Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone will certainly go down in the history books as one of, if not the greatest fighter ever to have never won a belt.
Cerrone first got his start in combat sports competing in kickboxing and Muay Thai, where he went 28-0-1 with 19 knockouts. After this very successful tenure in kickboxing, he’d transition to mixed martial arts, where things would take a pretty serious turn.
Once his MMA career started, Cerrone began submitting everyone, which is just astounding.
To be that well rounded that early into his career, he was a prodigy of sorts.
‘Cowboy’ didn’t even pick up his first knockout victory inside an MMA cage until his 16th win, but we’ll get to that shortly. Following a 7-0 start to his MMA career (all seven wins via submission), Cerrone would get called up by the WEC, where he’d win his first three fights with the promotion.
This saw him victorious over the likes of Kenneth Alexander (triangle choke) in his promotional debut, though the result was overturned, Danny Castillo (armbar), and then former WEC lightweight champion Rob McCullough (UD) in an all-out war.
The latter was an incredible fight between two former kickboxing champions, and if you haven’t seen it, we strongly suggest you go back and watch it.
This awarded Cerrone his first title shot, where he was narrowly defeated via split decision by then champion Jamie Varner. Cerrone would rebound with a first-round submission (rear naked choke) victory over then undefeated James Krause, before having another five-round war, this one with Benson Henderson in an interim title bout.
Though Cerrone lost this bout via unanimous decision, it honestly could’ve gone either way, it was such a close, back-and-forth scrap where each talent had a considerable amount of success.
This is also one of the better fights you’ll ever see. Again, if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Cerrone then submitted (rear naked choke) Ed Ratcliff in round three of their bout, before he was again matched up with Henderson, who’d just unified the belt against Varner with a third round submission victory.
Henderson submitted (guillotine) Cerrone in just under two minutes this time around however, and Cerrone was now 2-3 in his last five, bringing his record to 11-3 (1 NC).
But Cerrone would avenge his defeat to Varner (UD) in his next outing, before submitting (triangle choke) Chris Horodecki in round two of his final WEC bout.
Once the WEC was bought out by the UFC, Cerrone went on a very impressive tear, winning his first four octagon bouts over the likes of longtime veteran Paul Kelly (rear naked choke), multi-time BJJ world champion Vagner Rocha (UD), future UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira (TKO), his first ever knockout win in MMA, and lastly another longtime veteran in Dennis Siver (rear naked choke), bringing his record to 17-3 (1 NC).
‘Cowboy’ was very close to a title shot at this time, but next he’d run into Nate Diaz, who boxed him up for three rounds. Cerrone then defeated Jeremy Stephens (UD) and teammate Melvin Guillard (KO), before being stopped (TKO) by the last ever WEC lightweight champion, and future UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
Cerrone then defeated KJ Noons (UD), before losing to another future UFC lightweight champion in Rafael dos Anjos (UD).
It appeared the Colorado native had some work to do, going 3-3 over his last six following a six-fight win streak, and get to work he did, as he won his next eight-straight fights en route to a title shot.
This included victories over Evan Dunham (triangle choke), becoming the first man to submit the BJJ black belt, Adriano Martins (KO), who’s the only man to date to boast a win over top ranked Islam Makhachev, fellow pro kickboxer Edson Barboza (rear naked choke), Jim Miller (KO), former Bellator lightweight champion and future UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez (UD), then undefeated Myles Jury (UD), former WEC & UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (UD) in their trilogy, and lastly, another pro kickboxer in John Makdessi (TKO).
However, going into his title fight, which was a rematch with Rafael dos Anjos, Cerrone was dusted off in just 66 seconds via TKO. This was the second time he’d been finished with body strikes, perhaps all the Budweiser?
‘Cowboy’ felt a move up to 170 lbs would suit him well, and initially it did, as he rattled off four-straight wins up there, defeating Alex Oliveira (triangle choke), Patrick Cote (TKO), Rick Story (TKO), and Matt Brown (KO).
Cerrone became the first man to stop both Cote and Story with strikes, which is really something when you look at who those two have fought, and he also became the first man to ever knock Brown out. He was looking better than ever in his new division.
