It would seem that people have forgotten who Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is.
Less than a month out from UFC 246, Donald Cerrone is being widely written off ahead of his clash against Conor McGregor and is being viewed as a glorified Dennis Siver, a mere pawn in the long game of getting McGregor back to his glory days and marquee fights. But um, Donald Cerrone happens to hold the record for most victories in the UFC, guys, in case you’ve forgotten, and that doesn’t happen by accident.
Donald Cerrone has been fighting the best in the world under Zuffa for 12 years. And in the UFC, he has been earning performance bonuses since his very first fight in the promotion, including against Charles Oliveira, <cough> Dennis Siver <cough>, and Edson Barboza to name a few. Cerrone’s resume of victories is also underrated, as he holds wins over former UFC champions Benson Henderson and Eddie Alvarez, as well as title challengers Al Iaquinta and Patrick Cote among many other perennially ranked fighters. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to the claim that Cerrone has lost more of his big fights than he’s won, but it does mean that Donald Cerrone is no can or prop. The disrespect being shown to Cerrone could be a classic case of recency bias, with people only looking at his last two fights being losses and not considering the murderers they came against, Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje.
Cerrone has a UFC record of 23-10, of the 10 losses, half of them came by a KO/TKO within the first three rounds, excluding the Tony Ferguson doctor stoppage, which would make six. It’s true that Conor McGregor has the tools to up that number, but it’s also true that he has yet to knockout anyone at welterweight. Granted, we can’t judge a man’s trigger power when all we have to go on is him trying to kill a zombie in Nate Diaz, but the question still remains of how much of McGregor’s KO power will transfer to 170. Cerrone has proven his toughness every time he gets off to a slow start and his opponent looks like he’s going to run off with the win, only for Cerrone to heat up as the fight progresses, not unlike Nate Diaz at UFC 196. You can expect McGregor to win round one….but what happens if the fight goes to the second, then the third, and finally, the championship rounds?
As much as Conor McGregor’s fast-starting attributes will likely benefit him against Cerrone, Cerrone’s late-building qualities could be very problematic for McGregor, who has dealt with endurance issues in the past. McGregor seems to have learned his lesson from UFC 196, as he went on to make significant adjustments to his energy management in the rematch against Nate Diaz which benefited him, so he could do the same against Cerrone. Yet even in victory, McGregor slowed down significantly in his rematch against Diaz, and Cerrone is not someone you want to slow down against, lest you end up on the wrong side of a head kick. Lastly, there is a wide assumption that this will be strictly a standup fight. As history has shown, one should never make such assumptions, and Cerrone has demonstrated a major gap between the two when it comes to grappling.
When you factor in Cerrone’s longevity, underrated resume, ability to pick up momentum throughout the course of a fight contrasted with McGregor’s tendency to wane, it’s time to consider a world in which Donald Cerrone defeats Conor McGregor at UFC 246. Clearly, this is a possibility that is being overlooked, with UFC president Dana White and Conor McGregor both already eying potential fights against Jorge Masvidal and Khabib Nurmagomedov and a portion of the MMA community believing Donald Cerrone will throw the fight to appease the promotion.
But what happens with Conor McGregor if he loses? Does he retire in a loss to a man whom many consider a gatekeeper? Or does he add Donald Cerrone to the list of names he demands to have a rematch against? Does he finish his trilogy with Nate Diaz since both men would be coming off a loss?
And what happens with Donald Cerrone? Does he suddenly become a superstar like Nate Diaz after beating McGregor? How does his career change? Can you imagine a world where Donald Cerrone begins calling for superfights after a win here? Do people suddenly begin seeing him as a potential world champion after this one victory despite all the years we’ve already had to gauge his ceiling? Donald Cerrone is not going to get on the microphone and go viral with a, “I’m not surprised motherfuckers” moment. In the long run, Donald Cerrone is the man most likely to have the same name value if he were to defeat Conor McGregor in 2020, which is why he’d only be seen as the ultimate spoiler. From a business standpoint, the fight is a simple, binary, win-lose situation for the UFC. It’s hard to envision how a Donald Cerrone victory would change the landscape in any positive way for the promotion, so a Cerrone win is a loss for the UFC. Meanwhile, it’s obvious what the promotion stands to gain with a McGregor victory.
It’s likely the UFC are just as confident that McGregor will win as fans are, which would explain them making the fight in the first place with an “all eggs in one basket” approach, instead of creating a win-win situation by making McGregor vs. Gaethje, a fight that could have made Gaethje a superstar and still be a win for the promotion in the long run, even if they come out with far less money than they would have with a McGregor victory. But no, this is the fight the UFC wants and the fight they believe McGregor needs. And for all his records, Donald Cerrone will have an opportunity to make history once again at UFC 246, this time by going down as the biggest spoiler the promotion didn’t want you to see.