to the hospital and spend several days in the intensive care unit. Though Cerrone decided to keep his fight date, he says his training partner, best friend and housemate Leonard Garcia advised him to withdraw.
“It was hard for me to stomach that, when [Garcia] was with me in the hospital telling me not to take the fight. I asked myself, ‘Am I ready for this? Can I go 100 percent?’ Those are the little things that you say don’t make a big difference, but they do,” said Cerrone. “Six days in the ICU was kind of rough, and then to get out and have only two weeks to train [was not ideal].”
Despite his medical concerns leading up to the bout, Cerrone says he was at full strength for his fight with Stephens. His fifth Octagon win now official, the Colorado native hopes to compete Aug. 11 at UFC 150 in Denver. While Cerrone did not call out anyone by name, the lightweight did not shy away when asked about a potential pairing with former WEC champion Anthony Pettis.
“I don’t care [who I fight]. I just want to fight in Denver. Whoever is champing at the bit, come on,” said Cerrone. “[If offered], I’d like to fight Anthony [Pettis]. He comes to fight. Stylistically, it would be a good matchup.”