Donald Cerrone was at the end of his trail.
The WEC veteran had lost four of his last 5 bouts, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to Leon Edwards. His chin was shot, a bad problem for a man whose name was practically synonymous with holding your chin up in the air and swinging for the fences. A series of harsh TKO and KO defeats going back several years, and an acrimonious breakup with his former camp, had left the onetime contender exiled to his own Bad Motherfucker Ranch, and on the ropes.
The past year had also seen Cowboy open up about a drinking habit that seemed in the territory of full-on alcoholism. “I drink all the way up to my fight,” he bragged to the crowd during a pre-fight press conference. In an appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, he had describing a six beer a day drinking habit, strange behavior for a high level professional athlete. His Budweiser sponsorship suddenly didn’t seem like a joke anymore.
Mike Perry looked bound to retire the aging outlaw. The young loudmouthed upstart, with his face tattoo and incoherent Instagram videos and insane, crushingly powerful hands, would surely beat the declining Cerrone senseless. Perry was the ugly new face of MMA, brash and loud and seemingly of the generation of the mumble rapper. The Tekashi69 of the UFC, if you will.
But on Saturday night, we saw something different in Cowboy’s eyes. Normally, the tall striker bore the heavy lidded look of a man with a mouthful of dip and nothing to lose, the lazy cruel air of a dangerous barfly. This Cowboy was different. His eyes were alive. With a newborn son at home, there was something to fight for.
Fatherhood has a transformative effect on the fighter. For former UFC champ Forrest Griffin, the birth of his first child had marked the end of an era. Griffin had been a berserker, a member of a rare breed who fought better the more they bled. Reputedly, his wife had gone into labor as he stepped into the cage against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and he had lost the fight. The ferocious, insane Griffin was gone, and in his place was a man who hesitated at the crucial moments, thinking about what he had to lose. Griffin’s decline had come swiftly after that.
Against Perry, the expectation was that Cerrone would lose badly. In the first few moments of the fight, they circled warily. An exchange of punches, and Perry went for a takedown. However, Cerrone quickly reversed the position. Another quick scramble, and Cerrone was on the bottom, but attacking with a triangle choke. We hadn’t seen it much from him recently, but in his WEC days Cerrone had been a wily jiu jitsu player off his back, and suddenly Perry was trying to yank his arm inexpertly out of the submission.
Gritting his teeth, Perry straightened up, pulling Cerrone off the ground with him. He tried to slam his way out of the quickly tightening submission hold, but Cerrone went belly down, switching to an arm-bar. Perry frantically tried to maneuver his way out, but went the wrong way in the transition. Cerrone snarled, face up to the crowd, intent to break the arm. Perry tapped. The Cowboy had won. The ref raised his hand and his family streamed into the Octagon, where he hefted his infant and a Monster energy drink can for the camera.