TORONTO — Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Matt “The Immortal” Brown don’t give a bleep. Yet the way in which the UFC 206 co-main event combatants don’t give a bleep is exactly what makes them fan favourites.
Cerrone doesn’t seem to care about much, honestly, which can be oddly refreshing in the intense world of MMA. His nonchalant demeanour doesn’t scream professional cage fighter but he’s one of the best and has been for years. The lightweight star turned welterweight contender marches to the beat of his own drum and it’s one reason why he’s such a popular figure in the sport.
Take Wednesday for example. A handful of the most talented mixed martial artists on the planet took centre stage at Massey Hall for the UFC 206 open workouts — the same stage that has been graced at one time or another by the eclectic mix of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Luciano Pavarotti, Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama and Justin Beiber. Instead of getting a sweat in, like every other fighter did, Cerrone chose to take photos, sign autographs and mingle with fans in attendance.
Cerrone (31-7, 1 NC) doesn’t care to prepare for his fights in a wonted fashion like so many of his peers. The 33-year-old was donning a nice shiner on his left eye, but it wasn’t from a sparring session. According to Cerrone, he was bucked off his horse during a recent hunting trip and had some stem cell treatment done in Mexico in order for it to heal in time for the fight. This is not typical behaviour for an athlete with a fight coming up by the way — even if your nickname is Cowboy. But it works for Cerrone, who spent the past week relaxing and fine-tuning his gameplan in Cabo.
“Healing and chilling, fishing, sun, I was just hanging out,” Cerrone said. “We trained and played. It’s just what I do. Drinking beer on the beach is fun.”
And if you question his preparation or commitment. Well — surprise, surprise — he doesn’t care what you think.
“I plan on going out there and kicking ass and taking names,” he said.
Kicking ass and taking names is exactly what Cerrone has done since moving up to the 170-pound division in 2016. Three wins, three performance-of-the-night bonuses and coming off back-to-back knockout victories over notoriously durable, iron-chinned veterans Patrick Cote and Rick Story. Cerrone is already the No. 5-ranked welterweight, inching towards title contention.
What would beating Brown mean in terms of where you stand in the 170-pound division, Donald?
“I don’t care where it places me in the division.”
Oh. Should’ve seen that one coming.
The only thing Cerrone seems to care about is securing a spot on the UFC’s Jan. 28 Fight Night event in Denver, his hometown.
“I don’t care. Whoever. Whatever’s next. It makes no difference to me. I just want to fight.”
While Cerrone took a leisurely stroll, around the historic Toronto venue during his workout time, Brown opted for an all business approach. He hit the stage with Duane Ludwig — the fighter-turned-coach who led T.J. Dillashaw to a bantamweight title — and then he hit the mitts with a palpable fervor.
Brown (20-15) has lost four of his last five fights, albeit to elite competition, and at 35 years old he’s fully aware that his job may well be on the line Dec. 10.
“For me, I ain’t never fought before and I ain’t fighting again after,” Brown said. “This is the only fight in the world that matters and Dec. 11 we’ll figure out where to go from there. Right now I got 110 per cent focus on Saturday night and just putting a beating on this guy.”
Brown does care what happens Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
However, he doesn’t care much for Cerrone.
The two men trained together on a couple occasions in years past but that didn’t result in Brown developing fondness for his opponent.
“Not a friend. Never been a friend,” Brown said. “I don’t care for him. I don’t care for his personality. Even when I talked to him I didn’t really want to talk to him. That was just me being cordial. I don’t have any good feelings towards him at all. I don’t like the way he acts, I don’t like the way he carries himself and I don’t like the way he represents the sport.
“You can see in the way he talks. He wants to be an alpha male. He wants to portray that he’s something special and I think it’s all these yes-men he’s got around him. I think he’s just being lied to by them, telling him, ‘Aw Donald, you’re the champion, man, you’re so good, you’re so great, you’re going to be this and that.’ He’s just being lied to. It’s my job to go out there and expose that truth.”
Brown is known for his intensity in and out of the cage, but admitted he has never felt this way about an opponent prior to a fight.
“Most of my opponents I’m really respectful to and I think they’re respectful to me,” Brown said. “I don’t know if he means it or not — maybe he’s just a douchebag of a person — but I get the feeling when he’s talking to other people, especially other fighters, he feels like he’s above other people like he’s kind of a bully. You watch his fights where he lost it’s when he got bullied back. He don’t like that so that’s what I got to do to him.”
Cerrone added: “I’ve had people say I’m inconsistent and sure I’ve never held a UFC or WEC title. I’ve only been defeated by one guy since 2013 so that’s pretty good I guess. Maybe I am overrated, Matt. Expose me. It’s your chance, buddy.”
There’s no belt on the line and there isn’t immediate title implications attached to this fight but there is a stylistic matchup that has fans salivating and now there’s some tension between the two athletes.
The UFC hasn’t held an event in Toronto in more than three years. This card has been criticized for its lack of star power. This card might get overshadowed by Toronto FC’s championship game that will be ongoing simultaneously at BMO Field down the road. MMA fans, just like Cerrone and Brown, won’t care about any of those peripheral storylines when the cage door locks because this matchup, at its core, has everything fight fans yearn for.
Videos courtesy of Sportsnet.ca MMA contributor James Lynch. You can follow him on Twitter @LynchOnSports.