Who The Fook Is That Guy? Everything You Need To Know About Conor McGregor's Next Opponent, Dona
It seems like a lifetime ago that Conor McGregor uttered that iconic phrase. At the UFC 205 press conference, McGregor was asked who would give him the toughest fight out of the group of fighters sitting on stage. Perennial contender Jeremy Stephens took the opponent to put himself over and interject, stating that he was the hardest hitting 145er in the UFC. Conor seemed a little put off by the interruption, maybe even a touch confused, but his next words would be recognised as one of the best one-liners in MMA history, haunting Stephens forever.
"Who the fook is that guy?"
Fast forward 3 years, and Conor McGregor's next fight has been announced. 18th of January. Las Vegas. 15 months after McGregor fought Khabib for the Lightweight Championship, he steps back into the Octagon to face Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone in a 5 round welterweight bout.
The fight was announced about a week ago, and some of the reactions have been perplexing to me. I can only assume that some of the takes are from casual MMA fans that only tune in when McGregor fights. Some are saying that Cerrone's a bum, he's a scrub, he's an easy fight for Conor. And yes, some are parroting the dreaded question- "who the fook is that guy?"
I don't know if Conor's burn on Stephens was meant as a put-down or a genuine question, but I've seen enough of the negative sentiment about Cerrone to know that the record needs to be set straight about "Cowboy". He's one of the most beloved and accomplished fighters in MMA history.
I deliberately used "MMA history" when talking about Cerrone, as his legend actually began to form outside of the UFC's Octagon. After a few fights on the regional circuit, Cowboy made his debut in the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) in September 2007. WEC was a sister organisation to the UFC, owned by the same parent company, Zuffa. In a sense, WEC was to the UFC what NXT is (or was) to WWE- a developmental league of sorts before making the jump to the big show. Fighters like Carlos Condit and Brian Stann cut their teeth in the WEC. Around the time Cerrone joined, the higher weight classes were absorbed by the UFC, and WEC became the home for the lighter weight classes- bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight. It was the organisation where the legends of Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo grew. They also had a stacked lightweight division, boasting such fighters as Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, who would later become UFC Lightweight Champions. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone was right in that mix.
Cerrone's WEC debut took place at WEC 30 against Kenneth Alexander. He came in as a highly touted striker, with kickboxing and Muay Thai experience, but he would actually finish the bout via submission with a triangle choke. Cerrone has an excellent jujitsu game, extremely flexible with great leg dexterity. He would display this through his early WEC fights- even when he was taken down and on his back, he would often get the better of the fight using his advanced submission abilities. And because he was so skilled off his back, he was unafraid to throw wild strikes at his opponents, mixing punches, elbows, knees and kicks beautifully. Cerrone is an extremely exciting fighter to watch, and has been for a long time. His style is one that is equal parts violent and technical. He has a very active, yet disciplined approach to MMA.
Cowboy quickly rose through the WEC ranks, following up his debut with a first round submission of UFC vet Danny Castillo, and a Fight Of The Night performance against Rob McCullough, winning by unanimous decision. It would be the first FOTN bonus of many to come in Cerrone's career under the Zuffa (WEC/UFC) banner. He would get his first crack at WEC gold as an undefeated prospect at 9-0 in January 2009, challenging Lightweight Champion Jamie Varner. It was a fantastic battle, with another FOTN bonus in Cerrone's pocket, but unfortunately not the win or the championship. Cowboy's first career loss came via split decision in a rather unique fashion- in Round 5, he threw a knee to a downed opponent, which was ruled a unintentional foul, so rather than waving it off as a No Contest, they went to the scorecards. A bit of controversy, but nevertheless, still a loss. How would Cerrone bounce back?
He would do it the only way he knows how- in style. A first round submission (rear naked choke) of James Krause would put Cowboy on the right track among the elite of the division. He would then get a shot at the Interim Lightweight Championship against Benson Henderson. Another incredible fight- Cerrone NEVER has boring fights. He took Henderson to the limit in a razor-close battle, but the decision did not go his way. That sweet Fight of the Night bonus sure went in his pocket, though.
The great thing about deciding to write a blog post about Donald Cerrone is that it got me to watch his WEC career for the first time. Damn, he had some amazing battles. He would beat Jamie Varner following the loss to Henderson in yet another FOTN effort, but no championship to be won in that fight. He would finish off his WEC career with yet another submission victory via triangle choke over Chris Horodecki. Donald Cerrone debuted in the UFC at UFC 126 against Paul Kelly, and I've followed his career in its entirety ever since. Oh, and in his UFC debut, he got both the submission win and the $50,000 FOTN bonus.
The only real knock on Donald Cerrone is that he has not won a world championship. It's one hurdle he seems to stop at. But damn, he is insanely talented and exciting, and his list of career achievements eclipses some fighters who manage to hold a belt for a cup of coffee and disappear into obscurity. He's genuinely had a Hall Of Fame worthy career even without a championship. How? I hear you ask. Well, dear reader, let me throw some stats at you:
-Most wins in UFC history. Since debuting in UFC in 2011, no fighter has been more active. He has won inside the Octagon an astonishing 23 times!
-He has also had the most fights in UFC history at 33. He currently shares that honor with Jim Miller, but just quietly, I think Cowboy has more tread on his tyres at this stage than Miller. Then again, I may be biased- as this write-up may indicate, I'm a massive Donald Cerrone fan.
-Cerrone has the most finishes in UFC history (at 16) and the most post-fight bonuses- a mix of Knockout, Submission, Performance, and Fight of the Night (at 18)
Cerrone is currently trailing in a couple of other records- that he seems poised to break at some point soon. Those are second most wins in Lightweight history (at 17) and third most finishes in Lightweight history (at 10). Although this upcoming fight with McGregor will be contested at Welterweight, Cerrone has shown to be adept at jumping between 155lbs and 170lbs, competing with the elite in both divisions without issue over the past few years.
Is Donald Cerrone's record perfect? No. He has lost in those championship fights before, and everyone who has beaten him is either a champion/former champion or top contender. He still has some impressive names on his resume, and came extremely close in some of those losses. He does have wins over former champions Jamie Varner, Benson Henderson and Eddie Alvarez to his credit, and fought his ass off against Nate Diaz, Robbie Lawler and Tony Ferguson. Win or lose, though, Cowboy comes to throw down, and he's never let a loss deter him- to quote an old song, if he gets knocked down, he gets up again... and fights on a card the next fortnight if he physically can. He's a mad man. If you watch and appreciate MMA at all, you have to love Donald Cerrone. He's a fighter's fighter.
Will he beat Conor McGregor? I don't know. I will say this- no fighter deserves the money-making box office attraction that a McGregor fight will be more than Cerrone. He's done so much for the UFC, stepping in at a moment's notice at any time. Dana White will often tell the media how Cerrone will offer to jump in to save card even if he fought the previous week. And who knows what Conor McGregor we're getting? 15 months out of the Octagon, and he'd had a long absence from MMA competition before the Khabib fight too. Meanwhile, Cerrone is always sharp and always ready. He has fought 11 times since McGregor's last UFC win (over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205).
Donald Cerrone ain't a bum or a scrub. He's a very real challenge for a returning McGregor. Actually... think about it. A veteran MMA fighter, who has never won a UFC championship. He's lanky, tall, with a great striking game and skilled at submissions... does that sound like something, or someone, that Conor McGregor has faced in the past? Food for thought...
Until next time, take care,