As much as Donald Cerrone misses the bright lights of the UFC’s Octagon when he’s not competing, the promotion arguably misses him more.
Cerrone (32-10) will make his 27th walk for the UFC on Sunday when he faces Yancy Medeiros in a welterweight main event in Austin, Texas. It will mark his first appearance since a first-round knockout loss to Darren Till in October.
For “Cowboy,” that’s an extended vacation. He’s known for fighting four times per year, occasionally with just one month — or even mere weeks — between fights. But after the loss to Till, Cerrone was placed in what he calls “a timeout,” which is torture not only for him, but also for the UFC itself. With recent television ratings reportedly in a decline and a steady stream of pay-per-view events to fill, the UFC could have used a marketable guy like “Cowboy” on several occasions.
Speaking to ESPN, the 34-year-old Cerrone said he is “the wrong guy” to answer business-related questions, but did say it’s probably harder to stand out these days in MMA.
“It’s definitely every weekend, that’s for sure,” said Cerrone, on the frequency of UFC events. “Holy moly. And that makes it tough, right? Tough to follow. Tough to find someone you want to invest in and be a favorite of. I don’t know. Maybe they need to do this many, but it’s a lot isn’t it?
“For sure, it’s a problem [for younger fighters trying to break out]. I’ve built a name for myself. People are like, ‘Oh yeah, we know Cowboy, maybe we’ll cheer for him this weekend.’ But if you’re a new guy, it’s tough to reach anybody other than the super-dedicated fans.”
Cerrone signed with the UFC in 2011. That year, the promotion held 27 live events. Over the past three years, the UFC has averaged 40 live events per year.
Obviously, that isn’t the only factor in Cerrone’s popularity. Far from it. He’s won 19 fights in the UFC, which places him behind only Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre. He’s also accumulated 13 fight night bonuses.
Cerrone is also willing to fight any opponent, on any given weekend. That is no longer the prevalent mentality in MMA, as it’s become commonplace for higher-ranked contenders to occasionally balk at high-risk, non-title fights.
And, of course, Cerrone is marketable. His life is interesting, and he’s funny and charismatic. When asked what went wrong in his last fight against Till, Cerrone responded, “I think I was only in the cage 13.6 seconds before he started whipping my ass, so there wasn’t much of a sizing-up process.”
Cerrone is on a three-fight skid, but the UFC clearly didn’t care when booking him to a Sunday main event. Even in the worst losing streak of his career, Cerrone is still the draw. He says he has plenty left in the tank, which is great for a guy who loves what he does — and for the UFC.
Whether MMA’s climate of having an event every weekend is making it harder for someone to follow in Cerrone’s footsteps — or if the guy is simply that unique, his value to the promotion is undeniable.