UFC legend Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, who has Vail Valley ties, faces Conor McGregor in Vegas showdown
Cowboy’s riding high heading into UFC smackdown
UFC legend Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone was relaxing in a Vail Valley libation location with David “Bobcat” Smith, owner of Inyodo Martial Arts where Cerrone learned jiu-jitsu and other tail-kicking tactics.
An inebriated guy recognized Cerrone and stormed over. The drunk spent the next several moments trying to cajole Cerrone into a barroom brawl. Cerrone just wanted to visit with his friends.
The drunk, apparently feeling 10 feet tall and bulletproof, kept it up.
Cerrone finally spun around on his seat to face the drunk and demanded $100.
“What? Why?” the drunk asked.
“I do this for a living and I’m not kicking your butt for free!” Cerrone responded.
Seeking victory in Vegas
Cerrone will take on “The Notorious” Conor McGregor on Saturday night in the headlining bout of UFC 246. The Irish MMA legend is returning to the octagon after 17 months following his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC Lightweight Championship in Las Vegas on Aug. 3, 2018. McGregor lost the fight in the fourth round via a submission
Cerrone has been asking McGregor for a fight for years. McGregor finally agreed.
In some of the pre-fight hype, Cerrone promised he’d “knock the Lucky Charms” out of his Irish opponent.
“We have a history,” McGregor said of Cerrone in a UFC pre-fight interview. “It’s fan-friendly and it’s a fight that I’d promised I’d do. I look forward to having my comeback fight against Donald. This is exciting.”
They’re fighting at 170 pounds, not their normal 155 pounds.
“I could beat him at any weight. I could beat him if I had the flu,” McGregor said.
Cowboy drifts home
Cerrone has come light years since 2002 when he lived in Eagle County and trained with instructor and former Inyodo owner Jason Field.
Field got a call about this tough young kid — untrained but uninhibited. That’s code for busting too many heads in sparring sessions.
Cerrone moved in with Jason and wife Kim and began to train. They took Cerrone in with one admonition: If he gets in any trouble, they were done. Cerrone lived with Jason and Kim for four years — no problems.
Local guy does good
If you don’t follow UFC, you might not know that Cerrone is famous.
Cerrone was recently sitting in some cowboy bar in Denver and was getting a little bored. He tweeted that he was there and less than an hour later there was a line out the door.
It hasn’t been that way for long. A few years ago he was training for one of his first UFC fights and Cerrone had to pay Field in wood. It was really nice wood — Brazilian hardwood for Field’s floors — but wood nonetheless.
Cerrone’s toughest fights are sometimes with his own sense of self-preservation or lack of it. There was that near-death experience while cave diving in Cozumel, Mexico, in Aug. 2018.
There was also another close call in 2016 when he participated in a scavenger hunt for $500 worth of silver that involved him scuba diving to the bottom of a lake
He decided he knew where it was hidden and that he was going in after it. The treasure was in 50 to 60 feet of water.
“What could happen?” he asked.
Plenty. His drysuit could tear, and did. It filled with water and sank him to the bottom of the lake. Ever the competitor, he spotted the silver, crawled over to it and grabbed it. He crawled out of the lake as he ran out of air. He didn’t die, and wisely decided he’d listen more closely to his wife.
A happy story
When he’s not in the ring or snowboarding in Vail, he’s on his ranch near Albuquerque, New Mexico, raising horses and children.
He doesn’t have a hard-luck backstory like some in his sport. His grandpa and grandma raised him and doted on him.
It was Feb. 5, 2011, and Cerrone was on his way to the octagon for a UFC bout. His grandfather, Dr. Donald Cerrone, was dying of cancer but refused to go until his grandson was a UFC fighter. Dr. Cerrone insisted his grandson take a UFC fight against Paul Kelly. As Cerrone made his way to the ring, a cell phone rang. He knew by the look on his friend’s face, fellow fighter Leonard Garcia, that it was his grandfather.
“I see Leonard on the phone, and I just saw his face and knew,” Cerrone told Sports Illustrated. His grandmother, a nurse, knew that hearing was the last sense to leave the dying. She asked Garcia to hold the phone in the air so Dr. Cerrone could hear his grandson win, and he did.
“It was the hardest walk of my life, the first fight he wasn’t in attendance,” Cerrone said. “I’ve fought on every continent except Antarctica, and my grandma and grandpa were there. Even when I fought in Africa and Japan, they’d just come.”
Cerrone is approaching the age where some UFC fighters consider leaving the cage for keeps. He has some other life pathways — the movie business, the ranching business, mentoring young fighters.
He appeared in “Equalizer 2” with Denzel Washington, in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and in “Godless,” a Netflix series.
He bought a bull at an auction and named him “Not Today,” the same answer he often gives when asked when he’s leaving the cage behind him.