Cowboy

The world has changed. His sport has changed. But Donald Cerrone is the same bad motherfucker he always was.

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October 10, 2009. San Antonio, Texas.

Donald Cerrone was challenging Benson Henderson for the interim lightweight title at WEC 43. San Antonio was an easy drive, so I thought I’d see if I could cover it live for FoxSports, who I was working for at the time. I would not get paid for the work or the time or even the ghost pepper bad decision burger I ate before the show. I’d never seen Cerrone or Henderson fight. I’m not sure I knew they existed.

But I would get a free cageside seat for a live MMA event. This seemed more lucrative than my going rate of $0 per word at the time, but more importantly, I would be there. Fifteen feet away from the action, maybe even close enough to get some blood on my laptop. Close enough to hear the stuff you can’t hear when you watch fights on TV.

You see, starting back in 2007, I loved fighting. Loved it. I loved it in the same way plenty of you do now. I watched every UFC pay per view with a group of friends at Hooters, and quickly designated myself as our resident fight expert; I really only followed the sport loosely on the internet and kept up with the news, but this gave me an opening to show everyone how cool I was by telling them things they did not know. One of my character traits is that I tend to feel superior when I know something another person does not. And if news broke that I wasn’t aware of, I’d casually say I knew about it weeks ago. I am better about this than I used to be, but not perfect. Thankfully, I have friends like Marc Raimondi who will tell me when I am doing that thing again.

Though the UFC was my main focus, I enjoyed the WEC whenever I stumbled upon it. It wasn’t appointment viewing at first. None of my friends wanted to get together to watch a WEC card. But I’d tune in from time to time, and every time I did, some shit would happen that you never saw in the UFC. Even before Anthony Pettis jumped off a fucking cage and kicked Benson Henderson in the grill, WEC fights had a tendency to blow your mind. They were so fast. And they were violent, especially in the lower weight classes, where men the size of middle-schoolers extracted devastating violence and blood and spittle.

And then I started watching Miguel Torres hurt people in bad ways, and before long, WEC had its hooks in me. I had to be there.

Completely Clueless

I had no rolodex back then, and no idea how to even go about applying for a credential. I also doubted there was any chance whatsoever I’d actually be accepted; credentials were the holy grail, bestowed on the grizzled and vaunted beat writers who covered the sport for a living. I was a guy writing bad stories for free at Fox Sports. But my buddy Brian Oswald—who I would go on to work with for nearly a decade—told me he had an email for someone named Dave Sholler, who was apparently the PR contact for WEC. So I emailed Dave.

Hi Dave,

Jeremy Botter here from FoxSports.com/InsideFights.com. I'd like to get a media cred application for WEC 43 when you send those out - Fox wants me to cover the show.

Thanks,

Jeremy

To my surprise, Sholler wrote back immediately and told me that, of course I could get a credential. He also offered me interviews with Reed Harris, Cerrone, Henderson and anyone else I wanted. He was accommodating and helpful enough that I—and this is embarrassing—asked him to give me comp tickets for my friends. That’s not what you’re supposed to do, and I didn’t really know that, but Dave didn’t even chide me for breaking protocol. He just gave me the tickets.

Fuck, I miss WEC.

There are two things I remember about WEC 43.

The first was how sickened I felt by the sound Anthony Njokuani made when he damn near killed Muhsin Corbbrey. Because I knew almost nothing about mixed martial arts, my first reaction was that Njokuani was the baddest motherfucker alive, and who would ever be able to beat him?

The other thing I remember? Donald Cerrone’s walk to the ring.

Kid Rock is the fucking worst, or thereabouts, but when Cowboy blasted through the sound system at 145 decibels, I got the feels. The chills. And then this swaggering, skinny dude wearing a cowboy hat comes walking down the aisle, and he’s got a look on his face that said I’m about to get in a fight, and that’s exciting.

I, a person who will avoid a fight at all costs, was hooked. I was smitten. Ever since that moment, I’ve been a Cowboy guy. I didn’t care about the fight, which Cerrone lost by decision. I don’t remember anything about the fight itself, to tell you the truth. I was already in before he stepped in the cage.

I did, in fact, want to be a motherfucking cowboy, baby.

A decade gone

That was ten years ago. I’ve covered over a hundred live events since then. I haven’t worked for free in 9 years. I’ve had a blessed career, mostly, and I am grateful for it. But my relationship with the sport has changed in ways large and small. I am no longer an enthusiastic, fervent fan. I watch a fraction of the world’s MMA promotions. I hope to never cover a live event again.

I still love telling stories, though. But the stories I love are not stories about fights, or the rote things fighters say before and after a fight. I love writing and ready about everything else. I love writing on he humanity and frailty that fighters try to hide because they don’t want to appear weak. I obsess over bringing to light the things promoters desperately fight to keep in the shadows. I love the process of hatching an idea and then spending days or weeks or months working to try and write the best story ever. On that part, I’m still trying.

But I have not loved watching fights, just to watch fights, in years. The sport has changed. I have changed.

But Donald Cerrone has not changed. He has fought 451 times since that night in San Antonio, and he is still the same don't-give-a-fuck guy who walked that aisle a decade ago. He’s never won a title. He likely never will, and I don’t think he gives a shit. Cerrone does this because he likes to spend a lot of money, sure, but he also does it because it’s who he is.

If he’s not risking something, he isn’t living. And that sometimes includes risking his life.

Other fighters treat their careers as a business—and they absolutely should—but I get the feeling Cerrone doesn’t give two shits about business, or building a future, or worrying about what all this fighting will do to him twenty years from now. I worry about his long-term health, as I would worry about any fighter who has taken as many shots to the head as Cerrone has.

And then I remember: this is a guy who fights in a cage and rides bulls and skydives. Who actively seeks out activities with a high probability of ending in death. Worrying about the future isn’t his thing. And it makes sense, if you think about it. None of us know if we’ll even wake up tomorrow morning, or if we’ll be alive to see our next birthday, but we still fret about what’s coming around the corner.

Maybe we’ve got something to learn from the Cowboy. If Donald Cerrone wants to live every fucking day like it might be his last, why the hell are we spending our time worrying about his future instead of making our own days count for everything they’re worth?

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