Less than a week from their World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) interim lightweight title fight, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Ben Henderson were the featured guests on MMAmania.com’s exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio.
The main event goes down this Saturday, October 10 at WEC 43: "Cerrone vs. Henderson," live from the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, airing on Versus.
The bout was originally supposed to occur at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, Ohio on September 2, but was reportedly delayed when Henderson suffered an undisclosed injury. It remains unclear how that injury was enough for the promotion to change locations altogether, despite having four UFC stars committed to attend the Youngstown event.
"Cowboy" Cerrone kicked things off, calling from the "TapouT House" where his ranch just welcomed six new young fighters who will ultimately train at Jackson Submission Fighting.
A five-fight WEC veteran, Cerrone (10-1, 1 NC) had mostly high praise for Henderson (9-1), "Of course there’s going to be people … who aren’t going to know much about (Henderson). But I know him, grew up with him, same town, seen him fight. Dude brings it. He’s high-paced, fucking action-packed the entire time."
While Henderson has just two quick fights on WEC undercards, "Cowboy" thinks his own experience going five rounds with champion Jamie Varner will be a deciding factor. "I think the main event, huge arena, all the people is going to play an impact on me, man. That’s a huge thing to step into all of a sudden. Go on the undercard, go on the undercard, now all of a sudden you’re main event live TV. That’s a huge step."
And for people who might not think the fight is main event-worthy, Cerrone expects a good fight. "People are underestimating the dude. I’m not. I know he’s a tough opponent. He’s going to come in, ready to go, five rounds, conditioning is not a problem for him. And he’ll wanna throw down."
Perhaps one of the reasons the fight hasn’t been marketed appropriately is because Cerrone himself can’t seem to stop talking about an impending rematch with champion Jamie Varner that awaits him, should he beat "Smooth" first.
He admits it’s his motivation for Saturday’s fight. "I don’t even care about the belt, I just want Varner. Doesn’t matter, you know. I don’t care. I just want to shut his little mouth up. He’s not as good as he says he is. He’s not the best fighter in the world running around, running his mouth. You suck, bro."
Cerrone, who was apparently told by Drew Fickett that Varner was "breakable mentally," thinks he saw a glimpse of that in January at the end of their WEC 38 technical split decision, which fell in "The Worm’s" favor.
After "Cowboy" landed an illegal knee, Cerrone believes that both fighters recognized he’d be disqualified; only when he wasn’t, Varner broke and saw his chance to escape. "Then when I wasn’t, he was like ‘Oh shit … uh, I can’t see, my leg’s broke, my fuckin’ heart’s in a million pieces.’ So that’s what I think happened."
When Varner twittered that his hand wasn’t medically cleared to be ready for a rematch, "Cowboy" responded that Varner’s "heart wasn’t ready."
Perhaps it’s just a way to stay motivated. Cerrone even shared some choice words he had for former WEC welterweight posterboy Carlos Condit, who "Cowboy" helped prepare for his final WEC title defense against Hiromitsu Miura at WEC 35 in August 2008. Condit, who recently joined Team Jackson, had repaid Cerrone by helping Varner prepare for their title bout.
"I was calling him a bitch. That’s it. It was over after that. I was like … ‘Yeah fool, fucking, I go down there and train with you and help you get ready for your title fight, and then when it comes time for me to get a title fight, you go and train with Varner?’ That was it."
Next up was Ben Henderson, who came up fighting on the same circuit as Cerrone and is now riding an eight-fight win streak. The two-time collegiate All-American wrestler and Taekwondo black belt earned his nickname "Smooth" from his head coach, John Crouch, because a lot of wrestlers who go into jiu-jitsu have difficulty relaxing. Henderson didn’t and is currently a purple belt.
Even Henderson kicked things off talking about everyone’s favorite "Worm," calling Varner vs. Cerrone a "barnburner" and hoping "to have one of those types of fights" one day. Although Henderson leans toward Varner on the scorecards because of takedowns and damage, he credits Cerrone for pushing the pace and stalking Varner "Terminator-style."
So what about this "undisclosed" injury that caused the WEC to relocate the event thousands of miles away?
Henderson tried playing it off slyly, "It was a small, little injury. It was an undisclosed injury, and to be honest, my managers, my team didn’t even disclose it to me what the injury was."
He admits the injury was "nothing serious, it was nothing major." He rested for a week and then started a new training camp. One week off and he was "good to go." So why are we rescheduling again?
Then, as if the shell game wasn’t confusing enough, "I’m 100 percent now. I would have been fine in the September 2nd (fight) up in Youngstown. I would have been good to go. I would have had no problems about fighting on September 2nd. But thankfully I was able to fully recover, be 100 percent, not have any lingering doubts, ‘Oh, is this going to hold up, or is that going to hold up. Or will I be 100-percent for this fight?’"
Even host Larry Pepe was confused by it. When Pepe interviewed WEC founder Reed Harris several weeks back, Harris claimed the switch was because Henderson, as well as another undisclosed fighter, both had issues, so they opted to reschedule and move the event.
But after Henderson’s interview, it certainly sounds like the switch had more to do with rumored bad ticket sales or some other (undisclosed) issue than fighter injuries.
For those who think "Cowboy" has already looked past Henderson and onto Varner, "Smooth" gives Cerrone more credit, "I don’t think that a lot of his focus is on Jamie as much. I think he’s a smart dude, he’s very smart, he’s very intelligent. He knows how to pump up a rematch before a rematch is quite there."
But still, Henderson admits he’s a fan of the sport too, "I can’t wait to watch the rematch. It’s just too bad that when they do rematch it’s going to be a three-round fight, not a five-round fight."
Henderson also said he’s "definitely" not tapping, fought nearly blind until his recent PRK laser eye surgery, which helps him react faster, and while he doesn’t make predictions about Saturday’s outcome, he says, "The only thing I will say, for the most part, after the fight, my hand will be raised. And I’ve been right about that nine out of the 10 times that I’ve fought."
Such determination. Nine out of 10 times.
Check out the complete interview as well as the entire Pro MMA Radio archive here.