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With rift at Jackson-Wink, Mike Perry believes he gave Donald Cerrone ‘a little spirit back in his step’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For a long while there, Donald Cerrone became a quarterly feature on the UFC’s calendar, fighting as often as the bounties got offered. These days the most productive fighter on roster might be the guy in his crosshairs, Mike Perry, who on Nov. 10 will take on the “Cowboy” in his ninth UFC fight in the last two years. Perry and Cerrone are both Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters, which means they know some things about each other. They know each other’s tendencies. They know each other’s mindsets. They each know the other guy will bring it.

And they’ve come to understand that what Abraham Lincoln said some 160 years ago is true, too — a house divided against itself cannot stand. Several weeks ago, Cerrone blasted into his longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn during an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, saying he ruined the famous Albuquerque gym and turned it into a “puppy mill.” The thing that prompted it? What Cerrone perceived as disloyalty from his coaching staff, and outward favoritism towards Perry.

As for “Platinum” Perry? Well, he’s just doing his thing, in the way that a cat might after having just swallowed the canary.

“To be honest, I know [people] think I’ve been in Albuquerque, but I was in Florida,” he told MMA Fighting. “This is my year, and this year’s ending really well for me. We’re going to finish it off with a bang in November. And then I’m just going to chill with the family, have a good Christmas and shit. Things are looking up.”

Perry is coming off of a hard-earned split-decision victory over Paul Felder at UFC 226 in July. That snapped a two-fight skid that threatened to burst his hype bubble before it could truly get aloft. He says he’s feeling on top of the world after the win, as if he’s rediscovered something about himself that perhaps he’d forgotten about in the heat of the last two years.

“There was a point where I thought I was at a block in the road, and I didn’t see myself getting stronger, better, faster,” he says. “I didn’t know what was happening. Then there was a point one day I woke up and I was like a white belt again. I could be taught basics, something I’ve heard a million times before, but this time I heard it differently. It just sounded so different. There have been a hundred examples like that, every strike I can imagine. And I’ve been drilling the moves, me and Frank ‘The Tank’ [Lester], and coming back home to Florida, getting with my old team and working with them.”

The big story heading into his showdown with Cerrone has been the bad blood that has washed over the situation. Cerrone, who is never one to keep his pistols holstered when asked to give his opinion, painted a different picture of Jackson-Wink than most people are used to hearing when speaking to Rogan. He didn’t just accuse “Wink” of being a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mercenary, but of being spineless for not telling him to his face that he was going to work with Perry for the fight.

Given that he’s been with Winkeljohn for more than a decade, Cerrone has been taking it all personally. Meanwhile Perry — the newer kid on the block — says he doesn’t have any real animosity towards Cerrone, or anyone.

“I’m cool with him,” he says. “There’s no problems or nothing except we’ve got a fight Nov. 10, and that’s not a problem. That’s entertainment. That’s fun for everybody. Me and Cowboy are going to love every second of it, we’re going to f*ck each other up and it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to feel good at the same time. It’s like hate to love, love to hate.”

Here he laughs, thinking about an Instagram picture that Cerrone posted a couple of weeks back of him in a hospital with his arm bandaged up — a picture that made some worry as to whether or not the fight might be in jeopardy.

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“I tell you what, maybe he posted that picture because he wants me to feel bad for him,” he says, as if talking directly to Cerrone. “Mof*cka, sorry bro! I am coming at you, dawg, full blast. Aw shit, you going to get hit so damn hard. I’m not holding nothing back, I’m going crazy.

“We don’t know if it’s a joke or not or what he’s doing, or if it’s old. He’s trying to play little games or something, but at least he’s getting involved now. We’ll see how the final 30 days go. Cerrone’s known for showing up, ain’t he? So…”

Perry says that when he gets bored training, he likes to get out of Albuquerque and travel. In recent months he has gone to Hawaii just to break things up, and taken a couple of trips back home to Florida, where he works with the guys at American Top Team Orlando. He is still with Jackson-Wink — and training ground with Julian Williams at Excel — but New Mexico sometimes gets a little constrictive. So he likes a change of scenery.

