What do we look for in a fighter? What is it that makes us love them?
For me, there’s a requirement of quality. We obviously want our fighters to be good at what they do. However, there’s much more to it than that. There are plenty of fantastic championship-level fighters that don’t connect with an audience (cough, Demetrious Johnson, cough).
We also want them to have a grit, a “anyone, anytime” attitude that makes them feel rebellious and dangerous.
That’s where Donald Cerrone comes in.
On October 21, Cerrone will step in against rising contender Darren Till in what promises to be another exciting bout in the career of one of the UFC’s most prolific athletes of all time.
It’s another example of Cerrone taking a fight that someone of his stature doesn’t necessarily have to take. Another risk in the career of a fighter who often takes the more dangerous path.
While plenty of fighters spew a willingness to fight anyone at any time, Cerrone has consistently lived it since joining the promotion in 2011. Since then, he’s averaged over four fights per year, many of which have come on short notice against elite-level fighters.
He’s taken on rising starts like Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens and Myles Jury, as well as veterans like Patrick Cote, Matt Brown and Jorge Masvidal. He’s challenged title contenders like Nate Diaz as well as former champions like Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis, Eddie Alvarez and Rafael dos Anjos.
But on top of his in-ring accomplishments—which includes a WEC lightweight championship—Cerrone has always displayed an aura of confidence and wildness that many of us have lived vicariously through.
In 2013, Cerrone suffered a 40-foot rock climbing fall but walked away almost unscathed. Just 13 days later, he fought Pettis.
And how could we forget the story of him “spilling his intestines” during an ATV accident?
“I was racing some motocross and I wrecked real bad and just kind of spilled my guts out,” Cerrone told Sherdog. “They had to take a bunch of my intestines and part of my stomach.”
Cerrone has also been known to take his lashing on a wakeboard, even during fight week.
“Cowboy” as he’s been affectionately known throughout his career, is a throwback to the fighters of old. Where mixed martial arts has become a science and fighters often seem closer to scientists than deviants, Cerrone has been a glimpse into the wildness of years gone by. He’s not coming to the ring drunk as John L. Sullivan did in the late 1800s, but he comes from the same cloth.
Cerrone stands as an example that we can learn from. Most of us are not likely to wakeboard or rock climb anytime soon. But, we could all learn to live a little more. Cerrone stands as an example of making the most of what life brings. Calling him a fighter is to put him in a box. After all, fighting is just one of the many things he’s become known for.
There won’t be another fighter anytime soon that averages over four fights per year. There won’t be another fighter that rebels against the promotion while remaining such an integral part of what makes mixed martial arts so special.
At 34, there’s a good chance that Cerrone’s best days as a fighter are behind him. We’ve seen him lose two straight already. And a third loss to Till could spell the end of his days as an elite fighter.
If that’s the case, here’s a thank you and a tip of the cap to one of the best fighters of the past decade. And, the last fighter of a dying generation.