There are few guarantees in life, and even fewer in the UFC. You never know when a fighter will drop out of a bout due to injury, get popped for failing a drug test, or get KTFO’d in his/her first title defense. But when Donald Cerrone is on the card, it’s a pretty safe bet that his will be the fight of the night. As a matter of fact, Cerrone has earned that exact distinction from the UFC on three different occasions, and he’s the first fighter in the history of the organization to be granted bonus payments in all four of its award categories: Fight of the Night, Knockout, Performance, and Submission.
Onnit hung out with the “Cowboy” on his New Mexico ranch as he prepared for his fight against Matt Brown at UFC 206, and he revealed the mindset that has made him arguably the most exciting fighter in the UFC, and, simultaneously one of its loosest cannons.
1. What was the first fight you can remember getting in?
Oh, shit. I think it was fifth grade with a kid who’s one of my best friends today. We fought each other in the hallway of middle school. He was talking shit and we both just dropped our bags and got to throwing down. I was a little-ass dude, maybe 100 pounds all through high school, so I was always having to prove myself.
2. Did you win?
I don’t know if anybody won. We just both punched each other. In sixth grade, there isn’t much winning or losing going on. I think he still tells everyone he beat my ass.
3. What do you love about a hard fight?
I don’t know if I like hard fights anymore [laughs]. It’s just fun. Testing yourself. Getting hit and hitting back. I can’t really get into a fight until I get hit. Then it feels real.
4. Is it true you never go into a fight with a game plan?
I never have one. That’s the cool thing about training with Greg Jackson. He never gives me a game plan. He says, ‘Go out there and be you, Cowboy.’ We never say, “OK, we’re gonna go out there and take this guy down.” We always just let loose and have fun. That’s just for me, though. Everyone else [Jackson trains] has a game plan. But he trusts me to have the right instincts.
5. You’ve admitted to being frightened before fights. How do you manage fear?
I look at fear like, if you’re walking down a dark alley, you’re not sure if someone’s gonna jump out and try to mug you and your girl. Those little hairs that stand up on the back of your neck—that’s fear. If you were just happy, skippy, walking down the street, you wouldn’t be fucking ready. With the fear you’re alert and aware—all your senses are heightened. You have to accept that that’s a normal part of the process in a fight. My first 10 or so fights were all first-round knockouts.
6. How does it feel to know you can walk into just about any room on the planet and kill anyone in it if you had to?
I’ve had that mentality since I was a kid, which is what got me into so much trouble. There was only so much I’d take from any man. I always thought when I’d see people on the street, “Oh yeah, I’ll fuck that dude up.” I used to exercise that right a lot, but now I don’t. I’m older, there are legal reasons, and it’s not worth it anymore. And I’ve mellowed out a lot. But if somebody came into a room poppin’ off, I’d still settle it.
I carry a gun everywhere just in case. I have a little .380 I carry. I’d get out and fuck someone up before I’d shoot him, but I’d kill somebody if I had to. You just never know.
7. Do you have a dream fight?
Robbie Lawler or GSP would be a dream match. I’d fight Bruce Lee just so I could beat his motherfucking ass.
8. You’re known for taking fights on short notice because you love to throw down, but is there such a thing as too short notice?
Not for me. I always say yes. If I got knocked out the day before in training camp I’d still go in there and throw down.
9. You had a nearly career-ending injury when you had an accident with a four-wheeler. What happened exactly?
It was 2006. I was racing motorcross and there was a big-ass triple. I didn’t make it and the quad smashed me in the back and spilled my guts out. Broke all the ribs on both sides. My spleen was ripped, my stomach fucked up. I stood up and my guts fell into my hands. I was like catching them. It wasn’t even bloody—I saw grayish pink guts. I just sat there and waited for them to get me.
Doctors said you’d never fight again.
They said if you ever take a serious shot to the spleen again it could tear. That I could rupture my spleen and I wouldn’t know—I’d just slowly bleed out. I was like, “Whatever.” I fought with two broken ribs on one side a few months later. I’m not afraid of it. Fuck it.
10. You’re probably the most entertaining fighter in the UFC, but does your insistence on giving the fans the nonstop action they want hurt your chances of winning?
For sure. But that’s what the people want to see. That’s my legacy. I want people to say, “Oh, Cowboy’s fighting? Shit, let’s order it. He always throws down.” Being the People’s Champ is more important to me than anything.
11. You have a role on an upcoming Netflix series. What can you tell us about this Godless show?[Veteran UFC fighter] Keith Jardine hooked me up with it. He’s been doing a lot of acting since he quit the UFC. I know nothing about it, except Jeff Daniels is the star. It’s a fucking western so I’m doing it. I’m part of this train robbing gang. We ride horses and rob trains. Should be fun.
[Godless premiers in 2017]
See Cowboy Cerrone in action at UFC 206 on Saturday, Dec. 10, only on pay-per-view.