Donald Cerrone: “I’ll Take a Fight on One Hour’s Notice”

UFC lightweight

Donald Cerrone

Lightweight pulls no punches heading into fight with Charles Oliveira

Ask Donald Cerrone a question and you’re going to get an honest answer. The subject doesn’t matter.

Whether you’re talking about the TapouT Ranch he owns and operates with best friend and fellow UFC fighter Leonard Garcia in New Mexico or the list of fighters that currently populate his personal hit list, Cerrone attacks questions like he does opponents in the cage — straight ahead, without hesitation and sporting a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.

Part of the attitude is just Cerrone’s natural swagger; the embodiment of his dirt bike-riding, gun-shooting approach to life outside of the cage. Some of it comes from feeling disrespected when he and several other members of the WEC lightweight class made the transition to the UFC back in January. Regardless of how it got there, he says it’s not going anywhere any time soon.

“It will always be there,” offered Cerrone. “A lot of guys while we were there said we were second rate, so now getting to prove them wrong and beat their asses is awesome.”

That desire to make an immediate impression and prove he belongs was on full display in his most recent fight. Making his UFC pay per view debut against late replacement Vagner Rocha, Cerrone turned up the intensity in the final round of the three-round lightweight affair. Though he assaulted Rocha with leg kicks throughout the bout, it looked (and sounded) like Cerrone turned it up a notch in the final round.

“Yeah, I was frustrated that he wouldn’t engage as much,” Cerrone admitted. “He was dangerous on the ground, but he didn’t want to play the stand up game. I like to entertain, so I was bummed I didn’t have the most exciting fight of the night. I love getting bonuses.”

Though he didn’t earn any extra change for the unanimous decision win, Cerrone has taken home three Fight of the Night awards in the past, two during his WEC days and one again in his UFC debut. The free-speaking Cerrone thinks he could collect another bonus check on Sunday night when he takes on Charles Oliveira in the opening bout of the broadcast on Versus.

“I think we will stand and trade and its gonna be a hell of a fight for the fans,” Cerrone suggested of his upcoming bout with young Brazilian, a late replacement for Paul Taylor.

It’s a change the 15-3 Greg Jackson pupil feels is a better opportunity for him than facing the relatively unknown Brit.

“Oliveira is looked at as one of the top prospects at 155; they really pushed him hard,” he says. Oliveira enters the bout off a controversial contest on the last Versus show in Pittsburgh, where a strong performance against Nik Lentz was erased by an illegal knee. While “Do Bronx” initially won the bout by rear-naked choke, the result was changed to a no contest following the event, putting the 21-year-old on a two-fight winless streak heading into Sunday.

Despite his recent lack of positive results, Cerrone’s assessment of Oliveira is correct. He impressed in his first two fights in the UFC — submission wins over Darren Elkins and Efrain Escudero — before being pushed too far, too fast and losing to Jim Miller at UFC 124. Many believe he still has a bright future in the division, with his well-rounded skills and shifty submission game off his back turning him into a threat for anyone.

Cerrone said the shift in opponents had no impact on his training — “I train to fight my fight, not theirs,” — and credits a shift in his mindset for the run of success that has him entering Sunday’s contest with four consecutive wins.

“I just feel comfortable and confident in my abilities. I used to go in stressed about the fight and what would happen; now I fight with my mind right.”

That shift in mindset also plays into his willingness and comfort accepting fights on short notice. Like his opponent, Cerrone wasn’t originally scheduled for Sunday’s event; he stepped up when John Makdessi withdrew due to injury. He sees the busier schedule of the UFC as a blessing and laid out his outlook on taking fights like this in typical, straight-forward “Cowboy” fashion.

“I’ve been more active, which I love; I’d like to fight every month if I could,” said Cerrone, adding, “As long as I’m breathing, I’m fighting. I’ll take the fight on one-hour’s notice. This is what I do.”

Win or lose, Cerrone has plenty of opportunities waiting for him. His outspoken nature and overall swagger rubs some people the wrong way and lands the few who speak their mind about it on his personal hit list. A war of words led to his pairing with Mac Danzig at UFC 131 before the former winner of The Ultimate Fighter was forced to withdraw, and he’s gone back-and-forth with Cole Miller since prior to his arrival in the UFC. The feud stems from Miller’s victory over Cerrone’s best friend Garcia nearly four years ago.

“Hell yeah; I want to fight Cole Miller in the worse way,” Cerrone erupted at the mention of his nemesis. “Right now it’s a step back to fight Cole, but its still a fight I want regardless. Danzig can get it too. Theres no shortage of guys that want to fight me, or that call me out, so I have a feeling I’ll keep pretty busy.”

Cerrone keeps pretty busy at home as well, operating his TapouT Ranch.

“Yeah, Leonard and I bought the second house and we have the gym that’s 100% all set up,” Cerrone said of the recent expansion of the Albuquerque outpost he shares with Garcia and opens up to anyone who wants to stay. “Training and living at the ranch has been awesome. It’s brought in some top guys who normally wouldn’t be there, but since we have dorms now we can house them. Maximo Blanco just flew in from Japan and he’s there training for his fight [against] Josh Thomson.”

Along with the camaraderie and extra training partners the ranch affords him, Cerrone also feels that the responsibilities that come with maintaining the large working property helps keep everyone on task as well.

“Everyone chips in here like a family to do all the choirs. There’s a certain level of structure and responsibility that is good for everyone to have; it helps keep everyone regimented and focused.”

Focus has ever been a problem for Cerrone. While some people are shaken by their first appearance on the big stage of the UFC, Cerrone has been unfazed. Seven of his eight WEC fights were featured on television — four as the main event, three with the lightweight title on the line. His transition has been seamless because Cerrone feels right at home under the bright lights.

“I love the attention and the cameras,” admitted the 28-year-old. “That fires me up, so its business as usual for me. That’s where I have an advantage, I’ve main event’ed big cards in the WEC before, so that’s all stuff I’ve dealt with. Most guys haven’t seen that type of exposure. I did early in my career, so it has been an easier transition.”

Through Sunday, his focus is Oliveira — “I plan on finishing him,” he predicted. After that, Cerrone knows who he wants next.

“Cole Miller.”