It took Donald Cerrone 18 fights and eight consecutive victories to earn his first and only shot at a UFC title, which he lost abruptly to Rafael dos Anjos in December. The devastating 66-second loss appeared to have sealed Cowboy’s chances at another title shot but after immediately finding success at welterweight and a title change at lightweight, “Cowboy” could be on a short road back to fighting for a belt.
Cerrone will face No. 9-ranked welterweight contender Rick Story who is on a three-fight winning streak including victories over former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine and the previously unbeaten Gunnar Nelson. Should Cerrone defeat Story and do it impressively, he could not only find himself ranked in the top-10 at 170 pounds but potentially one win away from a title shot.
The inimitable “Cowboy” is one of the UFC’s most recognizable fighters, known for his daredevil lifestyle and exciting fights. He holds the UFC/WEC record for most post-fight bonuses with 17, has been the UFC’s most active fighter, has been a headliner, co-headliner and is a pay-per-view staple. His popularity gives him an edge over other contenders and allows him to “cut in line” to put it figuratively.
Cerrone benefitted in his move up to welterweight winning his first two fights and becoming the first fighter to finish Patrick Cote by strikes, a feat not even the likes of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson or Anderson Silva achieved.
The move up in weight has allowed Cerrone to improve his skills as he is able to focus more on training and less on weight-cutting. Story is the perfect litmus test for Cerrone. The 31-year-old was at one point a title contender himself but alternated wins and losses until his recent resurgence. Beating Story will add a nice feather in Cerrone’s welterweight cap but a loss to him could indicate that the Cowboy isn’t ready to contend just yet.
Stylistically, Story is a tough out for anyone especially for a fighter like Cerrone who enjoys striking at kicking range. Story is a pressure fighter who likes to clinch and dirty box. He will constantly keep coming forward regardless of what his opponent throws at him and he has one of the best chins in the entire promotion. Saffiedine, who was known for his powerful kicks, was unable to halt Story’s forward pressure even when he landed head kicks. Cerrone has his work cut out for him.
Cerrone’s only losses have been to fighters who were champions, became champions or fought for the UFC or WEC title. But this was all at lightweight. At welterweight, he’s still an unproven commodity despite two impressive victories in the division.
However, the UFC often leans more on entertainment value than merit when handing out title shots. Just look at the cases of Dan Henderson, Alexander Gustafsson and Nick Diaz who each title shots in recent years despite not deserving them. That could bode well for Cerrone’s short-term title shot prospects.
Ahead of Cerrone in the “one or two more wins could get you a shot” line are the likes of Demian Maia, Carlos Condit, Kelvin Gastelum and Neil Magny. Cerrone is more popular and well-known than all these fighters with the exception of perhaps Condit. At the very least, beating Story can set up a match against one of them or another top-10 contender.
And should welterweight not work out for Cerrone, he can go back to lightweight where he holds a victory over the new champion Eddie Alvarez. The Philadelphia native knocked out dos Anjos to win the belt and has set his sights on the Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor winner but seems open-minded on who he fights so long as it’s a lucrative opportunity. Cerrone may not have the same star power as Diaz or McGregor but might be a more interesting lightweight title challenger than Khabib Nurmagomedov or Tony Ferguson.
But it all starts with Cerrone defeating the obstacle in front of him. He doesn’t appear to be a fighter who cares so much for the title as he does about constantly staying active and taking fights to earn paycheques. He now finds himself in an interesting position in getting novelty fights that could also have title implications. Win or lose, “Cowboy” will continue being a fan favourite but only winning can grow his fan base and build his star power. Adding Story’s scalp to his collection is a great place to start.