ORLANDO, Fla. – Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is not the kind of fighter to obsess over capturing the belt.
He’s always made it quite clear he competes in mixed martial arts mostly for a paycheck and to a certain extent because frankly, he enjoys the thrill.
But when Cerrone walks to the cage on Saturday night for the main event of the UFC on Fox 17 card at Amway Center, he will have the opportunity to take the title from lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.
He concedes the gold strap would be a nice souvenir.
“I’m fighting for money and that belt means more money,” he said after an open workout Thursday at the Hyatt Regency. “Hey, we all want the belt. At the end of the day, it’s cool to be called the best in the world. But I don’t wake up every morning thinking, ‘I need to win that belt.’ I’m here for legacy. So people will say, ‘Oh, Cowboy is fighting Saturday night? We are turning it on because that son of a bitch is throwing down no matter what.’
As he acknowledged, the belt also usually carries with it a financial benefit. That’s particularly true for Cerrone on Saturday night.
A victory would set up a possible mega-fight against featherweight champion Conor McGregor, who has expressed an interest in moving up to lightweight capture a second belt.
Cerrone is well aware that fight could be on the horizon.
“That’s big talk. I do talk about it and people think that means I’m overlooking this fight. Absolutely not,” Cerrone said. “Conor did his job, an awesome job, and went out there and did what he had to do. I need to go do my job on Saturday before we can even talk about him and I. It sounds good. I’d love to talk about it, but I have to hold up my end of the bargain first.”
That would mean avenging a loss against dos Anjos, who won a unanimous decision against Cerrone in August 2013.
Cerrone has reeled off eight straight wins since, eschewing traditional beliefs about how to prepare for a fight. The 32-year-old has been known to wakeboard and waterski during fight weeks and typically road trips to events with his friends from the ranch he trains at just outside of Albuquerque, N.M.
He’s not about to change anything up just because a belt is on the line Saturday.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “As far as getting ready and preparing, it doesn’t feel any different than any other fight. People always say, ‘You’ve got to be out there training and being more serious.’ They don’t understand, you can’t just be training 20 hours a day.
“You can not do it.”
True to form, Cerrone drove to Orlando this week. He was in Las Vegas over the weekend taking care of media obligations, but flew to New Orleans to meet up with his friends who had gotten a head start on the trip in Cerrone’s RV.
It didn’t go smoothly.
The crew encountered a blown bearing in the clutch fan and had to find a shop in Alabama that would allow them a place to fix it.
“That’s why I always leave early because you never know. We always leave early and just experience the drive and have fun, but we had to tear the motor apart and replace it,” he said. “We found a little truck stop. They charged me to work on my own bus. How about that?”
He hopes it’s not an omen for his rematch against dos Anjos.
The champion, who will be defending the belt for the first time on Saturday after winning it with a unanimous decision victory over Anthony Pettis in March, is singularly focused.
“A lot of things changed in my life, but I’m still the same guy and the same fighter,” he said after his workout. “I’m still training hard and have that desire to become a legend. We know the lightweight title changes a lot, but I’m looking forward to trying to hold it for a long time, stay humble and keep my mind open to learning to new things.”
While dos Anjos has been on an impressive run of his own to capture the belt, he enters the fight with far less fanfare.
In fact, the challenger’s photo is much more prominent on the event’s official poster and dos Anjos keeping the title would take a great deal of luster off McGregor’s potential move to lightweight as he just isn’t as marketable as Cerrone.
“I think my job is to keep training hard and keep beating people. I don’t really care about that other stuff, it’s just marketing,” dos Anjos said “Maybe one day I’ll be big on the poster, but I’ll just keep doing what I have to do.”
That starts with defeating Cerrone again, a task dos Anjos doesn’t expect to be easy.
“This is the fIrst time I’ve had a rematch. It’s a new fight. Donald is on an 8-fight win streak since then,” he said. “It’s been two years and we’ve both changed a lot. He’s dangerous. He’s a finisher with good standup and a ground game, so I have to be careful. But if I’m fighting the No. 1 contender or No. 30, I’m going to train the same way. It’s not like because I beat him before, I’m going to train less or something. I trained hard and we’re going to put on a good show on Saturday.”
Cerrone hopes it plays out differently. If it does, he’ll be champion. Regardless of how important he thinks that is, he does admit one moment will be very special.
“I get to hand it to my grandma,” he said. “That would be cool. That would mean everything to me.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj