Donald Cerrone’s freewheeling style has long made “Cowboy” a fan favorite of the MMA world.
That reverence can often be seen from his opponents as well. One needs to look no further than Cerrone’s recent win over Yancy Medeiros to find a foe who espoused a love of Cerrone’s old-school ways. But the same cannot be said of Cerrone’s opponent this Saturday at UFC Singapore, welterweight up-and-comer Leon Edwards, because unlike some of his peers, “Rocky” was never much of a fan of the devil-may-care approach Cerrone applied toward the fight game.
“He’s a legend of the sport, but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of his,” Edwards told MMA Fighting.
“Just [because] his approach to fighting, I think it’s more like a journeyman. I don’t think he cares whether he wins or loses. He just shows up and as long as he fights, that’s good for him. To me, I think his approach is more like a journeyman approach. You’re just there to fight, you’re not there to win or lose. I don’t think it bothers him, whether he wins or loses anyway — that’s his approach. But my approach is I want to win every fight and I want to be a world champion. That’s my aim in the sport.”
If those are his goals, Edwards is certainly off to a good start. After stumbling in his Octagon debut, the 26-year-old Birmingham resident is 7-1 over his last eight UFC contests, a run highlighted by a five-fight win streak that includes destructive victories over Albert Tumenov, Bryan Barberena, and Vicente Luque. Edwards has now parlayed that hot streak into a top-15 welterweight ranking, his first big-name opponent in Cerrone, and his first main event at UFC Singapore.
Cerrone, on the other hand, is hitting the back nine of a career that will ultimately go down as one of the most well-traveled in promotional history. To illustrate the vast experience divide between the two, by the time Roberts made his Octagon debut in late 2014, Cerrone was already a veteran of 25 combined UFC and WEC appearances. The 36-year-old “Cowboy” has since pushed that number to a whopping 37 combined appearances between the two Zuffa organizations. He even has a chance to take sole ownership of the record for most wins in UFC history (21) with a successful night in Singapore.
But while Cerrone has enjoyed a long and fruitful career, Edwards is of the mind that the former title challenger’s best days are behind him.
“I think so,” Edwards said. “He’s a 36-year-old man now and he took a lot of damage in his last, what, six or seven outings. He took a lot of damage.
“We’ve watched his last four or five fights, and honestly there’s a blueprint there, and I can [execute] it. As far as why he’s really struggling, I don’t know. Welterweight is probably just too big for him, or his chin is deteriorating. It could be anything. Like I said, he’s a 36-year-old man. His style of fighting, the way he’s fought, it’s been the same realistically for, what, his last 10 or 15 fights? I don’t think there’s much different in his game, really, that’s changed over the last 10 or 15 fights, from what I’ve seen anyway. So people are probably just getting used to what he does and what he throws, and everything else. There’s no [mystery] there.”
It’s true that Cerrone has struggled of late. After exploding onto the welterweight scene with a flawless 4-0 campaign in 2016, “Cowboy” fell back to earth hard in 2017, dropping three consecutive fights for the first time in his career, including a pair of brutal TKO losses at the hands of Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal. Cerrone ultimately righted his ship with a first-round stoppage of Medeiros this past February, but Edwards believes Cerrone’s recent slump was at least partly affected by the way “Cowboy” approached the fight game throughout his career.
“I think back in the day, the guys would fight [indiscriminately]. There was no real thought to their future or the future of the sport or their health,” Edwards said. “I think now it’s showing in older guys. You can see them slowing down quite early and they’re getting chinny, so I think it all adds up over time. You’ve got to approach this thing smart and [work towards] longevity in your career. In the past it’s been, like I said, just show up just to fight and you don’t care whether you win or lose, whether you get knocked out or anything.
“So, 100 percent, I feel the older guys, the way they approach the game is so different from the way we approach the game, the way younger guys are approaching the game right now. I think everyone thinks more of longevity and more about looking out for themselves, more about just being smart in fights, and not necessarily fighting just to fight, just to say I’m on the card fighting whoever, whenever. You know what I mean? Like I said, where I’m from, that’s a journeyman mindset. You get paid just to show up and just to say, ‘Yeah, I did show up.’ My mindset is more, I want to win everything.”
Edwards hopes to continue his winning ways Saturday against the perennial contender.
If he does, he’ll follow in the footsteps of fellow English countryman Darren Till, the last man to defeat Cerrone. Till beat “Cowboy” in brutal fashion at UFC Gdansk, and his career instantly took off after the eye-opening performance. Edwards plans to makes sure history repeats itself in Kallang, Singapore. He wants to open those very same eyes with the type of statement victory that could propel him into title contention.
“I think I’m the better fighter,” Edwards said bluntly of Cerrone. “My striking, I feel my striking is there. I’m well-rounded, so I feel like wherever the fight goes, I’ll be the better man on the night, so it’s just me going out there and proving it now.
“I feel I need a finish in this fight to prove my case,” Edwards added. “To get to where I really want to get to, I feel a decision won’t be enough for me. So I’m going out there for the finish and having my way.”