Donald Cerrone has had more success in major MMA promotions than most fighters can dream.
First and foremost, he’s the winningest fighter in UFC history (23). Extend that to his time in the WEC, and that number bumps to 29. He’s fought and finished more opponents than anyone else in the two promotions, and won hundreds of thousands of dollars in performance bonuses. The only thing that’s eluded him so far is a UFC belt.
That will not change after Saturday night, when Cerrone faces off with Conor McGregor at UFC 246. Still, McGregor’s status as a former two-division champ and box office kingpin has elevated his 34th octagon walk into something much more than just another fight from one of the most active fighters in company history.
Beat McGregor, and Cerrone makes his mark in history. Lose, and it’s another bullet point for the narrative that’s shadowed his success: close, but no cigar.
Cerrone was in good spirits on Wednesday for his first face-to-face with the Irish star at a press conference for UFC 246. But when asked about the challenge of McGregor in a career of challenges overcome and surrendered, he knew very well the narrative surrounding the fight.
“He’s the two-time, belt-holding champ, so you could definitely say this is, to date, the toughest battle,” Cerrone said. “I’m stoked, man, because this is, ‘Cowboy, can you fight the big fight? You never make it on the big fight.’ Well, motherf*cker, here’s the biggest one. Let’s see.”
Cerrone has always been willing to roll the dice. Sometimes, he comes up aces and wows everyone. Others, he falls short. But he never stays off the horse for long.
As he’d aged and settled into domesticity, Cerrone is a man that seems far more at peace than before. Clearly, it’s been good for his state of mind. But he’s also fallen short far more frequently.
True to form, Cerrone is defiant. Back-to-back knockout losses have made him a significant underdog, but he is more salty than ever about the people that drive the narratives. Like McGregor, he’s weary of the ones that drive on his shortcomings. So he’d like to create his own.
And same as McGregor, losing won’t end Cerrone’s UFC career any time soon. He’s done so much for the company, he’ll get more leeway than just about anyone else when it comes to his expiration date. He might not be the cash cow of McGregor, but he’s a perennial attraction. And on Saturday, he plans to fulfill that role.
As for that other convenient narrative, the one where he’s supposed to use the jiu-jitsu skills that have helped him best 17 opponents via submission, everyone can go spit.
“For all you analysts and experts that are out there asking these questions, you would be f*cking stupid to think this man doesn’t have a wrestling defense, or some kind of grappling defense, so for me to just walk in and just go, ‘Oh, I’m going to take him down and submit him,’ get a f*cking real life, man,” Cerrone said. “We’re going to go there and fight our asses off. That’s what’s going to happen.”