Fifty. Five-oh. In other words, it ain’t the man’s first rodeo.
Now of course, fighting McGregor in the main event of a Las Vegas pay-per-view isn’t just your average fight. And if there has been one knock on Cerrone — the winningest fighter in UFC history — it’s that he tends to start slowly and doesn’t always show up in the biggest moments.
Cerrone can’t afford either of those two things to happen on Saturday.
But as fight night approaches, Cowboy looks anything but stressed. He has rented a home in a Las Vegas neighborhood, where his crew of training partners and coaches descended last Saturday. He has plans to ride bikes and play a little blackjack — at home, where he can be the dealer and serve as the house.
What else is going through Cowboy’s mind ahead of one of the biggest fights of his career? ESPN sat down with him to find out.
Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
On what Las Vegas means to him
CERRONE: I feel honored to be headlining the best card of the year.
I fought here a lot. Been coming here my whole life, so it’s kind of like a second home. They’ve got the [UFC Performance Institute] here — it makes you really comfortable. It’s not like you’re in a hotel somewhere in a country that you don’t know. Everything’s real fluid and easy to go, so there’s no guessing.
Back then [when he first started competing in Las Vegas as a kickboxer], it was hard because you want to live in Vegas and enjoy Vegas. But you got to pull it back until after, right? It’s a lot. Vegas is kind of overwhelming.
But now we’re different. We bring the bikes and we hang out, and we stay off The Strip. We do the resident lifestyle instead of the-coming-in-for-the-weekend lifestyle.
Mixing play with work
All the fun and the extra activities I do just give my brain a break from thinking about the fight all day, all night. We get on those bikes and you’re just cruising. We get on the lake and we just play. We get on the snowmobiles and we just like reset. Because it’s constant grind and training and thinking. You have to, I have to, anyways, get my mind a break. But, yeah, I don’t overlook Conor. I don’t look past Conor. I don’t not think about it. Like, no, this is just something I do.
So, I’m 100% all-in for this camp. Training and playing.
Just good energy on my camp. Like, good morale. Joking around, playing around. Like there wasn’t any bad times. So, to me that was more important than the energy for the Conor fight. But I mean, like I said, this is the fight everyone wants to see.
Mindset on fighting McGregor
I’ve been in this game a long time, man. So, everyone wants to talk about this is the biggest fight, but every fight’s the biggest fight, right? The fight I just had [against Tony Ferguson in June] was the title eliminator fight. That was the biggest fight. Now this Conor thing, it’s the biggest. But this one really is. This is like a lot of eyes on this one. Like, mentality-wise, it’s just another fight in Vegas for me. Same crazy business as we always do.
Why did McGregor pick him?
I don’t know the inner working or the mentality of what Conor’s thinking. Nor do I care. He drew the short straw and picked me.
On facing McGregor at 170 pounds
I wanted to cut weight. I’m not a big ’70-pounder, so it’s not like I’m going to be in there just dwarfing this dude. Everyone thinks, oh, he’s a ’45er, he’s going to fight you at ’70. Like, nah, we’re probably going to be close to the same weight, you know?
We’re allowed to eat and enjoy this week. Maybe he didn’t want to go through all the bulls— of struggling [to make lightweight] and maybe he wanted it easy, as well. I mean, he’s the one who said ’70. I was like, OK. I wasn’t rallying for it.
On the McGregor trash talk
There’s going to be some funny s— he says. So, I’m excited. I have no idea what he’s going to say. He’s a master with words and does very well at selling fights, so it should be entertaining.
Conor’s amazing with words, and he likes to lay his plans out there, you know what I mean? So, I’m not taken aback or put aside by him thinking he’s overlooking me. That’s just who he is, that’s what he is. If there’s anybody else, it’d be an insult, but, hey man, I’m glad he’s back. He did so much for the sport, he could still make all those fights happen, even after an ass-whoopin’ from me. That’s cool.
On McGregor as a fighter
He’s on top of the world. He goes in there and fought, what I think, one of the best boxers to walk the earth. Dude’s a double champ. Knocked people out. F—ing stud, man. He’s here because he earned it.
Did he notice anything from the Khabib Nurmagomedov fight?
Khabib was a f—ing animal. He’d just take people down to control, control, control, so it kind of figured if you didn’t knock him out, that was the outcome it was going to be.
Khabib has such great takedowns and such great control, so it’s hard to measure someone’s success. You don’t really see much of Conor’s ground game in any of his fights, right? Khabib controlled the s— out of him on the ground, so it’s just hard to gauge on that. You don’t know what Conor’s been working with, what he’s doing. I’m sure he’s in the gym working on that. He’s not the kind of guy that’s just gonna be like, “I don’t need to worry about the ground,” so I’m sure he’s working and thriving there.
Donald Cerrone describes his mindset heading into his fight vs. Conor McGregor. Order UFC 246 here on ESPN https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.
Does he have an advantage over McGregor with better cardio?
He goes out there and tries to finish, so I bet the dude’s got good cardio. I think he just tries to take your head off every point. So, I don’t care who you are, [if] you give 100% every swing you’re gonna tire a little bit, you know?
I have good cardio. We prepared as if he’s going to be full throttle five rounds. I’m not thinking, “Aw, I’m just gonna go in there and he’s gonna tire after the first round,” like nah, I’d imagine he’s, he’s training hard and he’s ready.
Is he planning on taking McGregor down to the mat?
You know, I probably should. But I don’t think I will. I like to fight, too. I like to get in there and throw down. Everyone says his stand-up is amazing, so why not go and test it? Everyone says, “You wanna just stand there and get knocked out?” But it’s my decision. It’s my stupidity. That’s just a stupid game, that’s a stupid decision.
I know who I am. I look in the mirror and I know exactly who I am, so I get to go and make the decision I want. Why wouldn’t I want to stand with one of the best? Why not? Can I take the punch? That’s the question I wanna know.
Can he take my f—ing kicks is the question I wanna know.
How would he finish the fight?
Knocking Conor out would be the perfect ending. Cowboy head kick. Cowboy right hand. You know, like a battle would be more fun to me.
Torn. Bloody. Battered. Know that I can go home to my wife, I wouldn’t be a knight in shining armor, I’d be a knight in battle-tested armor, wouldn’t I? To me that’s a little bit better.