Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone is sitting in front of the bar he recently built on his 10-acre BMF Ranch in Edgewood, New Mexico. Exactly 100 days have passed since he suffered a 40-second knockout loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 246, and he is about to address it publicly for the first time.
The interview is to be conducted via the video conference app Zoom, which has grown in popularity over the past six weeks amid quarantining measures to combat the coronavirus. Cerrone has trouble logging in at first, and he even asks if the interviewer can just call him "like a normal f---ing person." But eventually, he logs in, and within moments -- before he is even asked about it -- he brings up arguably the worst loss of his career.
"It's hard, man," he says. "It's hard to prepare for something like that and make it 40 f---ing seconds. It's tough. I don't even mind people out there [criticizing him], but internally, my guys, it's hard to choke that up. I don't know. I don't have excuses. It sucked."
Cerrone, 37, has suffered 14 losses during his 14-year career, but this one affected him a little differently. He took a hard break from his gym on the ranch and admitted feeling sorry for himself. He envisioned retirement, but he wasn't quite there. For the time being, his passion for fighting is back, and he'll return to the Octagon on May 9 against Anthony Pettis at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida.
"Usually, I get right back in there," he says. "This one, I didn't. I just kind of sat in self-pity."
Cerrone is one of the most popular fighters in the sport, and he holds the record for the most wins in UFC history with 23. He is a surefire Hall of Famer, but he also is known to have turned in some of his worst performances during his biggest fights. It is something he referenced ahead of that McGregor bout, declaring during a large media scrum, "Cowboy's showing up for the big one."
It didn't work out that way.
"Donald showed up; Cowboy wasn't there," Cerrone says. "The wrong guy showed up. I couldn't get going, couldn't get excited, couldn't get fired up. I didn't want to be there. Biggest fight, all of the attention, my time to shine, and I didn't want to be there. It was crazy. I don't know why. I don't know how. I don't know how to change it.
"Two days before the fight [I knew] ... I can't put words on it. It's like being somewhere you don't want to be, man. It's like being in a spelling contest and you can't spell."
"I didn't want to be there. Biggest fight, all of the attention, my time to shine, and I didn't want to be there. It was crazy. I don't know why. I don't know how. I don't know how to change it."Cowboy Cerrone
Despite the frustration and time off, Cerrone says he has made peace with the McGregor loss, and he is excited to get back to his normal routine for this next fight. And "normal" for Cowboy means not a lot of time to overthink it: less of a focus on what's at stake, and more on enjoying the moment.
He is so excited about fighting again that he jokingly floated the idea of asking UFC president Dana White if he can fight on all three cards next week -- May 9, 13 and 16.
"This is who I am, this fight right here," Cerrone says. "Them calling me and me fighting in two weeks, that's who I am. Short time, get to work, go fight. That's me. So, I feel good ... I'm gonna go in there, win this fight and say, 'Hey, Dana, you got anyone lined up for Wednesday?' I'll be the first fighter to bang out three fights in one week."
Cerrone is determined to enjoy as many fights as he can, because for the first time, he is publicly acknowledging that he sees "the end of the tunnel" on his fighting career. He has long joked the UFC will have to physically restrain him from walking to the Octagon in his old age, but with his son Danger turning 2 this summer and with another son -- who will be named Riot -- on the way, his perspective has changed.
"It's there. I'm getting old. I can feel it," Cerrone says. "I can't keep up with these young guys anymore. I want to say a couple more years, honestly. I'm not talking about retirement now, but I used to be able to see [the end] way down there. Now I can see it. I've probably realistically got a couple years, and that's pushing it. So, I'm gonna fight my ass off, take as many as they'll let me, and we'll see.
Donald Cerrone discusses how he didn't feel well ahead of his fight vs. Conor McGregor and his lack of interest in being there.
"I could [keep fighting] until they won't let me, but how healthy can I stay is the real question. How many shots can I take to the brain before my kids are reading to me? That's the real concern."
Jafari Vanier, Cerrone's longtime head coach, still believes it's possible to make one more run at the title, and all it would take is to put "one or two fights together." But that does not seem to be on Cerrone's mind. After perhaps falling victim to the pressure in January, it's obvious he wants to have fun with his bout on May 9. He wants to want to be there.
"He's said before he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He might just be seeing it brighter now," Vanier says. "We're not stupid, and I mean that in the way of, we're not going to push him beyond the limit, where you see guys who should have retired and keep pushing. We're taking it fight by fight. We're not talking about retirement or saying, 'We have this many left.' We're just keeping it moving, which is what Cowboy does."