Rivalries: Donald Cerrone

By Brian Knapp Apr 23, 2020

Donald Cerrone has few equals in terms of high-level prolificity.

“Cowboy” holds all-time Ultimate Fighting Championship records for appearances (34), victories (23), finishes (16), fight night bonuses (18) and knockdowns landed (20), and he accumulated those historic numbers by casting a wide net across two divisions. Encounters with Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis, Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez, Matt Brown and Al Iaquinta line his resume, a tribute to his anyone-anywhere-anytime philosophy. While a major championship has thus far eluded Cerrone, he figures to go down as one of the most successful and influential fighters of all-time.

A three-fight losing streak has created some uncertainty around Cerrone. As he awaits his next call to arms, a look at some of the rivalries that helped shape him:

Cerrone went 1-2 against Henderson. (Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Benson Henderson

“Cowboy” posted his second win in 15 days when he earned a unanimous decision over Benson Henderson in the UFC Fight Night 59 co-main event on Jan. 18, 2015 at the TD Garden in Boston. Cerrone swept the scorecards with 29-28s across the board. Henderson had defeated “Cowboy” in two previous meetings under the World Extreme Cagefighting banner, outpointing him in a five-round classic at WEC 43 in 2009 before submitting him with a guillotine choke at WEC 48 a little more than six months later. The MMA Lab standout utilized a variety of standup techniques, from side kicks to the thigh and jumping knees to thudding body kicks and sneaky right hands. Cerrone answered with left hooks, crisp body blows and clean leg kicks while also mixing in takedowns in the second and third rounds. Henderson appeared to wobble the Denver native in Round 3, but Cerrone moved forward and went back to work with his hands and feet, doing enough damage to curry favor with the cageside judges.

Dos Anjos twice had Cerrone’s number. (Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Rafael dos Anjos

Cerrone failed in two tries to crack the Rafael dos Anjos code. The well-trained and well-rounded Brazilian took a unanimous decision from “Cowboy” in the UFC Fight Night 27 co-headliner on Aug. 28, 2013 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for dos Anjos. He set the tone early, as he floored Cerrone with a stiff overhand right late in the first round. Dos Anjos settled in guard and tore into the Greg Jackson protégé with heavy ground-and-pound, including a handful of thudding elbows. The lightweights traded takedowns in Round 2, but dos Anjos again exacted more damage from top position. Cerrone came on strong over the final five minutes—he utilized kicks and excellent takedown defense—but his efforts fell short. Dos Anjos went on to capture the undisputed lightweight championship, and when he faced Cerrone a second time atop UFC on Fox 17 in December 2015, he was about as flawless as one can be in a minute-long fight. The Rafael Cordeiro disciple retained his title with a thoroughly dominating display, as he put away Cerrone with a body kick and follow-up punches 66 seconds into Round 1. The loss halted a career-best eight-fight winning streak for “Cowboy.”

Cerrone and Varner ended their rivalry split at 1-1. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jamie Varner

“C-4” rubbed plenty of opponents the wrong way, including Cerrone, and when their WEC 38 main event in January 2009 resulted in Varner retaining his lightweight championship via technical split decision, animosity between the two men grew almost exponentially. In their WEC 51 rematch on Sept. 30, 2010 in Broomfield, Colorado, Cerrone came out as the aggressor and never took his foot off the gas. A multi-pronged attack that featured a variety of strikes and multiple takedowns drove “Cowboy” to a unanimous decision, as all three judges struck 30-27 scorecards in his favor. The lightweights had carried on a heated war of words for more than a year, and it spilled into the cage. Cerrone overwhelmed the former WEC lightweight champion with his early aggression, as he had Varner on his heels throughout an entertaining first round. Twice he buckled Varner, first with a blistering knee and later with a straight left hand. In round two, Cerrone attacked the Arizona Combat Sports export high and low. Leg kicks took their toll, as Varner conceded another takedown 3:20 into the period. By the end of the round, Cerrone was up on the scorecards, and his counterpart was bleeding from his mouth and nose and from multiple cuts on his forehead. Varner landed a pair of crackling right hands midway through the third round, but Cerrone barely flinched. Later in the frame, he executed another takedown and hammered away at Varner with short elbows inside the guard.
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