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It’s incredible to think that just a few short months ago, Donald Cerrone’s career looked like it was nearing an unceremonious end. Four losses in five fights -- two of them via TKO -- said that Cowboy’s days as a top-5 guy were over, and a generation of dangerous contenders climbing up the welterweight ranks dictated that the fall from grace would only get more precipitous as time went on.
When he got matched up opposite Mike Perry, the 27 year-old power-punching eccentric the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been intent on pushing since his explosive debut back in 2016, it felt like they were angling for a changing of the guard. The fact that “Platinum” happened to be moving in on Cerrone’s digs as a member of Jackson-Wink MMA, leading to an embittered and public family feud that saw “Cowboy” estranged from the camp he helped build, made his potential demotion to gatekeeper status seem even more ruinous.
Instead, what we got was vintage Cerrone: defying the oddsmakers to submit Perry late in the first round before presenting his four-month old son to the raucous Denver crowd like Rafiki did Simba. The victory vaults him into the history books as the fighter with the most wins (21) and the most finishes (15) in the organization’s history and resoundingly shifted the narrative: from perilous decline to an old dog with new tricks.
The talk is that he might be next for Conor McGregor.
What a fight that would be! The company’s winningest against MMA’s most transcendent. The seeds for a Conor-“Cowboy” bout were sown long ago at the Go Big presser event back in September 2015, back when both men were challenging for titles in their respective divisions and “red panty night” first entered the MMA lexicon. If Cerrone had been successful in his bid for the 155-pound title he would likely have met McGregor at UFC 194 and MMA history may have gone down a different path altogether; the recalcitrant Stockton native that vaulted into superstardom may have been substituted by a horse-riding, gun-slinging bronco buster.
Why the hell not try to make it happen in 2019? Cerrone’s going back down to lightweight anyway, the division where he’s earned 28 of his 34 career victories and spent the vast majority of his career. “The Notorious” may be the No. 2-ranked guy at 155 -- whereas Cerrone marched into battle at No. 12 at 170 -- but the former’s blowout loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov last month should put him out of the title picture for the foreseeable future. It’s also worth noting that, since the aforementioned press conference, the men share identical winning percentages: Conor has gone 3-2 while “Cowboy” has gone 6-4.
Remember, most of the other 155’ers are tied up right now anyway, and there’s a backlog of contenders that Khabib should really attend to when the dust has settled from his post-fight hulk smashing at UFC 229. Tony Ferguson’s 11-fight winning streak dictates that he absolutely must get the next crack at the lightweight throne, and Dustin Poirier should get the one after that. Cerrone -- who left the 155-pound division as the No. 1 contender -- fits in better now than at basically any other time in the last two years, and it’s difficult imagining a fighter more deserving of a big payday.
Just imagine the build up! Budweiser versus Irish Whiskey; a cowboy hat and buffalo fur versus Gucci Mink and shades; Conor Jr. versus Dacson Danger. McGregor may be held up as the embodiment of the “anyone, anywhere, anytime” ethos by the UFC promotional machine, but Cerrone’s claim to that mantle is borne out of 46 fights spanning 13 years and a reputation as one of the last company men left standing. McGregor’s aptitude for mental warfare is deservedly acclaimed, but it might just be rivalled by Cowboy’s lack of f**ks.
Then you get to the stylistic match up, which is one basically guaranteed to take fans’ heart rates to dangerously high levels. Mac throwing that thunderous left hand, The Don countering with those sneaky head kicks. It’s hard to imagine either man shooting for a takedown; it’s near inconceivable that the judge’s scorecards would come into play in a five-round affair. McGregor would be the favourite of the pair to emerge victorious, but Cerrone’s highlight reel would be a worthy rejoinder to the Casual Sports Fan dipping her toes into the Octagon’s choppy waters. Shut up and take my money.
Just make the fight -- sign the papers the moment McGregor’s released from the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s omnipotent clutches. Anchor a pay-per-view in the first quarter of 2019 and put the two men together at every conceivable opportunity.
I’ll ask again: why the hell not?
Jacob Debets is a recent law graduate who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has been an MMA fan for more than a decade and trains in muay Thai and boxing at DMDs MMA in Brunswick. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.