Not many MMA fans are fully aware of what goes inside a fighter’s mind as they prepare to compete at the sport’s biggest stage. But during the an ESPN promo video ahead of UFC 246, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone spoke candidly about the pre-fight nerves and anxiety he goes through right before making the walk.
(H/T Cageside Press)
Every single time I’m just scared and just as nervous. My legs are heavy. My arms are heavy. They bring you in so early, so you’re sitting there backstage and you’re watching the fights, and you’re watching the clock because you’ve got to figure out how many fights you have.
You start getting ready, but your body’s not ready. For some reason, it’s the worst night of your life, and you’re just like, “I’m sick, my nerves are crazy, and I go and throw up.” I throw up every time, still to this day.
And then they’re like, “Alright, Cowboy, let’s wrap your hands.” They start wrapping your hands, and you’re like, “Oh my god, man.” And the camera’s right there, and you’ve got to kind of smile and make everyone that’s watching think, “Oh, I’m good. I’m happy.” I’m not. I’m sick, and scared.
You start warming up, but you can’t warm up because my arms are heavy, and I don’t know why I feel like this. Why can’t I get ready like I do at home? Why can’t I just wear my mouthpiece and go? I can’t get my sweat going, my nerves are going crazy. And then they’re like, “Next fight, you’re up.”
Cerrone says it only gets worse as he inches closer to the fight.
You start just pacing like, “Man, here we go.” And they put you up, and they line you up in your little X and the little bright light is in your face, and you’re like “Here we go.” And you’re still sick, and you’re still scared to death.
You make the walk. You’ve got about 20 seconds before you come out of the curtain. You walk out, you see the fans coming over and hanging and screaming. Everyone wants to touch your hand. And you’re still faking it ‘til you make it, man. You’re smiling, but inside you’re scared.
They’re like “Hug everybody” (in your corner) and I’d say, “No, I don’t want to hug nobody. I just want to get in here and get this going.”
(They) put the Vaseline on your face, you crawl up to the cage. Bruce announces him, Bruce announces you. And you’re still like faking it, man. I see him staring at me, and I keep staring at him. If I break eye contact, is he gonna think I’m weak?
“Cowboy” walked through every single emotion, right through the touch of gloves.
His coaches are up there, your coaches are there. Everyone’s screaming. You’re like, “Do I need to turn and get a drink of water? Because my mouth is dry as sh-t.” And then they bring you in the middle, tell you the last-minute rules that you had known a hundred times.
You know, the hardest part is that walk back (to the fence). Because you’re kind of walking backwards, but you don’t know where the cage is and you don’t want to hit it funny. You’re on live TV and you don’t want to look like an ass out of the gate.
“Are you ready? Are you ready?” Beep. And then it’s f—ng real, man. You get tunnel vision. You go out there and touch gloves, and it’s on, man.
Sitting at the ESPN broadcast table as the clip played were Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping, who agreed with every single word Cerrone said.
“I’m telling you, goosebumps,” Bisping said. “Bringing it all back.”
“The single most honest breakdown a fighter’s ever given possibly,” Sonnen added.
“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Bisping said. “The light. When you’re standing there in the tunnel and you’re about to walk out. It’s pitch black, and you’ve got a bright light right in front of your face.
“The amount of times when I wanted to say, ‘Can you back up a little bit, please? I’m trying to look tough here, and I’ve got to walk to the cage, but you’re actually blinding me,’” he added. “It’s a real pain in the backside.”
All these pre-fight moments aside, Cerrone is still one of the most accomplished fighters in the UFC. He holds the most number of wins with 23, the most finishes in company history with 16, and has racked up the most number of post-fight bonuses with a total of 18, among many others.