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Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and “Platinum” Mike Perry gun for glory at UFC Fight Night 139

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and “Platinum” Mike Perry gun for glory at UFC Fight Night 139

Donald Cerrone reacts after his second-round TKO win over Rick Story in their welterweight bout at UFC 202

Remember that one Christmas when you were six and you wrote to Santa about all the things you wanted? And when the big morning came you got everything you asked for? And for 15 minutes you were the happiest kid on the whole damn block?

Well, this weekend’s fight between all-action legend Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and the tattooed weirdo and fan-favorite Mike “Platinum” Perry is just like that! Only better, because this year Christmas comes early!

Both these guys like to stand in the middle and punch faces. Cerrone is destined for the Hall of Fame, he kicks like a mule, and he’s not afraid to taste his own blood. Perry, on the other hand, is a face-first head-hunter who’s as mad as a cut snake and isn’t happy unless he’s tasting blood, doesn’t even matter whose it is. In fact, if this fight is anything but a bloodbath, there’s going to be a load of very upset six-year-olds throwing tantrums over their torn wrapping paper.

And if all of that wasn’t enough to get you pumped, the recent bust-up between Cerrone and his former camp Jackson Wink has drizzled some extra spicy drama-sauce onto the whole enchilada. As Fergie once assured us, she don’t want no drama, but we’ll happily take a double serving.

The Lone Ranger

There’s no question that Cerrone is already a legend. From back in his WEC days to now, he has put his face and body on the line time and time again for the love of the masses. As a fighter he is polarizing. If “Cowboy” shows up, he’s capable of producing pure gold, like the epic win-streak that culminated in his four-hit mega combo against Rick Story.

But if “Donald” shows up, it’s a completely different story. We saw this in his last outing against Leon Edwards. He just didn’t look like the Cowboy we all know and love. Watch his face between rounds. Rather than thinking about the man across the Octagon, his face said he was worried about where he’d parked his horse. Or which model jet-ski he wanted to buy next.

Cerone needs to put his thinking Stetson on

Let’s assume for now that it’s “Cowboy” stepping into the cage this weekend. He puts his Stetsons and his jetboats and his Harley away for a bit and comes in wearing a pair of chaps with tassels on them, ready to shoot his pistols and lasso unicorns (or whatever it is cowboys do these days). That’s the man we want to see in action, the man who enjoys his work, who plays to the crowd, and demands his opponents go and kiss his Grandma sitting cageside.

Still, “Cowboy” at his best has an uphill struggle in this contest. His opponent is a no-neck brawler who tucks his chin and won’t stop swinging until his arms fall off. Besides that, Cowboy will be facing not only Perry across the cage, but his former trainers too, who know all his tricks and weaknesses. Will that added psychological weight prove too heavy and buckle Cerrone’s notoriously fickle confidence?

After all, we’ve all seen what happens when he crumbles. Most recently against Jorge Masvidal and then again against Darren Till. He’ll take a hard shot, curl up like a hedgehog and wait for the ref to stop the fight.

Staying focused

If he can put all that extra-curricular distraction with Jackson Wink in its holster where it belongs, he can win this by the kind of block-headed stubbornness that’s seen him through all his past successes. For once stay out of the pocket, use his superior height and range to launch his fabled Street Fighter combos. That and set up a choice head-kick by going to work on the legs for a round or two.

Since his opponent isn’t known for sticking to the plan, frustrating him is key. Get him so flustered that he throws his newly learned strategies out the window and starts plodding forward spinning like a human windmill. That’ll open up his guard so Cerrone can put that platinum chin to the test. Cerrone is the veteran here, and he needs to pull out every wily ploy and sneaky trick he knows to get himself back into the line where all the Ws are.

The Brawler

Where do you even start with a guy like Mike Perry? He’s a walking juxtaposition. A thinking man’s thug. A sensitive brawler. He has layers, man, I’m telling you. He has facets, like an uncut diamond. On the surface, he’ll mug you for your loose change, but underneath the weird indecipherable tattoos, the flat-peak caps, the slurring gangster slang, he’s a genuine guy who speaks from the heart. What you see in his interviews is what you get. There’s no flaky façade; he’s not reading off some script or trying to be somebody he’s not.

All of that manic enthusiasm – like a poorly-trained spaniel that’s never too tired to play fetch – has quickly turned Perry into a much-loved MMA figure. Not only do we tune in to watch him break people’s arms with his face, but also to watch him be himself. On the surface, he’s easy to dislike, but just wait because he’ll grow on you.

Barnburner

Mike Perry fights just as you expect him to. Passionately and without much thought to tactics or what his face might look like afterward. That said, his new coaches — as mentioned — have managed to settle him down somewhat. He thinks for two moments instead of one, before launching his haymakers, and he’ll now back off for a few seconds and take a breather because, you know, cardio and sh*t.

A power-hitter like Perry is most dangerous in the first round. He’ll lean on his wrestling and brute strength when necessary, but what he really wants to do is unleash the violence. And he’s not concerned about where it goes, either. That’s why people cheer when he throws bombs. He’s a throwback to the early days of the UFC when the teeth went flying, and the steroids were rampant. Not saying Perry indulges in the latter, but he often puts the crowd’s enjoyment before his own success.

Direct the aggression

It’s this willingness to please the fans that is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. A mostly one-dimensional fighter — at least in the past — if you can stymie his aggression and stay clear of his blitzes, he’ll lose interest and be defeated on points.

Sure he’s displayed a more measured approach in his last few fights, and it’s odds on that as he sharpens his edge on the Jackson Wink stone, this trend will only continue. But against a savvy old cowboy, he can’t hope to win on pure power alone. He has to exercise patience, pick his shots and be wary of Cerrone’s submission game and his vicious head-kicks. Don’t get lured into just another slug-fest, because that approach hasn’t worked out too well for him in the recent past.

It’s a strong possibility that Perry will run through Cerrone like a ten dollar curry through an IBS sufferer. He’s far younger and hungrier than his opponent, and one sure thing about him is that he never quits. If Cowboy does show up to the dance, he’ll be the immovable object meeting Perry’s unstoppable force. The dusty old gun-slinger, or the modern-era throwback, this one is way too close to call.

Let’s just hope Santa’s answered our prayers this early Christmas.

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