Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone tied the all-time record for UFC victories on Friday night, defeating Yancy Medeiros by first-round TKO in Austin, Texas. But it’s not necessarily what he accomplished, it’s how he did it. Cerrone became a fan-favorite due to his willingness to fight anyone at any time and consistently put on a show. The fact that he often spoke his mind outside the Octagon didn’t hurt either.
Of all our Cowboy memories, which stand out the most? We asked our panel — ESPN MMA reporter Brett Okamoto, ESPN MMA editor Greg Rosenstein, SportsCenter hosts Max Bretos and Phil Murphy, and digital contributor Eric Tamiso — for their take.
Okamoto: I’ll admit upfront, this is a homer answer — but it’s the truth. Cerrone grew up in Colorado, which is also my home state. And my two favorite “Cowboy” memories happen to have taken place in the Denver area.
Back in 2010, Cerrone fought Jamie Varner in the WEC (which was later absorbed by the UFC), just north of Denver. Cerrone despised Varner. A fight in 2009 had ended in controversy, when Varner couldn’t continue after Cerrone landed an illegal knee. The rematch may have been Cerrone’s best performance ever, at least from a mental standpoint. He was a man possessed, and brimming with confidence.
Two years later, Cerrone fought his former teammate Melvin Guillard in Denver. Guillard nearly took his head off in the opening seconds, but Cerrone recovered and went on to knock him out with a head kick. It was one of the wildest first rounds in UFC history, and a career highlight for Cowboy.
Rosenstein: Cerrone will go down as one of the most entertaining fighters ever. When he’s competing, I’m watching no matter what. Cerrone will fight anyone, anywhere, anytime — smart or not — and you have to give him credit for that mindset. When I think of the quintessential Cowboy moment of his MMA career, I think back to a glorious 10-second period against Rick Story at UFC 202.
– UFC India (@UFCIndia) February 13, 2018
Midway through the second round, Cerrone does the following to Story:
• Left jab to the face
• Right hook to the stomach
• Left hook to the face
• Head kick
As Story is stumbling back, Cerrone unloads a barrage of punches from both hands and a knee to Story’s face that sends him to the mat. Cerrone finishes him with strikes on the ground. It was maybe the most brutal combination in UFC history, and one that sums up just the type of fighter he is.
Murphy: Picking one moment is tougher than Cerrone himself. Expectations for his fights have been remarkably high for almost a decade, and he routinely clears the bar.
Few match his résumé of head kick knockouts — and listing any one of those is justifiable. But my Cowboy moment of choice is the combo he landed to beat Rick Story at UFC 202. The brainchild of acclaimed Jackson Wink MMA striking coach Brandon Gibson, the jab-body-jab, punctuated, of course, by a head kick is among the prettiest violence I have ever seen in the Octagon.
If we’re talking about a favorite moment outside the cage, it was an interview I did with him on “MMA Live” previewing UFC 178, when Cerrone welcomed Eddie Alvarez to the UFC. Cowboy made it clear in the pre-tape he would much rather be on a JetSki than talking to me. The interview was so profanity-laden, I think we only salvaged 90 seconds of it. Keeping a straight face proved impossible for me.
Cowboy shoots straight — in and out of the cage. That, coupled with his rare blend of precision and fearlessness, makes him one of the most beloved fighters of this era.
Bretos:Fighting Benson Henderson two weeks after facing Myles Jury at UFC 182 was mind-blowing to me. He then beat Henderson — although I’m not 100 percent sure he truly did — but that’s not the point. The guy loves fighting, and just when you think the tread is off the tires, well, there he goes again.
Tamiso: The first time I ever saw Cowboy in person was at a 2010 Ring of Combat event in Atlantic City. As you’d expect, Cerrone wore a button down shirt with the cuffs rolled back, a cowboy hat and had a lip packed with chewing tobacco. He was as cool as can be, just having a good time supporting teammates while looking for his favorite adult beverage.
The moment inside a fight that most represents the spirit of Cerrone is from his win against Myles Jury at UFC 182. It wasn’t his most entertaining fight, as there were boos from the Las Vegas crowd. In the final 10 seconds of a bout well in hand, an angry Cerrone whips a series of hellacious leg kicks to a grounded Jury. The fight was 30-27 on all three cards, but he wanted to leave a stamp on it.
In the post-fight news conference, with three beer bottles and another packed lip, Cerrone didn’t mince words about how mad he was about how the fight went and his intentions at the end. “Oh, the f— you kicks? That’s what that was. I was either trying to kick and break my leg or his, I was very upset.” It’s that cool demeanor matched with the fiery desire inside the Octagon that any Cowboy fan loves.