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Donald Cerrone: The Legacy of a Cowboy

"I want them (the fans) to know if Cowboy is on the card - no matter who I’m
fighting - as soon as I step into that Octagon I’m giving it everything I
got." - Donald Cerrone

UFC lightweight Donald CerroneDonald Cerrone gives a special meaning to the term “keeping it moving.”

Inside the Octagon, the hard-charging lightweight’s scrappy style has endeared him to the fighting faithful and that has made the 31-year-old a “must see” attraction any time his name is on a fight card. And for every bit of excitement he provides under the bright lights of the UFC banner, Cerrone’s live life to the fullest approach to the world beyond the chain links of the Octagon has elevated the Colorado native to a place where he’s nearly become an enigma at this point of his career.

To put it simply: Cerrone hits everything in life head on with everything he has because it’s the only way he knows how to handle business. That mentality has made “Cowboy” one of the most popular fighters on the UFC roster, and his willingness to scrap at every turn has also kept him one of the busiest.

Since coming over in the WEC/UFC merger in 2011, the Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter has competed on 13 occasions - with his 14th bout quickly approaching - in just north of four years under the promotional banner. Cerrone kicked off his inaugural year in the UFC by racking up five fights in the 2011 calendar year. That output is unheard of in the modern era of mixed martial arts, and Cerrone would have done another fight had the schedule worked out right.

While Cerrone hasn’t been able to duplicate that level of frequency in the three years that have followed, he’s remained at the top of the activity list since his promotional debut at UFC 126. Over that span, the Albuquerque transplant has gone 10-3 and has consistently competed once every three months during that stretch. When the frequency of injury is taken into consideration, Cerrone’s efficiency becomes all the more impressive.

The majority of fighters aim to fight three times a year and they are fortunate if that comes to fruition. Yet, very few are able to hit that mark on a consistent basis, but crossing that particular line has never been a problem for the lightweight divisional staple.

Where cards have been drastically altered and even cancelled due to injuries; that is never a concern when Cerrone is involved. He’s been trading punches and kicks on the professional level for nearly a decade and has never once pulled out of a fight. Granted, Cerrone has suffered his fair share of lumps and bruises inside the gym, but he has always shown up for work when there is a fight and a payday to be had.

“I just don’t pull out of fights, but if you are asking me if I’ve been injured…absolutely,” Cerrone said. “All of the time. Almost every training camp there is an injury, but I just work around it and when it comes to game time, it’s game time, baby. That’s how I look at it. Like the KJ Noons fight, I was rock climbing and fell off and had fractures in my hip, hand and ankle the whole training camp. I still did the fight anyway.”

Every fight at the highest level of mixed martial arts requires tedious preparation, and to that point, Cerrone attributes his unique approach to training and balancing the chaos in his life. Where some fighters feel the need to be in the gym grinding out three sessions a day in a rinse, wash and repeat cycle, the scrappy striker walks a much different line. He dives into his preparation full bore, but once the work is done for the day, Cerrone checks out of the grind house, and goes in search of the balance that will even out the different rhythms in his life and career.

Obtaining that middle ground is a must for Cerrone, and ultimately what propels him forward in his endeavors inside the Octagon.

“I think having that balance is one of the most important things you can do,” Cerrone said. “I remember when I first got down to Jackson’s and I could roll out of bed, hit the door and just train, train, train. I could just train all day and things are different now. I’m 31 and I can’t do that anymore. I almost have to warm up just to get out of bed now. Now, my training is definitely more specific and geared toward my opponent. And as far as getting my mind off of training and going and doing the fun sh**….I gotta have that.”

In addition to the incredible amount of fights Cerrone has been able to put under his belt over the past four years, he’s also continued to add to an already diverse skill set. While he’s notorious for engaging in striking shootouts with his opposition, the adventurous outdoorsman also possesses one of the slickest ground games in the lightweight division. Those attributes make him dangerous at any point of the fight and he’s proven capable of finishing the ruckus from any and all vantage points.

