ATLANTIC CITY – There was a moment in time when UFC president Dana White said that nobody wanted to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov. That was before Nurmy was booked into a fight with Benson Henderson (or at least so Henderson thought; turns out it was Rustam Khabilov) and Rafael dos Anjos showed up as just such a particular nobody in April to face the Dagestan bear wrestler.
And it was certainly before White checked with Donald Cerrone, the man who keeps reminding us that he’ll fight anybody, anytime -- whether it’s "Nate, Khabib, anybody" -- and actually means it.
At this point, it’s hard not to like "Cowboy" Cerrone, the Budweiser-guzzling fun dude who is always fighting some colossus or other between some adventure or other. The adventures he hitches to his fights are always something like rock climbing, or wakeboarding on Lake Powell, or riding mechanical bulls, rappelling, RVing in Clear Creek, passing the ladle around the campfire with Leonard Garcia or getting rowdy on his "Fight Ranch" outside Albuquerque with the tumbleweeds. Sometimes his adventure involves the taxman, who is one of his supreme motivators. Sometimes women.
This time, as Cerrone visited New Jersey, he was en-route to hanging with his grandmother in Niagara Falls before catching his friend, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick, out in Indy. Yippee ki-yay!
And as always, there was a fight at the center of his action weekend.
Jim Miller, who’s nobody’s slouch, was the "anybody" this time through, and the only variation was that it was midweek. Cerrone very gamely took a few lumps from the Jersey native Miller in the first round before figuring out the timing, distance, cadence and rhythm of his UFC Fight Night 45 main event and teeing off on his head. He downed Miller with a well-timed head kick mid-second round, after he’d tenderized him with a crippling body kick moments earlier. Miller never recovered from the first, and the second had to come back to him slowly.
Between the time Dan Miragliotta called Cerrone off and the time he took the dais for the post-fight press conference, there were cold, rewarding Budweisers and another $50,000 in bonus money. This has become its own norm. After he submitted Edson Barboza in April, Cowboy was double-fisting the White Cans on the podium; he had one that he was drinking, the other that he made into a spitter. He had to pee mid-conference that night in Orlando. Dana White shook his head, and said, "go pee."
At the Revel, Cerrone had just one bottle with him afterwards, but he was audibly enjoying it. And boy did he get antsy when he finished its contents…Cowboy was ready to go "drink some beer," and be done with the silly media inquisition. This is a guy who says he wants to be the kind of fighter that people pull over to the bar to watch fight on TV. This is a guy who embodies everything that the UFC has ever been after in terms of willingness, aggression, excitement, technique and explosiveness, all the sellable, workable tenants.
"I will literally fight anybody," he said. "The UFC tells me the date and time to be there and I’ll gladly be there. Nate [Diaz], Khabib [Nurmagomedov], anybody, I wanna fight. So the sooner the better and looking forward to getting back out there."
At this point, the question is: Why is Cerrone not America’s favorite fighter? It’s certainly not because of the bashful, sh*t-eating grin he hides under his cowboy hat each time he’s told he won another $50,000 in end of the night bonus money. It’s not because he can’t win. After Miller, he’s now won four in a row…and he’s finished all four guys. It’s not because he makes himself scarce. He’s fought 17 times since 2010. That kind of action density is usually found at the beginning of fighter’s careers, when they are setting up cans.
But look at those 17 fights, going back to the WEC…Benson Henderson, Dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, Miller, Nate Diaz, Melvin Guillard, Barboza, on and on. He’s fighting the very best of the best in his division, casually, like he's dealing in some good-timing rowdiness at the honky-tonk, usually on his way to Florida to wakeboard with Rusty Malinoski or to part-take in Cheyenne Days. He’d be the first to tell you he’s a crazy bastard, and by now we should believe him. But damn if it’s not fun to live through him vicariously a little bit.
Yet he keeps winning, and once again Cerrone has pitched his silhouette on the horizon against that blazing, warbling sun. (Or…you know, positioned himself near a title shot). He just keeps beating guys. Just keeps collecting bonuses.
The cool thing with Cerrone is, he just wants to keep fighting, regardless if it’s for a belt or not. Nate Diaz implicating him in hashtags (#UFCdick) ain’t no snake in the Cowboy’s boot; he’ll fight Diaz tomorrow, and he’ll do it in Stockton. And he’ll fight Nurmagomedov, too, if that’s what the UFC wants.
He’ll fight anybody, anytime, and he’ll leave a trail of empty Budweiser’s just to remind us he was there. And if there’s one thing that Cowboy makes you think, it’s this: Fighting shouldn’t be as easy as he makes it seem.