Cowboy Cerrone's last dance: His quest for first UFC title

Cerrone details life on the ranch, trying to fight Khabib (3:42)

Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone explains the interesting story behind the name BMF Ranch and how he wants his career to end. (3:42)

EDGEWOOD, New Mexico -- Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone has no idea what will happen to the BMF Ranch when his career is over. He's not opposed to eventually selling it -- except, who in the world would buy it?

Cerrone's grandfather purchased the land the ranch occupies early in Cerrone's career, and it has seen significant changes over time. It initially had just one building: a single-story house with a small garage. Today, it has a fully insulated gym, a large dormitory for his team and a wooden sauna that fits about 20 people.

"I moved here from Colorado, and started looking for a property where I could ride bikes, horses, shoot guns," Cerrone said. "I called my grandpa and said, 'I found a house and some acres I think I want to buy.' He said, 'I'll be right there.'

"He and grandma drove down, and he walks right up to the lady and says, 'My grandson wants it. We'll take it.' He handed her cash. Didn't even go inside. I was like, 'S---, OK.' None of this was here. We've built everything."

The 10-acre plot of land has been Cerrone's playground and office ever since. It's a place that breeds "Bad m-----f-----s," as Cerrone puts it. Bring non-fight fans to the BMF Ranch, and they'll have a pretty good understanding of who Cerrone is within five minutes. A line of fight posters in the gym say he has been at this for a while (and he has stayed active). The motorcycles, snowmobiles and wakeboard boat parked next to his mats suggest he has made (and spent) a lot of money doing it.

Cerrone doesn't really associate the ranch with his legacy, but one easily could. It's his personality and the fruits of his labor. It's an occasional home of his team, and a permanent one for his infant son, Dacson -- who is called by his middle name, Danger. It is missing one thing, though. The one thing Cerrone has never cared about as a professional fighter, until very recently.

"I've set a ton of records," Cerrone said. "No one can ever look back at what I've done in this sport and say, 'Cowboy is just a guy who has come and gone.' But now it's time to get the belt. That's the last thing I need to do before I hang my hat up, get the UFC gold. I'm coming for it."

Cerrone (34-11) is scheduled to fight Alexander Hernandez at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Brooklyn, New York. It will mark his first fight in the 155-pound lightweight division in more than three years. From 2016 to 2018, he fought at 170 pounds. Two months ago, Cerrone, 35, broke the record for most wins in UFC history, surpassing Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping on the all-time list. Despite his 21 wins inside the Octagon, however, Cerrone has never won a UFC title.

His only shot at doing so came in his most recent lightweight fight in December 2015. Cerrone fought then-champion Rafael dos Anjos and lost via TKO in just 66 seconds. A victim of "off nights" or "slow starts" his entire career, Cerrone and his team admit he lost that particular fight before he left the locker room.

"You know how you have to do that walk into the arena, where they film you?" said Cerrone's wrestling coach, Jafari Vanier. "We were doing that, and he turns and looks at me and says, 'I don't want to be here right now.' I remember thinking, 'Oh s---. This is not good.' I was like, 'Well, let's warm up and hopefully when we get through it, you're going to feel better.' And no, that just wasn't the case."

A moment like that -- in a UFC championship fight -- was never the end of the world for Cerrone, because the title wasn't his ultimate goal. He has said that over and over throughout his career, and he has proved it in the way he managed his career. Cerrone's coaches and management have begged him to turn down fights in the past, or at least schedule them strategically.

In 2017, for instance, Cerrone was on a four-fight win streak entering the title picture. He risked it to accept back-to-back fights in a seven-week span. He lost the second one by knockout. "They would ask, 'Why would you do this?'" Cerrone said. "That's what we do. We fight. I just told them, 'I'm doing it. Do you want to corner me or not?' That was always my mentality."

Does Cerrone think he ever sabotaged himself with that mentality?

"Yeah. The answer to that is yes," he said.

But late last year, during camp for his record-breaking fight against Mike Perry in November, Cerrone surprised his team with an announcement. The "anyone, anytime, anywhere" approach that has defined his career would end in 2018. This year, he's only accepting bouts that put him on a clear path to the title.

"Crazy, right?" Cerrone said. "I talked with my team, coaches, talked to [UFC president Dana White]. They all said, 'Wait, what?'

"It's gonna be hard when the opportunity comes. When I win two or three lightweight fights, I'm ranked No. 2, and the UFC is like, 'Well, the champion can't fight you until next year, but we have this other fight ...' I'm just gonna have to say it's my time to get the belt, and wait it out."

Cerrone's son, Danger, has not yet celebrated his first birthday, but Cerrone is already in the process of buying him his first horse. "It's a champagne dun, really rare color," Cerrone said. "Danger's Champ is what we called him."

Before Danger was born in June, Cerrone never believed becoming a father would change much for him professionally. He didn't think it would give him more purpose in a fight, or a feeling of fighting for someone else. It has taken Cerrone one fight as a new parent to realize how wrong he was.

Prior to his recent win in November, Vanier and striking coach Joe Schilling decided to show Cerrone a photo of Danger on his phone right before he walked into the arena. It's not unusual for Vanier to experiment with prefight tactics in an attempt to draw out the best Cerrone. The team has parked his RV at arenas on fight night, so he can have a familiar atmosphere. Vanier has reminded Cerrone of specific, expensive toys he wants to buy as they warm up.

But nothing has been as effective as showing Cerrone a photo of his son in the locker room. He became so emotional at first, Vanier worried they'd made a mistake. But once Cerrone entered the arena and embraced Danger, who was in attendance, on his way to the cage, Vanier knew they were good.

"I really never knew how much that meant, you know?" Cerrone said. "It really clicked on my last fight. They sent me a picture of my boy all dressed in his cowboy boots before I walked out -- I got super emotional. They talk about having a kid changes your life, gives you something to fight for -- it's amazing."

It's kind of wild, really. The winningest fighter in UFC history -- a man with 45 bouts on his professional record -- just found the best motivation he has ever had to fight. And it coincides with him finally wanting to win a championship before he exits the sport.

"I'm hungry, f---ing starving," Cerrone said. "You talk about, 'What if I fall short?' I'm not gonna fall short. I'm going to put in everything I need to. I've got the best team I've ever had, and mentally I'm as strong as I've ever been. There is no setback. I already see the belt hanging over my fireplace."