The first eight months of 2016 have been a time of reinvention for Donald Cerrone.
Not only has "Cowboy" rebounded from a disappointing failed bid at the UFC lightweight title by jumping up to welterweight and capturing three straight victories in increasingly impressive fashion, but he also has made several key changes to his training regime down in New Mexico at Jackson-Winkeljohn. And among the most notable of those changes is that Cerrone cut hard sparring out of his life completely.
"Sparring is all I did, that's what I used to do. I thought that was getting ready for a fight, would just be f*cking throwing down," Cerrone said Tuesday on the Joe Rogan Experience. "Now I don't spar at all, and all I do is drill, because drilling is the most important thing you can do."
After 11 hard years spent in the fight game, Cerrone admitted that worries about brain damage prompted the move.
"I feel like the little guy at the Wal-Mart check-in, clicking. Every time you take a hit to your head, he pushes the button," Cerrone said. "How many people go into Wal-Mart before it's full? I don't know. I have no idea. How many more do I got? How many epic f*cking brawls did me and (teammate) Leonard Garcia have in the training room? I don't know. So, like, I'll get in there and move around with Andrei (Arlovski) and move around with all of the heavyweights, but light, MMA sparring. Heavy takedowns and grappling, but real light striking. But the days of putting the big gloves on and throwing down? Hell no."
Thus far, the shift in philosophies appears to be working wonders.
At 33 years old, Cerrone looks better fighting at welterweight than he ever has before. What started as a change of pace after a tough loss has turned into a referendum on the cons of extreme weight cutting, as Cerrone has notched a trio of impressive finishes over Alex Oliveira, Patrick Cote, and Rick Story at 170 pounds, all while looking faster and sharper than he ever did at lightweight.
"I used to walk around (at) 174," Cerrone said. "That was like my deep training camp, and I noticed when I'd start to cut, I'd get down to 168, 170, but I had nothing in the gas tank, man. It was all mental at that point. Like, my body felt real thin and brittle. At 170, I feel good. I got the extra tank, you know?
"Another big part of it is, 170-pounders, don't think you can just come take [me down with] body shots anymore, because I got a little more biscuit now."
Cerrone pointed to his latest win over Story at UFC 202 as an example of his growth as a fighter.
Cerrone said he felt the "worst I've ever felt in my whole life" in the lead-up to the contest, and that he had "the worst headache and was legitimately sick all day" in the hours before his walkout. However, coach Greg Jackson told Cerrone that this is what they trained for, to beat somebody on your worst day, and ultimately that is what happened, as "Cowboy" ended Story's night with one of the most spectacular striking combinations of his UFC career.
The win subsequently vaulted Cerrone all the way up to No. 7 on the UFC's media-generated welterweight rankings and set him up for a potentially big fight in his new division.
"The whole time I was at 155, you know how I like to fight, so I would call (the UFC), ‘hey, a 170-pounder fell out, I'll take that fight,'" Cerrone said, laughing.
"You know what Joe (Silva) and Dana (White) would tell me? ‘Cowboy, you're a 155er. Those guys are f*cking monsters.' So now I'm at 170 and I want to fight at 155 and they say, ‘no, you're f*cking so great at 170, you don't want to go down to 155.' Like, goddamnit, will you guys make up your f*cking mind of what I can do."
With his name now ranked in the top-10 of two UFC weight classes, and an acting role on the new Netflix show ‘Godless' in the works, Cerrone appears to be hitting his stride as a fighter and a brand within the sport. He recently re-signed with the UFC on an eight-fight extension that will keep him in the company for the foreseeable future, and although he balked when asked if he was thrilled with the terms of the deal, he teased that he could have an "epic" announcement coming soon for his next fight to take place at UFC 205 against a fan-favorite.
"It's not 100-percent yet, but it's going to be f*cking good," Cerrone said. "Hopefully, today we get the double thumbs up."