The funny thing about Friday night's grudge match between Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Nate Diaz, the No. 2 bout on Friday night's UFC 141, is that interaction between the two has been only a few seconds. But Cerrone has talked about those seconds so many times that he just wants to get in the cage and finish the story.
"The thing is, I always respected the guy – he and his brother," said Cerrone, who seems to get hotter every time he recites the story of the snub from Diaz that took place two months ago. "They throw down. I respect that. You don't need to give them a reason to fight."
Cerrone had felt a kindred spirit between the attitude of the Diaz brothers (Nick Diaz is a UFC welterweight contender) and his own, which could be described as the more fights, the merrier.
If he can beat Diaz on at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Cerrone would be the front runner for the next title match in the log-jammed lightweight division against the winner of the Feb. 26 fight in Saitama, Japan, between champion Frankie Edgar and Cerrone's biggest career rival, Ben Henderson. Cerrone has won six fights in a row.
First comes Friday, and he can't wait to get in the ring. He's just looking to get as many fights possible, as quickly as possible.
Instead of talking about a win making him the top contender, he wants to win, escape unscathed, and get himself booked on that Feb. 26 show, which would be risking a title shot that he may have already clinched with a strong performance against Diaz.
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"Anytime, anywhere" is his motto when it comes to fighting, and said that's why he admired the Diaz brothers, whom he never knew, because he thought they had the same attitude.
The encounter with Diaz gets Cerrone angrier every time he recounts the story.
It was in late October in Las Vegas, a few days before Cerrone's last fight, a first-round submission win over Dennis Siver. At the public workouts for the fight, he saw his best friend, training partner and roommate, Leonard Garcia, joking around with Diaz. So he went up to introduce himself to Diaz. The reaction wasn't what he expected.
"I walked over and said, 'What's up Nate, I'm Cowboy,' " he recalled. "He slapped my hand away and called me a punk-ass [expletive]."
My immediate reaction was, "What's up? What the … That's still my reaction. … Nothing's changed since then. I'm ready to fight. I'm tired of talking about it."
Diaz admitted the exchange happened and explained that he wasn't going to phony make nice and shake hands with a guy in his weight division that he may end up fighting.
Cerrone (17-3, 1 no contest) had no idea at the time that Diaz was going to be his next opponent. And he's thought about why Diaz (14-7) acted the way he did.
"I think it [Friday's fight] just coincidentally happened," he said but admitted that he's not sure, only that nobody had ever brought up fighting Diaz to him. "I wonder if they offered it to Nate, told him that if I won, I'd be his next opponent and that's why the hostility was there. I don't know."
Aside from that moment, the two had not and still have not interacted.
Cerrone has been with the Zuffa organization since 2007, first making his name as one of the most popular fighters in World Extreme Cagefighting.
Although he never won the lightweight title there, he was probably the second or third most popular fighter in the history of the organization.
Some felt when the lightweights were moved to the UFC at the start of 2011, that he and Henderson, a one-time good friend with whom he started in the sport when both lived in Denver and later became rivals in WEC, would be exposed against a higher level of competition and never escape past the prelims.
Instead, the opposite happened. Neither has lost. Henderson has become the top contender for the title, and Cerrone is unbeaten in UFC competition.
"Finally, the underdog is on top. I don't know what else to say," Cerrone said.
It was his attitude and style, beyond the cowboy hat, the trash-talking and the nickname, that broke him out of the pack. Usually a slow starter, Cerrone would come out sluggish, then turn it on and seemingly had endless stamina. He was in almost every fight until the final bell, and has been finished only once in his career, against Henderson in their second meeting.
He had three of the best fights in WEC history: a win over "Razor" Rob McCullough that put him on the map; a loss in a controversial fight with Jamie Varner when he challenged for the lightweight title for the first time, which he avenged in a rematch; and a controversial decision loss to Henderson in their first meeting in 2009 that garnered him some fight-of-the-year honors.
Along with attitude, Cerrone and Diaz have in common exciting fights and finishes.
Cerrone has fought 14 times with Zuffa between the WEC and UFC, winning six fight-of-the-night bonuses. Only Chris Lytle has won as many during his career. Diaz isn't far behind, having picked up four fight-of-the-night awards to go with three best-submission awards. "As a damn fighter, he comes to fight," Cerrone noted. "You can't teach someone to fight. He's going to show up, and it'll be a war."
But Cerrone feels that behind all the bluster, he's the one with more weapons.
"He's good, but I'm better than him at every aspect of the game, I'm a better kickboxer," said Cerrone, who was 28-0-1 as a kickboxer before switching his focus to MMA. "He's good on the ground. I'm good as well.
"There's going to be danger for him going to the ground. We both have good Jiu Jitsu. I don't have the world's greatest Jiu Jitsu, but I think mine's better than his. I've got better wrestling than he does. If it's going to the ground, it's because I'm putting him there.
"I'm expecting us to throw down, I'm expecting to win, and I'm expecting to fight again in February."
For someone on the verge of a title shot, Cerrone never brings the lightweight championship into the conversation. In the past, he's said he's not looking for a shot, but looking to fight as often as possible and make the most money in the shortest period of time. But he does get a kick out of the possibility that he and Henderson, the only opponent in his career that he has never beaten, could be on the verge of battling for the sport's highest prize.
"I wasn't downplaying it, it's that I didn't [care]," he said. "I still don't. I just want them to give me a fight in February on the card with Leonard.
"But I would like Ben to win, because I think taking the title from him would be so much sweeter."
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