The legendary Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone steps inside the octagon for a record-breaking 34th time this weekend for the biggest fight of his life against the returning Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 246. Although he has made this walk to the octagon 33 times before, this one will be like no other. The energy and excitement someone like McGregor brings to the sport are undeniable and casual fans from around the world will be tuning in to see his return.
Cowboy’s style and tendencies resemble a classic Muay Thai fighter, and like any elite Nak Muay, he is equally dangerous with his hands and kicks. He likes to strike in long and varied combos from head to toe and is very comfortable in the pocket when he is the leading man. He can struggle in exchanges when he is working backward, but overall his striking at close range is some of the best in the sport. Although his defense has been exposed many times in the past, his ability to stay calm and defensively sound while leading has allowed him to outstrike most opponents.
Cerrone’s ridiculous finishing sequence against Rick Story might be the highlight of his career, but his finish of Matt Brown was equally impressive and showed us just how tricky of a striker he is. Reading reactions and knowing how to exploit them remains one of the most important aspects of combat sports, and it often goes unnoticed. Against Brown, Cowboy was routinely stepping in with a lead leg pendulum kick to the head that he would set up with a quick filler jab. Every time he threw the kick, Brown would attempt to parry the jab which allowed the kick to land over the top of his outstretched lead hand. Finally, Cowboy feinted the jab and caused Brown to throw one of his own which allowed Cowboy to counter with the same kick he has been looking for all night. Throwing the same techniques with impunity is generally not advised, but it can be successful when you set traps for your opponents and manipulate their reactions.
Something that never gets mentioned about Cowboy is the immense amount of footage he has on him. With 33 fights inside the octagon, we can learn nearly everything about his game. His strengths and weaknesses, what he favors and how he reacts to certain techniques, and how he deals with certain styles of fighters. This should be a big problem to overcome, but he is always adding little tricks and setups like this to his game that keeps his style fresh.
Something I love from Cowboy that he doesn’t use nearly enough is the intercepting knee. Simply lifting his knee and forcing opponents to fold over into it will stop them in their tracks and dissuade them from taking deep steps into their punches. The most important part of this knee is that both hands are up blocking the head or on the opponent so you can push away. Bicep ties or the leverage guard also work to land the knee while staying defensive.