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Donald Cerrone Looks Back on WEC Days, Sets Sights on Nate Diaz After Stephens

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Donald Cerrone is a simple guy. He likes to fight, and he likes to get paid. And he just so happens to be very good at both.

So good, in fact, that these days Cowboy is a regular patron on the Zuffa Bonus Express, with four '(Blank) of the Night' checks in just five UFC appearances. With a résumé like that, it shouldn't surprise that ahead of his UFC on FUEL 3 clash against Jeremy Stephens, Cerrone's focus is on making it five out of six.

"You name it, the post-fight bonuses, I'm going for it," he thickly declared in an interview with "I've got s**t to buy. I'm thinking (of getting) 10 or 12 girls to come out on a pontoon boat."

For Cerrone, this mindset is nothing new. Any MMA fan worth their salt remembers the brash, young lightweight jumpstarting his aspirations with five ‘Fight of the Night' marks in the WEC.

Back then excitement was the hallmark of the fledging promotion, and with monster names like Cerrone, Ben Henderson, and Anthony Pettis, fans always knew what they were getting with the bright blue gloves. "You'd never go to a WEC event that was boring or lame," Cerrone explained.

"All the WEC guys were throwing down, making interesting fights. Sometimes in the UFC, you'd be like ‘come on you fat bastard, do something.'"

The man has a point. Looking back through the history of mixed martial arts, the WEC likely held one of the highest good-fight-to-bad-fight ratios out there. Though the blue cage never carried the brand recognition of its Zuffa counterpart, so it became commonplace for WEC fighters to see their names tumble down the lightweight rankings without provocation.

Obviously, considering the current state of the 155-pound division, that fact becomes somewhat ironic in retrospect. But like many of his contemporaries, Cerrone harnessed the slights as motivation to fuel his UFC barnstorming tour. "I knew the whole time," he chuckled. "We were the top of the WEC guys, and everyone said that we weren't s**t. We were the little brothers of the UFC. And now look. We're here, making a statement, so it feels good to be a part of that."

With the exception of Henderson, no one's statement has been as loud as Cerrone's.

From February to October, Cowboy bulldozed his way through a wildly entertaining run of four-straight victories -- three of which came as a short-notice replacement -- to kick off his UFC career with miles of highlight-reel material and a stack of bonus paper so thick it would make Chris Lytle blush. Suddenly whispers of a UFC title shot were reaching Cerrone's ear, and a coveted co-main event slot on a Brock Lesnar pay-per-view was his for the taking.

But the fight game is an unpredictable one, and no one, least of all Cerrone, could have imagined the ferocity with which Nate Diaz showed up at UFC 141, or how quickly and decisively ten months of work could come crashing down. "Man, I haven't even watched that fight," Cerrone bitterly recollected. "I'm so disgusted with myself about that performance and what went on.

"It was definitely an off night, and he got in my head. He did exactly what he had to do. I came out and was f***ed from the beginning."

For what it's worth, Cerrone's upcoming opponent, Stephens, pretty much agreed with that depiction, saying Cowboy mentally "broke" during the third round, and "gave up and took his ass-whooping." Those are strong words, and after suffering such a back-to-earth loss, Cerrone is in no mood to start hearing other fighters question his toughness.

"Last year it was my rookie year in the UFC, s*** was coming at me so fast," Cerrone admitted wryly. "Talk of the title in one year was big, big news to me. So I've stepped back, reconsidered, and now it's time to make some money. 2012 is the year. I feel great. I'm going to f***ing take some names, beat some ass and get that belt."

Of course, it all starts on Tuesday night with Stephens. Only after that fight is in the books, and a bonus check is nestled safely in his pocket, will Cerrone turn his sights to his new target -- Diaz.

He may never be able to erase the memory of that cold December night, but with Diaz cresting into the upper-echelon of the division, Cerrone knows deep down there'll be a day the two men meet again. And to that, Cowboy has just one thing to say.

"Don't be scared, homie."

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