It was a markedly less somber Donald Cerrone on the press conference dais in Pittsburgh than the man who addressed media following his 68-second knockout loss to Rafael dos Anjos some two months ago.
It was readily apparent that it was the freewheeling, devil-may-care “Cowboy” was back in Pittsburgh, as he dispatched Alex Oliveira in less than three minutes in Sunday’s headliner. Gone was the burden of a lengthy winning streak and unfulfilled title dreams. Cerrone was simply fighting, and that’s what he does best.
“There was no pressure. This was the first time I really felt alive out there. I had [Jackson-Wink MMA teammate Derek Brunson] dancing to country music with me [backstage],” Cerrone said. “It was good. It was fun. This fight was for me. I was telling my buddies, ‘I’ve got nothing to worry about.’ I’m not on a winning streak. I’m at a weight class I’m not even in. This is totally for fun. This whole week, the whole buildup. The whole experience.
“There was no where else I would rather be than right here tonight.”
Fighting at welterweight for the first time in his 30-bout Zuffa tenure, Cerrone made short work of his short-notice Brazilian foe. After fending off Oliveira in the clinch, Cerrone shot for a takedown, moved to mount and set up a triangle choke. Moments later, “Cowboy” dropped to his back to secure the maneuver, forcing Oliveira to tap at the 2:33 mark.
“I’m tired of starting so slow, trying to figure out the recipe…It wasn’t about trying to go out there take him down and submit the kid. It was more just tie up with him and just engage on my side, whatever it was,” Cerrone said. “He clinched with me but that wasn’t really me engaging. I had to go. It was time to go.”
Cerrone had nothing but respect for Oliveira, who shares his “Cowboy” moniker and took the matchup on short notice after original foe Tim Means had to withdraw from the card due to a potential anti-doping violation. As a token of that regard, the Jackson-Wink MMA standout gave Oliveira a keepsake following the conclusion of their bout.
“I don’t know what gets more ‘Cowboy’ than him stepping up and taking a fight on two weeks’ notice,” Cerrone said. “So to me, I gave him the feather out of my hat I’ve had since I’ve been a kid.”
“I’m gonna to take care of the feather real well,” Oliveira said. “That’s what Cowboys do, they step up.”
It could be a long road back to another title shot for Cerrone, but the Colorado native has proven to be a journey over destination fighter throughout his career. He’s never more happy than when he’s fighting frequently and racking up win after win with nothing at stake but pride and another paycheck.
Don’t expect that to change anytime soon, even as Cerrone becomes one of the promotion’s elder statesmen. He’s still enjoying the ride.
“I came and watched the beginning fights. I wanted to be here and experience it all. It’s a long hard road. A lot of people think overnight they can be a UFC fighter,” Cerrone said. “It doesn’t work like that. I’m gonna be 33 in March and I feel like I’m just getting going. I’m gonna fight until I’ve got to walk down in a walker and they won’t let me do it anymore. I got a lot more money to make, so it’s good.”