LAS VEGAS -- If there's a narrative that has followed Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone around throughout his record-breaking career, it's that he's unable to win the big one.
Cerrone (36-13, 1 NC) holds UFC records for everything from appearances to wins and has been a consistent title contender across two divisions. But he has consistently lost more often than not when stepping up to the very elite level and came up empty in his lone title bout in 2015 against then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.
Make no mistake this negative label is firmly on the mind of Cerrone as the 36-year-old enters what he has declared to be the biggest fight of his career on Saturday when he faces Conor McGregor in a five-round welterweight bout heading UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena.
Get ready for Saturday's showdown in Las Vegas by listening to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell where we break down everything you need to know in the Octagon, including an in-depth preview of McGregor vs. Cerrone with Hall of Famer 'Suga' Rashad Evans.
In the 51st bout of his 14-year career and his 34th overall within UFC, Cerrone will finally headline a pay-per-view card. Asked which version of the beloved, beer-drinking warrior will show up, Cerrone had a bit of fun with the media during Thurday's media scrum.
"What Cowboy shows up? No one knows," Cerrone said with a sheepish grin. "I hope the bad motherf---er shows up, that's all I know."
Cerrone's tone got a bit more serious, however, as he said goodbye. Less than an hour after his dramatic arrival at the UFC Apex facility via motorcycle (featuring raised handlebars and a skull bandana covering his face), Cerrone delivered an emphatic sendoff before dropping the mic and riding off into the sunset.
"Saturday night we are going to blow the roof off this motherf---er so I can't wait," Cerrone said. "Cowboy is showing up for the big one."
Even though Cerrone has denied that being labeled an underdog by oddsmakers and being presented as an afterthought by the UFC publicity machine hasn't bothered him, it has been difficult to ignore how many fans and media members have written off his chances. UFC president Dana White called it "criminal" during Wednesday's final press conference.
Somewhat surprisingly, Cerrone has played a big role in the fight-week narrative, mostly because McGregor (21-4) has given him the room to do so. UFC 246 has been unlike any other McGregor fight week from the standpoint of insults and tension between him and his opponent have been virtually nonexistent.
Instead of McGregor and Cerrone filling up notebooks with dueling trash talk, the two have spent more time complimenting each other's wardrobe and sharing mutual admiration for their respective warrior spirits.
"Sometimes you have to go to certain places in our life to realize what you need to do," McGregor said. "I've certainly turned over a new leaf. I'm certainly the same young man but I feel energized and unleashed.
"I respect Donald, he has earned my respect through his activity. He steps up and goes through divisions. Not many a man does that, he has been around so long. Make no mistake, blood will be spilled on Saturday but it won't be bad blood."
McGregor has appeared everything from humble and jovial to downright friendly. Some of that could be a calculated public relations attack to counter the bad headlines caused from multiple arrests and sexual assault accusations. Either way, McGregor has seemed happy to just be a fighter again entering just his second appearance in the Octagon since November 2016.
Cerrone believes he has gone through a similar growth from the fighter who once famously jawed with McGregor at a press conference in 2015.
"What's different? I'm a lot more mature, veteran, ready. I know the steps I need to do to not be a slow starter, to make it happen on the big night," Cerrone said. "You could definitely say to date this is the toughest battle I stepped in against. I'm stoked because they say, 'Cowboy, can you make the big fight? You never make it on the big fight.' Well motherf---er, here's the biggest one. Let's see."
Tale of the Tape
21-4, 18 KOs
36-13 (1 NC)
Former featherweight, lightweight champion
Max Holloway (UD3, 2013), Jose Aldo (KO1, 2015), Nate Diaz (MD5, 2016), Eddie Alvarez (TKO2, 2016)
Edson Barboza (SUB1, 2014), Eddie Alvarez (UD3, 2014), Benson Henderson (UD3, 2015), Al Iaquinta (UD5, 2019)
Nate Diaz (SUB2, 2016), Khabib Nurmagomedov (SUB4, 2018)
Nate Diaz (UD3, 2011), Anthony Pettis (TKO1, 2013), Rafael dos Anjos (2013, 2015), Jorge Masvidal (TKO2, 2017), Tony Ferguson (TKO2, 2019)
Who has the edge?
1. Power: Cerrone is certainly no slouch when it comes to being able to hurt opponents. Not only are his kicks hellacious as he has authored more than a few highlight-reel knockouts. But very few fighters mix the combination of speed, power and precision the way McGregor does. There's a track record of McGregor's ability to end a fight with one punch or combination. He has also proved against iron-chinned Nate Diaz, whom he dropped multiple times in their two 2016 bouts, that his power carries up to 170 pounds. Edge: McGregor
2. Speed: We are all aware this is basically a fight between two lightweights that just so happens to be contested at the welterweight limit. McGregor is the decidedly smaller man, however, and still retains that quickness from his featherweight days in terms of hand speed and his ability to close distance in a blink of the eye and find his opponent's chin. Edge: McGregor
3. Technique: Let's give Cerrone credit as a well-rounded mixed martial artist who will hold not only an edge in versatility against McGregor but have more ways to finish the fight. With that said, McGregor's precision is his calling card. His ability to close distance so quickly with his feet and explode with supreme accuracy is largely unmatched. McGregor may be one dimensional from the sense that he's a head hunter who looks to knock you out with his left hand without much variance, but he's also incredibly successful in his pursuit. Edge: McGregor
4. Ground game: The question in this case isn't who has the edge but instead whether McGregor has any ground game at all. Want an even more important question as to how it relates to Saturday's fight: Will Cerrone even bother to use the advantages he holds in wrestling and jiu-jitsu? Asked about it during fight week, Cerrone has maintained he's more likely to stand and trade with McGregor because of how in love he is with going to war. Is that "Cowboy" showing a poker face or simply coming to terms with who he is and what he loves? Edge: Cerrone
5. Intangibles: Cerrone is always among the UFC's most active fighters, which is why he holds so many records for appearances, victories and finishes. It's McGregor's lack of activity with just one fight over the past three years that certainly gives some pause as to how fresh he will be. Should McGregor not fall victim to cage rust like he did against Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018, the most important intangible could be whether Cerrone's chin can handle McGregor's precise punching. McGregor has youth, speed and power to his advantage. His greatest strength as an early finisher also plays perfectly into Cerrone's biggest weakness as a slow starter who has shown a bit of a flash chin. Cerrone also has a long history of not being able to win the big one, which is something McGregor knows nothing about. McGregor has headlined the five biggest PPVs in UFC history and the second biggest in boxing. Cerrone, meanwhile, is entering his first. Edge: McGregor
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