By Schwan Humes
Saturday night at UFC on Fox 23, the Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone hype train came to a screeching halt at the hands of Jorge Masvidal. To many it was a shock; Cerrone had been one of the top five guys in the lightweight division and had won four straight on his way to a potential top five ranking at welterweight. Each win for Cerrone came in a different but more technically or devastatingly impressive manner, while Masvidal was only 2-3 in his time at welterweight and never really sniffed the top five at lightweight. Those numbers, those facts, those highlights gave people unshakable faith in the victory for Cerrone, which would ultimately lead to a name fighter (Demian Maia or Robbie Lawler) or a call out of current champion Tyron Woodley or potential champion Stephen Thompson. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the plan to Jorge Masvidal, who upset the apple cart. He ignored the numbers, the win streak, and the spectacular finishes; he fought and won in a dominating and decisive manner.
I get no joy from the loss by Cowboy; he is a great fighter. Not good, not very good, he is great and will probably go down as one of the best of all time, even if he never wins a title. His activity, his amount of fights, the level of opposition and variety of ways he has won fights all say all time great, but like any great fighter or any great competitor in any sport, there are holes, certain lines to take when attacking them, certain things to look for when scheming them. Cerrone is no different; the issue was he hadn’t faced an opponent who was good enough to exploit the holes he has.
So I won’t act like he hasn’t improved; had he not, I don’t know that he puts four in a row together at a bigger weight where the fighters take shots better, are physically stronger, and hit a bit harder. However, he wasn’t facing guys with the layers, nuance, and depth of skill to force him to go to Plan B in his new approach. They didn’t force him to show that this new style was second nature, they couldn’t pressure him to the point where his resolve, his understanding of these developments, and his ability to execute under duress was put to the test. Patrick Cote -- old, slow, and offensively limited. Alex Oliveira -- one-dimensional and inexperienced. Rick Story -- shoddy defense, limited footwork, terribly inconsistent. Then you had Matt Brown -- physical, great in the clinch, and super busy, but past his prime with suspect durability and athleticism. There were all good fighters, but none had the skills -- physical or technical -- to really challenge what he was doing; they were all a step and half behind him physically and technically.
Of more importance was how Cerrone’s lack of head movement was highlighted once the other things had been taken away from him. Cerrone began staying in front of Masvidal, and that was essentially what won the fight in the first round AND the second round; it wasn’t just luck, it wasn’t toughness or athleticism, it wasn’t aggression. It was the craft and the comfort in executing that comes with fighting so often against so many top tier, skilled guys. Cowboy had to fight with no real area of advantage -- he had no way to slow the fight, nowhere to take the fight to that would allow him to escape or turn the tide, and that was the story. It was the story I told last week and it became the story of the fight. Donald Cerrone isn’t a hype job; he just isn’t untouchable. No one is -- as good as he has been and as great as he is, he has things to key in on. Jorge Masvidal found each and every one of them, by taking away each and every layer of defense that allowed Cowboy to mask them or protect them from being consistently attacked. The numbers told one story about Donald Cerrone the welterweight, it didn’t tell the whole story, and that is what laid the groundwork for Part one of this two-part series and for one of the “upsets” of the year.