Donald Cerrone is gunning for all-time UFC records Saturday in Denver. (Photo: Josh Hedges/Getty Images)
Donald Cerrone returns to the Octagon for the 29th time Saturday when he takes on former sparring partner turned rival, Mike Perry, in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 139. Cowboy has the chance to break the all-time record for most wins and finishes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and who better to do it against than a fighter from his former longtime gym.
With 29 fights in the UFC and 45 total, Cowboy is one of the most experienced fighters on the roster and at 35 years-old he is still one of the smartest and trickiest athletes in all of mixed martial arts. Reading reactions and knowing how to exploit them is one of the most important aspects of combat sports that often goes unnoticed. With 12 years of professional experience, Cowboy has become adept at studying opponents before and during the fight to know how they react to certain strikes and positions. Against Matt Brown, Cowboy knew he would keep his rear hand low and the lead leg pendulum kick would be wide open. After landing it successfully twice in the early rounds, Cowboy opened the final round with the same blow and won the fight by knockout.
Cowboy began his martial arts career with kickboxing and muay Thai before transitioning to MMA and has since become a blueprint for kick fighting in MMA. His stance and striking tendencies resemble a high-level nak muay and he is dangerous with his hands and feet as well as on the ground. When working on the lead, Cerrone prefers to strike in long combos and is as comfortable as anybody trading in the pocket. Like any muay Thai-based fighter, he loves to start and end combos with kicks, which have set up some of the best knockouts of his career.
Cerrone is also adept at working on the counter and often splits his time in the cage between leading and countering to keep opponents guessing. Similar to his leading attacks, he likes to counter with long combos but will also react with a single precision strike. Something to watch for in a Cowboy fight is his counter leg kicks. Leg kicks are almost always used as leading attacks in MMA, but are often used on the counter in high-level muay Thai and kickboxing.
Another one of Cerrone’s go-to counters are these intercepting knees. When opponents come forward he will simply raise his knee upward and let them run into it.
But what has Cerrone heralded as one of the best to ever do it is his ability to comfortably fight on the feet and on the ground. He is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Elliot Marshall and 16 of his 33 wins are via submission, almost double his number of knockouts (9). Since joining the UFC he generally only relies on his grappling when striking is not working, but he always has the threat of his grappling in his back pocket, which can deter opponents from attempting takedowns.