In August of 2013, Rafael Dos Anjos battered Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone to a one-sided, unanimous decision win. Initially, the fight was hardly deserving of a rematch, but when Cowboy bounced back from the loss by cramming eight wins into a two-year window, that changed. Dos Anjos had claimed the lightweight title, and Cowboy had established himself as the division’s number-one-contender, and so the two dynamic lightweights were pencilled in for a second encounter—this time for the crown.
Unfortunately for Cowboy, things didn’t go any better in his second meeting with Dos Anjos, which occurred last Saturday at UFC on Fox 17, in Orlando, Florida. In fact, things went far worse for him this time around, as he was chewed up by the champion in just 66 seconds. It was the fastest loss of his 35-fight career.
Having lost to the reigning champion twice, the 32-year-old Cowboy now finds himself on precarious terrain. And while he is often applauded for the busy fight schedule he keeps, he now arrives at a juncture where his years of frequent activity may come back to haunt him. Clearly no match for the divisional king, his continued success will depend greatly on his being paired with compelling opponents—and therein lies the problem. Having fought 19 UFC bouts in less than 5 years, Cowboy has already fought the majority of the organization’s relevant lightweights. Luckily, however, there still remain some intriguing options for the beloved 155-pound gunslinger.
At this point, the most logical choice for Cowboy might be Khabib Nurmagomedov. A ferocious competitor with a 22-0 record that includes a lopsided spanking of Dos Anjos, Nurmagomedov is one of the rare, elite lightweights Cowboy has not yet fought. Better still, the two have some built-in history, having been matched up to no avail on two occasions in the past. The glaring problem with this prospective pairing, however, is that Nurmagomedov can’t seem to stay healthy. He’s fought just once in the last two years. Cowboy, meanwhile, has always been the picture of activity and as such, may be ready for action far sooner than Nurmagomedov is. Thankfully, that’s not where his options end.
Another option for Cowboy is Michael Johnson, who also lost in Orlando, coming up short in a wild scrap with Nate Diaz. Johnson, who trains alongside the Blackzilians in Florida, entered 2015 as one of the lightweight division’s hottest prospects. Having come up short to Beneil Dariush and more recently Diaz, however, it’s going to take a big win for him to regain his former standing. A scrap with Cowboy would give him an excellent opportunity for just that kind of win, and best of all, the two finishers match up beautifully on paper. Their dynamite pairing would make an excellent addition to any upcoming main card. And should this bout fail to materialize, Cowboy still has a few more intriguing options in his sights.
While the Colorado native may not be championship material, he remains, without a doubt, one of the best lightweights in the game. As such, he makes an excellent litmus test for the division’s rising fighters. In this regard, he might be matched up with the winner of Dustin Poirier and Joe Duffy, who collide on the Fight Pass Prelims of January’s UFC 195. Both fighters are currently enjoying lightweight hot streaks, and the winner will be ready for a big step up in competition. Cowboy would be just that.
Similarly, Cowboy would make a compelling test for Michael Chiesa, a winner of The Ultimate Fighter who recently entered the lightweight top-15 with a beautiful submission of the wily Jim Miller. The same could be said of Cowboy’s clashing with the surging Rashid Magomedov, or even the rising Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira in a bout that, though not exactly sensible from a rankings standpoint, would sell itself as a Wild West style, Cowboy vs. Cowboy gunfight.
Cowboy’s most compelling option, however, could actually be a throwback to the way he bounced back from his first loss to Dos Anjos: by getting in there on short notice, against whomever, whenever he’s needed. While fighters like Nate Diaz are known to require big names in order to get properly pumped for fights, Cowboy seems to operate in the opposite way. He tends to thrive when the pressure is lower and he has less time to overthink things—case in point: his last-minute showdowns with Adriano Martins and John Makdessi, both of whom he decimated. Yes, perhaps Cowboy is better off when his opponents aren’t handpicked, but thrown in front of him at the last second.
After his lopsided loss to Dos Anjos, it’s apparent that Donald Cerrone might simply be better suited for his cowboy hat than he is for the lightweight crown. And while his historically busy schedule seems to shorten his list of prospective future opponents, that list is also lengthened by his famous anyone, any place, any time philosophy. At the end of the day, however, whether he returns to a big-name opponent in a bout with contendership implications, or to a short-notice showdown, it’s going to be hard to take the fight out of Cowboy. It probably won’t be long before he is dazzling us in the Octagon again.
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