UFC 126 vs. Paul Kelly
Cerrone’s UFC debut closed out the preliminary portion of the pay-per-view card in Las Vegas and was surely an impressive performance, as “Cowboy” dominated and eventually submitted the durable, dangerous Brit midway through the second round.
While his first UFC victory might be worth mentioning regardless, what makes this an automatic addition to this list is what happened before Cerrone got to the Octagon.
Cerrone was raised by his grandparents in Colorado and his grandfather, who had been instrumental in his pursuit of a fighting career and been to all of his grandson’s fights, had fallen ill and was in the hospital in the time leading up to this bout. As Cerrone started making the walk to the Octagon, his friend and teammate Leonard Garcia was on FaceTime with Cerrone’s family back home in Denver when “Cowboy” saw his friend’s face drop.
His grandfather had passed.
With a heavy heart, Cerrone crossed the threshold into the Octagon for the first time and picked up the first of his 23 victories to date.
And if you wanted to know just how big a part of his life his family is, understand that Grandma Jerry might be even more beloved within the MMA community than her grandson, and remains a constant presence at every one of his fights.
UFC 150 vs. Melvin Guillard
Guillard had bounced back from consecutive losses and relocated to South Florida to join the Blackzilians after spending a little time at Jackson-Wink, which gave this a little “former teammates rivalry” feel, while Cerrone had rebounded from his first UFC loss with a victory over Jeremy Stephens.
Most looked at this as a crossroads fight for each man, with the winner remaining on the fringes of contention and the loser likely to take a step back in the ultra-competitive lightweight division. It was also expected to be a barnburner and still somehow managed to exceed expectations as these two came out of the gate swinging and packed all kinds of excitement into a 76-second fight.
Just 11 seconds into the bout, Guillard dropped Cerrone with a counter left hook to the chin that had “Cowboy” on shaky legs and “The Young Assassin” hunting for a finish for the next 30 seconds. But Cerrone steadied himself and clipped the top of Guillard’s head with a left high kick a minute into the fight that shifted the momentum.
Guillard was immediately on roller skates and Cerrone took advantage, charging forward and connecting with a clean right hand that ended the fight on contact.
UFC on FOX 11 vs. Edson Barboza
A fight like this is representative of why lightweight is widely considered to be the most competitive, most entertaining division in the sport because talented, entertaining dudes like this square off all the time in bouts that don’t carry any immediate championship significance. They’re important in moving the winner forward, sure, but it’s not like anyone went into this one thinking, ‘The winner has next.”
It’s just one of those competitive, undeniably intriguing matchups that get you excited as soon as it gets announced and it delivered when they hit the Octagon in Orlando.
Barboza came out swinging, stinging Cerrone with a punch in his initial flurry that had the veteran gunslinger looking to clinch and wrestle less than 30 seconds in. Cerrone recovered and started to settle in, but Barboza’s speed advantage was clear and allowed the Brazilian to get the better of things as they traded in space.
By the three-minute mark of the first round, it was all Barboza, as he started opening up a little more, but just when it seemed like Cerrone was going to be in for a long night, he stuck Barboza with a swift jab that put him on the canvas.
Cerrone followed him to the mat, climbed on his back, and laced up a rear naked choke. The entire finishing sequence took 11 seconds and showed not only how quickly the momentum of a fight can shift, but also just how dangerous Cerrone is at all times.