Before there was the BMF championship belt, there was the BMF ranch. A place like that — with 10 sprawling New Mexico acres featuring a paintball field, full gym, dorms, wood stove sauna and farm animals — seemed a perfect fit for Donald Cerrone. A fighting Cowboy with the mantra “anyone, anytime, anywhere”? The dude was straight out of “bad mother f—ker” central casting.

While Cerrone made the term UFC famous, it’s been co-opted for a fight later this year pitting Nate Diaz against Jorge Masvidal. The winner of the UFC 244 main event will be gifted a “BMF” belt. It’s a fun concept, yet it’s one that owes a nod to the Cowboy.

“It’s all good man. It is what it is,” Cerrone told MMA Fighting. “Doesn’t do me any good complaining about it. Masvidal and Diaz, they’re both badass dudes, so good for them. That’ll be a fight everyone wants to see.”

With or without a belt on the line, Cerrone has his own must-see match coming up. At Saturday’s UFC Vancouver, he squares off with another thrill-seeking wild man in Justin Gaethje. The top-five lightweights will be jockeying for position in a crowded lightweight field all hellbent on gaining the top contender slot.

For Cerrone, that marks a shift in his fighting philosophy. For most of his 13-year career, he had no focus on winning a major championship, but within the last year, his thoughts evolved. For all his records and accomplishments, he felt a glaring hole.

“There wasn’t really a moment that changed it for me,” he said. “I just thought the last thing to do in my legacy is definitely to earn the title. It sucks to have all these achievements and this great career and not end up with that. It’s something that I need.”

A surefire UFC Hall of Famer, Cerrone already holds the records for the most wins in UFC history, with 23. When he steps into the cage Saturday night, he will tie Jim Miller for the most fights (33). Now 36 years old, Cerrone has no plans of slowing down. In fact, he said he hopes to reach 50 fights in the UFC. Assuming he manages to continue his historical frequency of fighting — no given in such a physical sport — Cerrone could hit that milestone sometime around his 40th birthday.

“It’s pretty cool to have that record,” he said. “I want to set all the records. I want to set them so high that when I’m done no one can catch them.”

Cerrone’s durability is unique in the modern UFC era. His 33 fights have taken place in just eight-and-a-half years; by comparison, Miller has been in the UFC for 11 years. During his UFC career, Cerrone’s longest stretch of inactivity has been 210 days, and even that was mostly due to the UFC putting him in a holding pattern as he awaited a UFC lightweight championship fight against Rafael dos Anjos. Alternatively, his fastest turnaround is 15 days, and if he had things his way, the latter would be a more normal pattern than the former.

So how does his body feel after all that action?

“I feel great, I feel young,” he said. “But I creak like an old, tin man.”

Last time out, Cerrone saw a three-fight win streak snapped when a badly swollen eye led to a doctor’s stoppage loss at the hands of Tony Ferguson. Despite the defeat, Cerrone held tight in the rankings, and is currently sitting at No. 4, behind Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor. With both Poirier and McGregor coming off losses, Cerrone can truly re-inject himself into title talk by beating No. 5 Gaethje.

The two were training partners during Gaethje’s early days in fighting. Recently, Gaethje told a story about Cerrone knocking him out in sparring, and about wanting to even that score. For Cowboy, it was nearly a forgotten moment.

“Training and fighting are two totally different things,” he said. “I’m not sure why he ever even said that. I never would have brought that up, so I don’t know why he came out and said it, but it was just a freak shot. It wasn’t intentional, just a freak shot. It just happened.”

From the get-go, Cerrone saw potential in Gaethje, who at least when it comes to fighting, is a spiritual equal. Gaethje loves to instigate action and is a ferocious competitor. Stylistically though, they are a bit different. Gaethje likes to go first and heavy, while Cerrone is more reactionary and methodical. Cerrone calls the pairing “perfect.”

Many fans agree, and are frothing at the mouth to taste this recipe.

Still, for the new Cerrone, it’s now a means to an end. That championship is still within his sights, which means that instead of the BMF belt, it’s the one soon to be contested by Nurmagomedov and Ferguson that matters.

“A win over Justin will put me in line for either of those two so I’m excited for those two to get going sooner rather than later, and you know me, I’ll be ready to go.”


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