Beyond all the Shakespearean intrigue that surrounds Saturday night’s co-main event, one thing that has grown apparent during UFC Denver fight week is the maturation of Donald Cerrone. Yes, the hot-blooded wildman has become something of an even-keeled elder statesman right before our eyes, one content to merely smirk and shrug at the in-fighting and treachery that followed Mike Perry’s arrival to New Mexico and Cerrone’s split from his longtime team at JacksonWink. The “Cowboy” of 2018 is a much different man than the “Cowboy” of yesteryear, that much is certain.
Gone are the emotions that once blinded Cerrone to Nate Diaz for lesser slights.
Instead, the 35-year-old welterweight has been his usual exuberant self in Denver, jokey in passing and patient with questioning about drama he doesn’t have the time nor the energy to care about. Where once there may have been a darkness to him on a week like this — especially as Perry pours buckets of gasoline onto the embers with each crazed encounter — Cerrone is letting the twinkle in his eye do his talking. He is the new father, the grizzled veteran, the man who has seen and done it all, and the all-timer who could become the winningest UFC fighter in history with another good night on Saturday.
And after a week like the one he’s had in Denver, even he can sense how things have changed.
“Absolutely,” Cerrone told MMA Fighting. “The old ‘Cowboy’ would’ve met this dude in the lobby and beat his ass. The new ‘Cowboy,’ I just: ‘I’ll see you on Saturday, buddy.’”
Cerrone attributes much of his shift in demeanor to simply growing up. “Too tiresome” is the turn of phrase that springs to his mind. All of this is too tiresome. The energy required to hold onto these slights nowadays is better spent elsewhere, and as soon as Cerrone’s therapy session with Joe Rogan hit the airwaves, the matter was considered over. Why dwell on what’s been lost when one can gallop ahead into the next adventure over the horizon?
So “Cowboy” did just that.
With JacksonWink a distant memory, his BMF Ranch has become a full-time home, and the months since his very public split have been a different sort of rewarding.
“It’s funny, after this split from the gym happened, it was like everybody came out of the woodwork and were like, ‘Let’s do this.’ I’m like, hell yeah, let’s go,” Cerrone explained. “So it’s been fun, man. So much fun. The journey of my career has been fun. Just, I can’t complain. I love every bit about this.
“I’m like a ‘turn my shoulder to you, once I’ve done it, you’re kinda dead for life to me’ kind of person, so for me, I’m done with you. That’s it. I don’t look back. So, as soon as I made the decision in my mind, that’s it, I don’t give it any second thought. I don’t even like giving it the energy to talk about it, so it’s like whatever. I have so much shit going on in my life, fun and life to live, that shit like dwelling on who’s going to be in my corner and who’s cornering who and what team I’m with — please, give me a break.”
Cerrone’s maturation from misfit to caretaker isn’t limited to just his own self-interests. The BMF Ranch has transformed into a full-fledged squad with “Cowboy” at the helm. In the past few months alone, notables like Joe Schilling, Yair Rodriguez, Mickey Gall, and John Howard have joined Cerrone in New Mexico, banding together with a stable of young talent that Cerrone hopes to help cultivate into the next generation of bonafide killers.
The next step to help “Cowboy” accomplish that goal is Donald Cerrone’s Cowboy Fight Series, a low-level amateur promotion he’s spearheading next year with a debut show on Jan. 19 in Manassas, Va. Amateur mixed martial arts is not a money-making endeavor, to say the least, but Cerrone is committing “full-force” to the project, he says, and is doing much more behind-the-scenes than simply affixing his name to the canvas.
“Man, I have all these guys that are around me at the ranch training and fighting, and it’s impossible for them to get fights,” Cerrone said. “I don’t know why it’s so hard. People always [struggle with it]. Man, let’s just do this, let’s start one. Let’s get it. Not only are we going to create the fight series, but we’re going to take the winners and we’re going to build them up, bring them to the ranch and train them, get them right, meet the right people, and just kinda pave the way and open the doors for these up-and-coming kids for the new generation.”
The Fight Series is a new passion of Cerrone’s, one he takes seriously as a potential conduit to help up-and-coming prospects at the BMF Ranch.
“I think it’s very important, man, just to give these guys the keys to success,” Cerrone said. “I remember me hopping gym to gym trying to find fights. It’s hard, long road, man, so anything that I can do to help, it’s going to be awesome.
“I think we might be selling to UFC Fight Pass, so that would be cool,“ he added. “So, we have big plans, man. I want to do six or eight next year and get a series going, and then open it up to the pros, but I’ve got to start somewhere so we’re going amateurs first.”
First up, though, Cerrone knows he has a hefty task standing in his way at UFC Denver. Perry has stoked the flames of a rivalry that feels strangely one-sided for the past several months, criticizing Cerrone’s time at JacksonWink and boasting of having laid traps for the veteran during the two’s limited training sessions together in New Mexico. Gym time is generally considered sacred in MMA — what goes down within those walls is supposed to stay on the mats. But as with everything else with this fight, Cerrone doesn’t mind if Perry wants to make the pair’s business public. It makes no difference to him — and actually, he says with a laugh, “if that’s Mike’s gleam of hope, then hold on to it buddy. Hold on to it.”
Because the twinkle in his eye says it all.
It’s been there all week for Cerrone, from his first open workout appearance to his final all-smiles staredown with the man who replaced him in the desert, as if Cerrone knows a secret that the rest of us don’t. His life has changed in myriad ways than the old days. Whether it’s his young son Dacson Danger Cerrone sitting at home waiting for his dad to go to work, or the responsibilities of being a team leader that have taken even more importance since his split from JacksonWink, Cerrone has grown up.
But a mature “Cowboy” is still a “Cowboy” after all.
So even if his nonchalance may signal a move past the noise he once found so hard to ignore, the newest version of Cerrone isn’t too far gone to admit that his good vibes will feel a little extra good after he bests his old team on Saturday night.
“Heh, you could say that,” he said, chuckling. “You could say that.”