Donald Cerrone will be remembered as one of the great fighters in UFC history whenever he chooses to walk away from the sport for good.
He’s returning Saturday at UFC 274 on his terms to fight Joe Lauzon in a lightweight bout that will kick off the main card at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. A guy so associated with winning — he’s tied with Jim Miller and Andrei Arlovski for the most wins in UFC history with 23 — is now trying to break out of a 0-5 slump in which he’s been knocked out four times and rarely has looked like himself.
He’s as blunt of a fighter as there is in the UFC and he pulled no punches when he discussed his recent struggles. He’s not the fighter he once was because he didn’t put the time and effort into preparing like he once had done. He just turned 39 and has a myriad of projects on his plate that somehow seemed to gain priority over training for a fight.
His ranch takes much of his time and things that needed to be done seemed to get priority over fight preparation.
“For me, there’s not one box left unchecked,” Cerrone said. “I did everything I had to do. When I’m at the ranch, I’ve got the buffalo and the cows and the horses and building fences and so many things pull me in different directions. It’s easy for me to get distracted.”
When he finally decided he was ready to return, he drove his RV to Las Vegas, parked it outside of the UFC Performance Institute and did nothing other than prepare to fight. He took advantage of all the PI has to offer and insists it made a world of difference.
His losing streak, he said, is because he took shortcuts. He was good enough to win a lot of those fights, but he failed to do so and when he finally gave an honest assessment of himself, he knew whose fault it was.
“I want to look at myself in the mirror and be like, ‘You did everything you could,’ and that’s why we’re still here, right?” Cerrone said. “Where my last two years, I did nothing I had to do. I’d go to train and … I’m not making excuses but I just didn’t do what I needed to do. [A lack of] preparation is a direct fact of what my career has spiraled into.”
Other than his exciting style, Cerrone was best known for his adventurous life and for fighting as frequently as he could. There was a time not so long ago that whenever anyone around his division dropped off a card with an injury, Cerrone was quick to throw his name out there as a potential replacement.
It made him a cult-hero among the fan base, but eventually, everything caught up to him. When he made the choice to come back, he did so because he wanted his nearly 4-year-old son, Dacson Danger Cerrone, to have a memory of him fighting.
He made the trek to Las Vegas and let the staff at the Performance Institute guide him. He said what’s gone on has been revelatory.
“I don’t know why every fighter doesn’t move to Vegas,” Cerrone said. “I’m not blowing smoke up the UFC’s ass right now, but that facility and everything they have in place for fighters to succeed is un-f***ing-believable. Cooking your meals. Meal prep. Diet. Training. All the sports. All the recovery, everything they have there.”
He tortured his body to change his results, but he then didn’t want the return to happen in the sterile environment at Apex, where the fight was originally booked before he and Lauzon both texted UFC president Dana White and asked him to put it on a card in a big arena with fans. There are only several hundred seats in Apex and it’s a lot quieter than a sold-out arena with fans screaming.
He teared up as he talked of the moments in camp when he wanted to quit. He’d close his eyes and see himself walking to the Octagon with the crowd cheering and finally see his son’s face.
That vision is what helped him through the inevitably difficult times every fighter faces in training camp.
“I can’t f***ing wait; I cannot wait to see him smile like, ‘Wow, this is my dad?’” Cerrone said. “So to me, that’s why I wanted fans [to be there], a sold-out crowd, so I’d walk out of that tunnel, blow the roof off this place, and look over and see my son’s face and him be like, ‘Wow, Dad!’” Cerrone said. “That’s you?”
He bowed his head, tears filled his eyes and he could barely speak.
For the last several years, Cerrone couldn’t find his why. Why was he fighting? Why was he doing this to his body?
But when he thought of his son, still young but now old enough to remember, he found it.
The smile that will cover Dacson’s face on Saturday is why Donald Cerrone ended a self-imposed year-long sabbatical, and will be back with fire in his eyes.