Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is a fan favorite.
And it’s hard to find anyone who loves fighting more than the 34-year-old UFC veteran.
But, those two facts haven’t exactly made him a fan of the fight game.
So when the Edgewood resident who trains at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA said he didn’t even know who Darren Till was when it was first announced the two would meet in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event in Gdansk, Poland, it wasn’t meant to open the trash talking floodgates.
“I watch zero fights,” Cerrone said. “That’s my coach’s job, to figure out and game plan. … It was no disrespect from me. I wasn’t trying to prod at the kid; I just didn’t know who Darren Till was. He has like three fights. He’s a new up-and-comer.”
The undefeated 24-year-old Till didn’t take the comments well and has since said he plans to “retire” Cerrone by knocking him out when the two headline Saturday’s 12-fight event streamed exclusively online on UFC Fight Pass.
“The first round, I’m going to mentally break him, I know I am,” Till said. “And he’s going to start questioning himself more as the fight goes on.”
That Till (15-0-1) will try to make his presence felt early is no surprise to anyone. He’s never fought a five-round bout and is in just his fifth UFC fight.
Cerrone (32-9) has lost his past two fights, both to 170-pounders ranked in the top four. His last, a unanimous decision loss to Robbie Lawler in July, Cowboy feels he might have won. Regardless, there’s no questioning Cerrone’s place as one of the mixed martial arts game’s most respected, and active, veterans.
He plans to use that experience against Till.
J-W striking coach Brandon Gibson, the Albuquerque native who is in Poland to corner Cerrone, respects Till’s power, especially his left hand, but also knows brash talk and a heavy hand won’t have much effect.
“Till is really trying to hype this fight, saying that he will ‘retire’ Cerrone,” Gibson said. “The trash talk never really gets to Cerrone though. He is motivated to have fun. When he has that mindset, he’s at his best.
“We plan on taking Till into deep water. He’s shown suspect cardio in the second and third rounds of his past fights, and Cowboy only gets better as the fights go on.”
Cerrone knows this fight has been billed by some as the perfect platform for someone like Till to announce his presence in the sport by knocking off the well-known veteran.
“Some people say Cowboy is the gate keeper,” Cerrone said. “Well, then can you get past the gate?”
“ABSOLUTELY IDEAL”: Cowboy ain’t on this ride alone.
Another Jackson-Wink teammate — women’s strawweight Jodie Esquibel — is also on Saturday’s card.
For Esquibel, the New Mexico resident and paramedic, fighting in tonight’s co-main event against Poland native and No. 3 ranked Karolina Kowalkiewicz might not seem like the best case scenario for a UFC debut.
“It is absolutely ideal actually,” Esquibel said. “I have no pressure — there’s no pressure for me. All I have to do is go out there and perform and be myself. If I allow myself to do that I will be victorious.”
Kowalkiewicz (10-2) is coming off back-to-back losses to elite fighters in champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and No. 2 Claudia Gadelha. That, coupled with fighting in her home country, doesn’t mean she’s feeling pressure to make light work of Esquibel.
“I never feel pressure before a fight. I love what I do,” Kowalkiewicz said. “I feel pressure when I am hungry and I can’t eat a cookie!”
Esquibel, the J-W veteran with a 6-2 MMA record, mostly under the Invicta FC umbrella, says her training camp in Albuquerque was as good as any she’s had.
“The fans can expect to see the best version of myself,” she said.