And he’s wasn’t about to miss the biggest event in UFC history on Oct. 6, the lightweight title bout between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. He was in Las Vegas to take it all in.

“It’s nice, moving fast like that, it makes you miss little things,” he says. “And getting back to Albuquerque from Las Vegas [for UFC 229], I’d have missed some things there, too. I’m going to be a dangerous motherfucker on Nov. 10. I will be bigger and stronger and badder than I have ever been, and I am growing so much everyday, it is insane.”

One of the joys in speaking to a fighter like Mike Perry is that, when asked a question like, “how does it feel to be a co-main event spot on the UFC’s 25th Anniversary show in Denver,” he’ll find his way to saying something like, “I fight the way I fight, I go in that bitch and I go forward.” Such sentiments can be refreshing a game of second guesses.

And it is true that Perry, who is 5-3 in the UFC since debut in Aug. 2016, is a fighter’s fighter in the strictest sense. He likes to go into a fight and throw down, believing that his power source will be greater than of whatever ordinary man the UFC sticks in front of him. He truly believes that, deep down, he has more mettle, more strength, and more hunger than any fighter on roster.

In his fight with Felder, he showed discipline in holding back and picking his shots, using his counters well and punishing Felder during overzealous exchanges. With Cerrone, he says there will be a calculated killer in there — a hybrid of the Perry that outlasted Felder and the headhunting killabeast that obliterated Alex Reyes and Jake Ellenberger.

“I need to get in the fight and get in his face,” he says. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’ll see if he breaks early and quick like he’s shown in the past. But, I think for the 25-year anniversary, a tough motherf*cking Cowboy Cerrone is going to be stepping in that octagon with me. I’m pretty positive of it. I think he’s excited to fight me, I think I gave him a little spirit back in his step, especially with all the drama and everything.”

It’s not lost on Perry that it’s almost time to negotiate a new contract with the UFC, with his fight with Cerrone being the penultimate fight on his current deal. Perhaps, too, that is something that weighs into the coaching divvy-up at the gym, given that Perry is relatively fresh in his UFC career and Cerrone is — perhaps — winding down.

“I think this is the second to last fight on my contract, so we’re going to be talking money after this, or we’re going to be talking fighting out the contract so that we’ll really be talking money,” Perry says. “I don’t know what happens after this, because I’m just looking forward to this, but I’m looking like the new Donald Cerrone, because he was the only guy who was fighting four times a year.”

Perry, at heart a philosopher who has lived a lot of life — from being a boxer to serving time in the clink — believes in his meditative mind that Cerrone will try and take him down. But, even more so, he believes he has a kind of metaphysical strength that, when tapped into, is more powerful than can rightly be put into words. Cerrone wants to take him down? By doing that he will activate a dark abyss that only half has to do with jiu-jitsu.

“I believe I can scramble and wrestle with the best of them,” he says. “Ain’t nobody inside of 15 minutes going go be holding me down. Not a man on this planet. I don’t care if it was fucking Fabricio Werdum, he ain’t big enough. I’m strong as a motherfucker, and I’ve got this inner strength…” (And here he draws out the word “strength” into two-and-a-half syllables). “People look at me like I’m crazy. I’m lazy, and I don’t do everything a pro athlete should be doing, but it’s god given. I just got something special, and I’m strong as a motherfucker. Especially living in them mountains.”

Perry appreciates Cerrone, and has thus far let all gym rift talk slide off his back. Aside from sharing a training facility in the American Southwest, he was never all that close to Cerrone. Not that he doesn’t want to be. He wants to be as close as he can get to the Cowboy, and to put on a show for the fans.

“I look forward to getting hit, because if you hit me, that means you’re close enough, and if you’re close enough…I’m going to try and rip your f*cking head off,” he says.

He knows who he is, Mike Perry. He is the new Donald Cerrone, trying to take out the old. The new representative of Jackson-Wink? He won’t go that far. But he will break it down in simpler terms.

“I’ve always been a main event for the people,” he says. “I’m ‘People’s Main Event’ Mike Perry.”