For years, New Mexico’s Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone kept telling the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world, “I know a guy.”
For the fan-favorite fighter who trains at his BMF Ranch in Edgewood, it became part catchphrase, part rallying cry — a gentle, but always-present reminder that he was always available whenever the UFC needed a game fighter to challenge a star on short notice, fill an opening on a pay-per-view card or generally just show up to entertain the fans.
The UFC got the message.
A month ago, MMA interest in the main and co-main events for Saturday’s UFC 238 pay per view in Chicago weren’t exactly trending in the direction the company wanted. So, despite Cerrone having just gone five rounds on May 4 in Canada in a dominant unanimous-decision victory over Al Iaquinta, one of the world’s top-ranked lightweights, the UFC picked up the phone.
Cerrone, on a post-fight vacation at the time in Mexico with his wife and infant son, immediately agreed to a fight with former interim lightweight UFC champion Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson — a fight many in MMA media have dubbed “the People’s Main Event” of UFC 238.
“(They) needed to spice up this card,” Cerrone told the Journal. “And they’re calling us the real main event. They put us on to save the card. That’s cool.”
But there’s more riding on the fight than just a possible pay-per-view save.
Both Cerrone (36-11-0), the former Jackson-Wink MMA fighter, and Ferguson (24-3), who is on an 11-fight win streak and only lost his interim belt due to an injury, agree that the winner deserves the next 155-pound title shot against the winner of champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Porier at UFC 242 in September.
“There’s no question,” Cerrone said. “It’s undeniable.”
The UFC hasn’t said the winner gets a title shot. And in the lightweight division, there’s always the possibility of a Conor McGregor fight — something that Cerrone and McGregor have said they’ve wanted for years, but to which McGregor, the former champ, ultimately has never agreed.
Now, Cerrone says that ship has sailed.
At 36, Cerrone says all he wants now is a championship belt — something that has eluded him despite him having more wins and finishes than any fighter in UFC history.
“Conor had his shot,” Cerrone told a media scrum in Chicago on Thursday. “Sit your ass down now, (expletive, referring to McGregor).”
Ferguson has had the same sentiment about McGregor all week, saying a title shot is the only option he sees fit for the winner in Chicago.
Despite only one fight since October 2017 due to injury and personal issues outside of the sport, Ferguson is on an 11-fight win streak and is quick to remind he lost his interim belt due to injury, not defeat.
Ferguson, 35, is arguably as unorthodox a fighter as there is in the UFC, and the betting favorite to beat Cerrone. Not that such things are new.
Cerrone hasn’t been the betting favorite in any of his past three fights, each of which he won in convincing fashion — a unanimous decision over Iaquinta, who was a -154 betting favorite; a second-round head kick TKO over Alexander Hernandez (-225); and a first round arm bar submission of then Jackson-Wink fighter Mike Perry (-220).
Ferguson is known for coming forward aggressively at opponents, forcing the action even if at times putting himself in vulnerable positions. Cerrone is known as a high-action fighter, too, which is why the matchup has so many fans excited about the potential of a memorable battle.
“I’m the guy they call,” Cerrone said. “They know.”