There are some things Donald Cerrone sees a bit differently these days, but plenty of others remain the same. Make no mistake about it though, “Cowboy” is the genuine article - as real as they come - but even the toughest of the tough change their approach from time to time.
The former WEC lightweight contender turned UFC title challenger has risen to the forefront of mixed martial arts on the strength of his hard-charging fighting, and a brash no nonsense approach to other trappings of the fight game. There is nothing the New Mexico transplant ever says or does for the sake of promotion or the big fight sell; he’s simply being true to himself at all times. Cerrone’s “live for the moment” mantra is present in everything he does, and he has the scars to back up every one of those choices, good or bad.
There is never any indifference or regret, and never drifting from that internal compass point has schooled him in a myriad of ways.
“I’ve been this way,” Cerrone said. “I’ve always been kind of wild and crazy and have never really seen a reason to change. I’ve always just kind of been one of those wild a** dudes.”
Sure there are plenty of adrenaline spikes and heart-pounding moments as Cerrone is pushing the boundaries of what he knows of himself, but it’s hardly all fun and games when he’s balancing life and one of the most visible fighter profiles on the planet.
Everything Cerrone does is physical and the majority of those activities are related to his progression as a fighter. He’s turned his Albuquerque home into the now infamous “BMF Ranch” and it’s become a place for a collection of the world’s best and most promising prospects to grind out the work together. Therefore, whether he’s down at the new Jackson/Winkeljohn facility or literally out in his backyard in the machine shed he’s converted into his gym, there is always work being done.
“I love how people think all I do is party and sit around,” Cerrone said. “I train my ass off. Hell, I built a fully functional gym on my property so I could train any time of day I wanted in addition to going into the city for different sessions, but people out there think I’m constantly slacking off. Good…let them think that and I hope my opponent thinks that too. If so, there is a hell of a surprise in store.
“I do like to keep it fun though because that’s one of the biggest things I try to teach the guys who come out to the ranch to train with me. We are going to work hard and then have some fun because some people need to learn to quit taking life so f****** serious. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned and believe me when I tell you I have taken the hardest and longest way to get where I am today. Going hunting, scuba diving and s*** like that keeps me feeling alive and keeps me in the mode I need to be in.”
Over the 32-year-old striker’s storied career, he’s faced the best of the best time and time again inside the Octagon. The UFC’s lightweight division has long been a who’s who of top talent, and Cerrone has stepped in and gone toe-to-toe with a large majority of them - some on multiple occasions and on extremely short notice. There is a love for fighting in Cerrone’s blood that few of his peers have proven to share, but there is something that has changed over the past few years and that’s a level of self-belief he’s never known.
Anyone who has watched Cerrone do his thing inside the Octagon understands he’s operating at an elite level, but it took the fighter himself coming to understand what he could achieve for his full potential to be met. The results have been apparent in a current eight-fight winning streak where he’s made a more definitive statement each and every time out. That’s an impressive feat by any measure, and it has earned the scrappy lightweight his long awaited shot at the 155-pound strap held by former opponent Rafael dos Anjos.
The two highly touted lightweights will collide once again this Saturday night in the main event of the UFC on FOX card in Orlando, Fla., and Cerrone is more focused than ever. That said, while putting “RDA” down and getting his hands on championship gold may be a moment years in the making for the rangy technician with the “devil may care” attitude, his motives are far more down to earth than most in his position typically project.
Cerrone will leave all the romanticism that comes attached to big moments in combat sports and the glory of overcoming adversity by breaking the will of another man to those in the sports world who need that sort of thing, and he’ll take the more tangible fruits that come from a job well done.
“I don’t know if I’ve felt an overall change, but winning that title has taken on a different meaning for me,” Cerrone said. “I’ve always been the guy who will fight anyone at any time and I’m still that way, but getting that title means more money, and I’m a guy who likes money. Fighting and beating everyone I face is still the overall plan and that has never changed. Getting that belt and being a champion; that doesn’t mean s*** to me, but getting that belt and the money that comes along with it; that is what has me excited.
“I’ve grown accustomed to living a certain type of lifestyle and I’m not looking to give that up anytime soon. We play hard around here and it takes a lot of money to play as hard as we do. There’s no way I’m giving that up, that’s for damn sure.”