However, he’d lose his next three-straight bouts to Jorge Masvidal (TKO), former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler (UD) in a very close fight, and another former kickboxer in Darren Till (TKO).
Cerrone then defeated Yancy Medeiros (TKO), before losing to current no. 2 ranked welterweight contender Leon Edwards (UD).
‘Cowboy’ fought at welterweight once more, impressively defeating Mike Perry (armbar), before returning to the lightweight division, where he rattled off two more impressive wins over Alexander Hernandez (TKO) and Al Iaquinta (UD).
Unfortunate for him however, as well as us fans, this would be the last time we’d see Cerrone win a fight.
Defeats to former and future interim champions Tony Ferguson (TKO) and Justin Gaethje (TKO) would follow, before more defeats to former two-division champion Conor McGregor (TKO), Anthony Pettis (UD) in their rematch, a fight many believed Cerrone won, Niko Price (no contest, originally a draw), and Alex Morono (TKO).
It was clear ‘Cowboy’ was aging, and rather quickly.
This led to him taking a year-plus absence from the sport, before returning at UFC 276 in a rematch with Jim Miller.
The UFC had matched Cerrone together with fellow bonus-winning legend Joe Lauzon twice in the months leading up to this fight, but each man was forced out of the bout the day of the contest; Cerrone for food poisoning, and Lauzon’s knee locked up the second time around, forcing him out.
The UFC decided to just scrap that booking and replace Lauzon with Miller, which was also a great fight.
After a slow first couple minutes, Cerrone came alive and actually looked pretty good in this outing.
‘Cowboy’ knocked Miller out with a head kick in round two the first time around, and he threw, and landed another vicious head kick in the second round of this encounter. But, Miller ate it and initiated a scramble, which saw Cerrone locked up in a guillotine choke.
With Miller’s elite level grappling, Cerrone was forced to tap, making him winless in his final seven bouts prior to retiring. But, tis the sport, that’s often times how the best go out. It’s pretty rare a fighter calls it quits at the appropriate time.
From an incredibly successful kickboxing career, to being an elite grappler from the very start of his MMA career (not picking up a knockout victory until his 16th win, 12 of first 15 wins via submission), Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone will most certainly be remembered as one of the most talented, most game fighters we’ve ever seen in the sport.
‘Cowboy’ will without a doubt be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame over the coming years, it’s just a matter of time.
Thank you, Donald Cerrone, for your long, illustrious, legendary career. It was surely fun to watch every single time you competed.
Below is a list of every accomplishment and record he holds:
- Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Black belt in Gaidojutsu (Greg Jackson’s fighting system)
- Four-time, three-division champion in kickboxing
- Dominion Warrior Muay Thai World lightweight champion
- ISKA Amateur Colorado State middleweight champion
- KDC amateur welterweight champion
- S-1 Muay Thai US lightweight champion
Mixed Martial Arts
- Ring of Fire lightweight champion
- Most Fight of the Night awards in WEC history (5)
- Six-time Fight of the Night winner (UFC)
- Three-time Knockout of the Night winner (UFC)
- Two-time Submission of the Night winner (UFC)
- Seven-time (12-time) Performance of the Night winner (UFC)
- Tied for second most wins in UFC history (23) with Andrei Arlovski (Jim Miller is no. 1)
- Tied for second most finishes in UFC history (16) with Jim Miller (Charles Oliveira is no. 1)
- Tied for most post-fight bonuses in UFC history (18) with Charles Oliveira
- Second most bouts in UFC history (38) (Jim Miller is no. 1)
- Second most wins in UFC lightweight history (17) (Jim Miller is no. 1)
- Third most finishes in UFC lightweight history (10) (Jim Miller & Charles Oliveira tied for no. 1)
- notice he boasts wins over each of these leaders^^
- Most head kick knockouts in UFC history (6)
- Most knockdowns in UFC history (20) – Anderson Silva & Jeremy Stephens tied for second with 18, neither will be adding to that record, as neither fight for the UFC anymore
If you enjoyed this piece, feel free to share it on social media!
I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That’s the first fight I saw, and the fight that got me hooked on the sport. Since then, the sport has grown so rapidly, and my goal is to enlighten everyone on what’s going on in the sport today.