We recently spent the day with UFC fighter, former bull rider, thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie, husband, and father Cowboy Cerrone on his ranch in New Mexico. Our biggest takeaway from our day with Cowboy is that he is a man who lives with purpose.
Do you see a connection between bull riding and fighting? “The biggest connection that I can tell you between bull riding and fighting would be on fight night. When you’ve taken your draw and you know which bull is yours and they’ve got them loaded in the chute and you’re not worried about what the guy in front of you is riding, or what the guy behind you is riding. You’re right there and you’re focused on your bull and what’s going on. Same thing fight night. You’re not worried about the fights that are happening before you or the fights that are happening after you. You’re tuned in to what you got to do.”
How old were you when you started riding bulls? “16, 17. Any bull that anyone would let me get on, I’d get on. Paid $15 bucks and I’d get on. It was so fun. And some days there wouldn’t be any clowns or anybody so my buddies we’d all just do it for each other. And just stand out there and [fight for your buddies]. And then I started getting into MMA and I started bringing in all those guys. I’d put them on a bull. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the comradery that you get. The brotherhood of all jumping in a truck and going from one rodeo to the next.”
How did you get into MMA? “I just used to fight a lot, at the bars and wherever having fun and then a buddy of mine was kickboxing at the time and he said ‘man you sure like fighting. Come try this kick boxing sh** out.’ And I remember going out the first day and I was like “this is it!” And I took my first fight two weeks later and I never turned back. I’ve been all around the world. I’ve kickboxed in every continent except Antarctica. Man, I used to take fights in three, four days’ notice. I’d fly to Japan on a Wednesday, get there on a Friday and fight. And love it, man.”
What was it like when you first started your MMA career? “When you’re first starting out it’s so hard to get fights. People are backing out, people get injured, and it’s really hard to connect the dots to get to the big show. Getting to the big show is hard and staying in the big show is harder. There was a point in my career when I was like, I’m going to give it one more year. If not I got to go find a real career and do something with my life instead of chase this pipe dream. Then it all happened that year: UFC here I am. Man, it was a fun ride.”
Do you miss those days? “That’s what I try to tell these young kids that are coming up now, don’t just pray for [the big show]. Enjoy this. This. Sleeping in the back of the truck while your buddy drives, that’s the sh** that you’re going to miss the most. Piling seven people in a hotel room because we can’t afford a room and three of us are fighting, those are the days, man. Traveling all over the world, that was so fun. I mean, the fame and the money I’m not complaining about. But back then, it was a ride. It was so fun, so fun. Your whole time all you want to do is get there. And then once you’re there you’re like, man, I wish I had that a little bit longer.”
How do you approach new fighters coming to your ranch to train?
“My favorite thing about new guys coming here, I try to pull soul away from training and fighting. Because a lot of these guys get in the zone and they think eight weeks of their life they got to turn off: oh I can’t go ride horses, oh I can’t go ride Harleys. I can’t drink. I can’t do this. I’m like, why? This is the time you’re going to miss the most. So why do we shut our life off right now, it’s just a fight. It’s just a sporting event. Winning or losing is a byproduct of performing well. That’s all it is. Don’t shut your life off. So I’m teaching these guys just how to live life. Go to the lake. Reset. Go have fun. And I see it resonating a lot through them. Look at me. I bullsh** all the time. And when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. It’s mental. Yeah we got to train, we got to be in shape. We got to be ready. We got to fine tune everything. But too much is too much.”
What have you learned over the years through experience? “I’ve definitely learned patience. Because the bell used to ring and I’d come in and try and rip your head off. And it’s hard to keep the gas tank full when you do that. So you know, my next fight’s 25 minutes long. Going full for 25 minutes, I don’t know a man in the world that can do it. So now you just kind of play the game. It’s called a relaxed intensity. So you’re calm until you don’t need to be.”
You train so hard but it’s all for that one ride or that one fight. “It’s so crazy to me how the bigger rides, when you’re riding for the points for the world title or you’re fighting for a world title, so much more pressure is on you. I wish there was a way you could just shake it off like any other day, like a practice day. Because you would kill it if you could get in that flow state like you do in practice. To be honest with you a lot of people are good at sports, but not many people can perform under the lights. Whether it be skiing, bike riding, bull riding—when the lights come on, being able to pull the trigger and make it still happen, that’s when you really see the good from the great.”
Is it about being focused? “You got to learn to do it on your worst day. Right? The days I wake up sore and tired, those are the days I try to train the hardest because I need to.”
How has having a kid changed your perspective? “I always thought that was a whole crock of sh** at first. I was like what do you mean a kid’s going to change you? And then that first night I was like, yep. It gives you something to fight for, as cliché as that sounds. But it hits home. I brought him in the last two fights. You want to talk about a primal feeling? I remember grabbing that boy and kissing him before I walked in two fights ago and thinking, there ain’t nothing you can do; there’s no way you’re going to beat me. You’re going to take food out of my family’s mouth? Nope. As soon as I grabbed him, the switch clicked and it was on such a primal level. So now [my son’s] got to be there for every [fight], you know what I mean?”
So what’s it all about at the end of the day? “For me, being the thrill seeking, adrenaline junkie that I am, I can’t reach that feeling other than that moment that I’m in the cage, man. Like everything I do outside is trying to reach that same moment. As cliché as it sounds, it’s all for the thrill of the ride. It really is. And I don’t mean the thrill of the fight, I mean this whole journey that we’re on: from when I was a kid just starting out, to now sitting here talking with you guys. I love it. I love the journey.”