That said, the action inside the Octagon is a complex business, and connecting every element together at the right time is no small task. Fighting is a hectic and chaotic affair by nature, and making rapid-fire decisions while another human being is throwing shots with bad intentions is a difficult pull. While Cerrone has a variety of dangerous tools at his disposal at all times, he’s put a vested effort into making sure his mental game is just as sharp.

He addressed that specific topic during a media day in Albuquerque leading up to his bout with Edson Barboza back in April, and Cerrone expanded on the issue with his bout against Jim Miller on July 16 rapidly approaching.

“It’s funny how people who sit and watch think they know what is going on,” Cerrone said. “Take my grandma for instance. She’s like the biggest UFC fan in the world and she tells me what people should do all the time. I always tell her she has no idea. It is fine when you are sitting on the outside watching what is going on, but it’s totally different when you are in there.

“You are getting hit with hard shots, you’re tired and you have to make split-second decisions. If I shoot for a takedown and use all my energy, am I going to have enough energy left for the rest of the fight? There are so many decisions that have to be made that could take the fight in any number of directions. There is a lot going on and sticking to that game plan is hard.”

His upcoming tilt with Miller will be the main event when the UFC returns to Atlantic City on Wednesday and the matchup has all the makings for a high-octane scrap. Cerrone and Miller have been staples in the upper tier of the 155-pound fold for years, and both are steadily making ground on a potential title opportunity. The pairing between the two top-ranked lightweights will undoubtedly carry heavy implications on the divisional title picture, where the winner will step into rarified air of title contention, while the other will get reshuffled in an already stacked deck.

In addition to the bout holding sway on a future shot at the 155-pound strap, the matchup also will feature two of the gamest fighters in the UFC. Both men have made careers out of getting down to business as soon as the referee steps aside, and their upcoming dust up is all but guaranteed to bring the ruckus. Yet, fights that look amazing on paper don’t always turn out that way when things go live, but that isn’t a concern Cerrone is holding on his shoulders.

He knows what he is going to bring to the Octagon, and while he hopes the New Jersey native is also planning to bring his firepower into the fight, there are only a select amount of things Cerrone can control.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Cerrone said in regard to the fight with Miller living up to its expectations. “I hope it is the fight everyone wants it to be. Those are the fights I really do love. Like my fight with “Razor” Rob McCullough, that was a fight where you just get in there and give it hell. Those are fun for me, and I look back and think that was a good time. I hope this fight will be like that and if it is, then whatever. If it’s not…then it’s whatever too. I’m coming in there to not back down and to throw the hell down.”

While Cerrone’s pedal to the metal approach to fighting tends to keep the focus in the moment, his impressive resume and track record inside the Octagon have already written several successful chapters to his overall story. He will come into his showdown with Miller carrying a three-fight winning streak and with the added momentum of having won six of his last eight showings.

Defeating high-caliber opposition and collecting victories at such a rate has put Cerrone within striking distance of a title shot on several occasions, but setbacks at a few crucial junctures have forced him to take a longer road to the top of the mountain. Yet, despite the ultimate prize of a UFC title being the ultimate destination for every fighter on the roster, Cerrone’s love for the journey, and the impressions he’s made along the way, are far more important to him than the destination.

With so much ground covered and so much road ahead still yet to be traveled, defining his legacy may still be a bit further out on the horizon. That said, Cerrone has already carved out a solid portion of that legacy in stone and his accomplishments in that regard are impossible to ignore.

“I’ve been getting the question about what I want my legacy to be a lot lately,” Cerrone said. “As far as winning the belt and keeping the belt; it doesn’t make a difference to me, man. I want people to say, ‘Holy sh**! Cowboy is on this card….I’m buying it.’ I want them to know 100% they are going to see a fight. I want them to know if Cowboy is on the card - no matter who I’m fighting - as soon as I step into that Octagon I’m giving it everything I got.”