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Cowboy’s Last Stand? Donald Cerrone fights for his career in Poland

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UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping has the distinction of the most wins is UFC history with twenty. Before he can go for his twenty-first in the biggest fight of his career against Georges St. Pierre next month, one fighter will attempt to tie Bisping’s record for a third straight fight.

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone has won nineteen fights in just six years with the UFC and with his entrance to Kid Rock’s “Cowboy”, electrifying fighting style, and hard-drinking, hard living lifestyle outside of the cage—he has emerged as one of the most popular fighters never to win a major title in MMA history. After two failed attempts to get that record tying twentieth win, Cerrone may be fighting for much more when he faces Darren Till this Saturday in the UFC’s second show in Poland. He may be fighting for his career.

After his last attempt to win a title ended with him crumpled on the mat at the hands and feet of then UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in December 2015, Cerrone rebuilt his career at welterweight with a monster 2016 that saw him win three straight Performance of the Night Awards in four fights.

First, in the Battle of the Cowboy’s, he choked out Alex Oliveira in the first round with a triangle in February. Then, he went to Canada where he’d outwrestled and outclass Patrick Cote in his home country in June, and followed that up with the most GIF’able knockout of 2016, destroying Rick Story with an incredible combination in August.

He closed out the year in December by engaging in a three-round war with Matt Brown, before finishing him off with a single head kick in the third round. A title shot looked to be right around the corner.

In the part of the world where myself and Cerrone both hail, one of the worst things you can do is be “Out Cowboy’ed.” It happened to former President George W. Bush when he ran for congress in West Texas in the early 1980’s. Painted as a Yankee by a more homegrown candidate, Bush vowed to never be Out Cowboy’ed again, and he rode that attitude all the way to the Presidency. So when the unheralded yet excellent Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal called Cowboy out, Cerrone wasn’t about to back down, especially if the fight happened in his hometown of Denver, Colorado.

But in the interviews leading up to the fight, Cerrone seemed unconcerned about the tough South Floridian, and instead seemed to be looking forward to a fight with welterweight champion Tyron Woodley or his then upcoming challenger, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. At the same time, the streetwise Masvidal  said on the “UFC Unfiltered” podcast of Cerrone, “I smell the bitch in him, I smell the ho in him.” Whatever Masvidal saw in Cerrone, the reality was that he was going into the fight without everything to gain, and Cowboy had everything to lose, being one or two wins away from the title shot and fighting in his hometown.

That night in January in Denver, Masvidal exploited Cerrone’s two main weaknesses—boxing on the inside and body shots. Masvidal outboxed the former US Muay Thai Champion, nearly finishing him at the end of the first. But the bell and Herb Dean could only save Cowboy for so long, and Masvidal finished Cerrone with a battery of body blows at the beginning of the second round, basking in the massive boos of a near riotous Mile High crowd. The reality of the situation is that Cowboy took a fight that he never should have taken, especially a mere seven weeks after his life or death war with Brown. To be frank, Cowboy out Cowboy’ed himself.

UFC President Dana White would do Cerrone some favors; first by sitting him down for the next six months, and then postponing his fight with former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler for a month so Cerrone could recover from a staph infection and a groin injury. Lawler and Cerrone finally threw down over three excellent rounds at UFC 214 in late July and while some (including myself) thought Cowboy did enough to win the fight, the decision went to the former champion.

Now, Cerrone will main event this week’s UFC Fight Pass card in Gdansk, Poland against undefeated British kickboxer Darren Till. Till will be in the main event for the first time in what is by far the most high-profile fight of his career. Till is (15-0-1, 3-0-1 in the UFC), but mostly unknown to American fight fans. That can all change with a win over Cowboy this Saturday. These two might actually be friends in another life, given they have similar fighting styles and Till, like Cowboy, has a history of getting into scraps outside the cage as well. Also like Cowboy, Till has shined in the dark, fighting only in Brazil and Europe. Cowboy has the second most wins in UFC history sure, but all his losses seem to come when the most is on the line.

Cerrone went 7-3 in the old WEC, and all his losses were in title fights, including two to Benson Henderson. Twice, against Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis, Cerrone lost in fights that might have gotten him a title shot if he won. Cerrone won eight fights in eighteen months after his first loss to Dos Anjos, but when he finally got that rematch for the title on FOX, he didn’t even last a round. And then with everything on the line against Masvidal, he failed again. Is this what the crafty Masvidal saw in Cowboy? Can he only shine when the lights are a little dim?

Given this fight is in Poland and on Fight Pass, this might be just what Cowboy needs. But Till is younger, fresher, a little bigger, and undefeated. It could indeed be the final stand for this Cowboy.

Yet despite his two recent losses, Cowboy has become a more technical, more diverse fighter in the last two years, and he showed all of that in his close loss to Lawler. If Cerrone can apply all his skills, he might get that elusive twentieth win after all, and who knows how many after. Whatever happens, all eyes should be on Poland this Saturday.

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