Donald Cerrone Reflects on 3 Key Moments That Altered Course of His MMA Career

By Andreas Hale Dec 31, 2014
A more mature Donald Cerrone is having fun with his MMA career. | Jeff Sherwood/

Donald Cerrone is having the time of his life -- both in and out of the Octagon.

His 2014 campaign was a stellar one that saw him go 4-0, with three “Performance of the Night” bonuses to bloat his bank account. As he prepares to kick off his 2015 campaign with a showdown against Myles Jury at UFC 182, “Cowboy” is once again knocking at the door for an opportunity at the lightweight title.

At 31 years old, it appears that Cerrone may have finally hit his stride. Sure, this has been said before, but it is evident that Cowboy is a more complete package than he has ever been. And he has three significant events in his fighting career to point to that changed his life: New Year’s Eve 2006, losing to Jamie Varner in 2009 and losing to Nate Diaz in 2011.

The first comes back when Cerrone wasn’t sure if he could make a career out of being a mixed martial artist. The Denver, Colo., product was 23 years old and had just started his MMA career with an undefeated record and a whole lot of promise. But making only $1,500 every few months didn’t exactly light up Cerrone’s life. He still kept his day job laying hardwood floors and had a moment on New Year’s Eve 2006 when he questioned whether it was all going to be worth it.

“I was supposed to fight on Tuff-N-Uuff in Las Vegas. I weighed in and my opponent didn’t even show up,” Cerrone said. “I remember standing on top of the Palms with the fireworks going off and saying I’m going to give it one more year. At the time I was still working, but I was chasing this dream that I see a lot of kids doing today. I’m starting to get old and needed to figure out a career.”

But along came Dan “Punkass” Caldwell, Tim “Skyskrape” Katz and Charles “Mask” Lewis, who ran into Cerrone in Colorado and decided to feature the young fighter on the fourth episode of their MMA reality show that aired on Versus. With the TapouT crew sponsoring Cerrone in his sixth professional fight against Anthony Njokuani -- which ended with Cerrone getting a first round submission -- Cowboy says that he hasn’t looked back since.

Although Cerrone saw his visibility rise and figured out he would be able to make a living as a mixed martial artist, he wasn’t exactly the most complete fighter. A wicked kickboxer, Cerrone had a hole in his game that would be exposed in his first crack at a world title, when he faced Jamie Varner for the lightweight belt at WEC 38 in 2009.

“Jamie is a big influence on my life, almost turning my fighting career around,” Cerrone said. “When he beat me, that’s when I knew I needed to learn how to wrestle. That’s when I contacted Jafari Vanier and we went to work.”

Despite Cerrone vastly improving his wrestling, there was still a problem that plagued him. It wasn’t resolved until a couple years later, when he let his emotions get the best of him in a loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 141 that knocked him out of title contention in 2011.

“I stay away from all that emotional s--t now,” Cerrone says with a laugh. “The Diaz fight taught me that.”

In a fight he was favored to win, Cerrone allowed Diaz to get into his head. Cerrone reveals that he had a prearranged agreement with Diaz where the two would stand and bang for the duration of the fight -- which is why Cerrone never followed his opponent to the ground despite knocking him off of his feet several times. Diaz would take a unanimous decision, humbling Cerrone in the process. But that loss taught Cerrone that he has a job to do in the cage: win.

A similar situation surfaced when Cerrone welcomed Eddie Alvarez to the Octagon at UFC 178 this past September. Cerrone knocked down Alvarez and decided against calling the former Bellator champion to his feet. Instead, he followed him to the ground and ultimately captured a unanimous decision.

“I didn’t let emotions take over because I’m not a wild crazy punk kid anymore,” Cerrone explains.

Heading into the fight with Jury, Cerrone is devoid of any emotional attachment despite being rubbed the wrong way by how Jury handled his post-fight interview after defeating fellow Jackson-Wink fighter, Diego Sanchez.

“There’s nothing emotional with Myles,” Cerrone said. “I’m going to shake his hand and say ‘Let’s go get paid.’”

Cerrone knows that he’s been here before and doesn’t plan to be knocked down while getting near the top of the mountain. And with these lessons learned, it is possible that we may be seeing the best Donald Cerrone we have ever seen.

“Fighting to me now is what fighting used to be when I started. It’s about having fun.”

When Cerrone is having fun, everyone is in trouble.


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