Donald Cerrone: Gatekeeper of the Future

USA Today
Hunter HomistekCorrespondent IApril 21, 2014

When Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone wages war inside the UFC Octagon, the results are stellar. 

Win or lose, Cowboy fights to finish—to destroy—and his nonstop activity and aggression makes each of his fights a can't-miss affair. 

Most recently, Cerrone defeated Brazilian striking sensation Edson Barboza via first-round rear-naked choke at UFC on Fox 11, marking Cowboy's third finish in as many tilts.

Throughout the UFC on Fox 11 affair, Cerrone and Barboza traded strikes, with the Brazilian getting the better of his American foe for the first half of the round. 

Cerrone dropped Barboza with a jab just past the midway point, though, and he pounced on his injured prey, slapping on the choke and ending the fight in dramatic fashion. 

The win was not flawless, but it was certainly effective, and it represented the talent that is Mr. Donald Cerrone. 

He can strike, but he will get beaten to the punch by faster, more aggressive and technical stand-up artists (see: Pettis, Anthony; Barboza, Edson; Diaz, Nate). 

He can grapple, but he can be neutralized by a superior wrestler or Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner (see: Dos Anjos, Rafael; Henderson, Benson). 

Cerrone is what I would like to term the "gatekeeper of the future." 

Right now, Cowboy is, in my opinion, better than a gatekeeper in the UFC's lightweight division. He's ranked eighth, according to the official UFC rankings, and he's on a three-fight winning streak, all via finish (and all by distinctly different finishes). 

Like middleweight standout Michael Bisping, however, Cerrone routinely tumbles just as he reaches the top of the 155-pound mountain. 

Cerrone was thoroughly dismantled by Nate Diaz at UFC 141, a fight which he entered on an impressive six-fight winning streak. If he had defeated Diaz, he may have received a lightweight title shot.

He did not, and the title shot evaded him. 

Cerrone did what Cerrone does following that bout, however, and he bounced back, piecing together two impressive wins and again finding himself in a No. 1-contender's bout against Pettis.

Pettis destroyed Cowboy with a liver kick in Round 1, and Cerrone's championship dreams were crushed once more. 

Cowyboy's position as a "gatekeeper of the future" is unique, however, partly due to the depth of the lightweight division and partly due to his well-rounded skill set. 

Think about other UFC gatekeepers such as Roy Nelson, Mark Munoz and Ryan Bader. 

They're largely one-dimensional with one standout skill and a "solid" base everywhere else.

Nelson has a huge overhand right, but he's easily defeated by quicker, more technical strikers.

Munoz has a strong wrestling base and big power, but he's chinny, and his stand-up attack lacks variety.

Ditto for Bader.

Cerrone, though, is truly fantastic everywhere. Is he a better striker or grappler?

His record shows 15 wins via submission and three via knockout, but many of his submissions were set up by a strike which rocked his opponent and left a clear opening for a choke.

His cardio is great. His camp at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA is elite, perhaps the best in the business.

He possesses the heart and killer instinct necessary to compete at the highest level.

And yet...

Cerrone just isn't championship material. Something isn't there, be it mentally or physically. He's proven that throughout his UFC career, and it's a trend that will likely continue as the division evolves.

As the sport of MMA grows and expands, so too will its fighters and their skill sets. Champions now would obliterate champions of 2005, and we often hear about the "new breed" of fighter who trained MMA rather than a specific discipline from day one.

The sport changes. 

So it goes. 

It only makes sense that gatekeepers will become better and better as this change occurs too, and right now the gatekeeper of the future resides in the UFC's lightweight division, and he goes by the name of "Cowboy." 

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