Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone may be retired from the octagon, but his life as a hunter, off-roadracer, and movie star is just getting started.
A Hunting Cowboy
It’s Tuesday, and Cowboy Cerrone is about to tear some shit apart.
What he’s about to destroy, however, is not another fighter, as he did during his nearly 11 years as one of the most prolific fighters in UFC history. Nor is he obliterating a pheasant or a turkey, his favorite birds to hunt while pursuing another one of his passions—bird hunting.
Today, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is about to do a number on some drywall, and he’s headed to Home Depot. “I’m about to buy some doors and windows and tear apart some of my house, then rebuild it,” he says as his truck rumbles through the desert highways of New Mexico. “I do everything myself.”
Since retiring from the UFC in July 2022, Cowboy Cerrone has been doing a lot more than home improvement. On any given day you can find the MMA legend four wheeling, bird hunting, or target shooting his way through retirement. Though he’s given up the fight game, his new life is no less exciting.
A storied warrior teaches young fighters a new art
During his 11-year career in UFC, Cowboy Cerrone became known as a fighter who’d take on any opponent, anywhere, anytime. Though he never held a title, his fierce fighting style notched him a record 18 post-fight bonuses. He also holds the record for knockdowns with 20, ranks second all-time in wins with 23, and third in fights with 38. His career spanned stretches where he fought nearly once a month, a feat almost unheard of in any combat sport.
Then following a loss to Jim Miller in July, Cowboy hung up his gloves boasting a career that will likely never be duplicated. “It was time,” he says. “I just couldn’t keep up with the young bucks anymore.”
While fighting, Cerrone gained notoriety for running the BMF Ranch outside Albuquerque, where MMA hopefuls from all over the world would come to train. During his time running the ranch, he began shooting and hunting in the surrounding mountains as a break from the rigors of training. “It broke up the monotony of training and worrying about a fight every day,” he says. “We’d go out and shoot, go out and hunt, and just get our minds and bodies away from training all the time.”
For Cerrone, who grew up hunting, taking a morning off to shoot pheasant was a pleasant break. But for fighters from places like New York and Detroit, where bird hunting didn’t mean much other than throwing rocks at pigeons, it was the experience of a lifetime. “My favorite part was teaching new people who’ve never done it,” he says. “It’s all foreign to them. Getting them dressed in the gear, getting them to pull the trigger on their first duck or turkey, and seeing that excitement. Then they just talk about it all the way home.”
Studying animals and shooting guns
Teaching a new art outside the octagon to young fighters was rewarding for Cowboy. But even though the BMF ranch isn’t doing MMA training anymore, it’s still going strong. Cerrone is raising cattle and buffalo and finds the daily chores of tending to large livestock easier than dealing with fighters. Or, as he put it, “It’s a lot less babysitting.”
Tending to the animals has also helped him in the field, as what Cowboy learned about animal behavior translates remarkably to hunting birds. “You learn the dynamics of animals, how they react to you, to the food, the time of day,” he says. “They wake up, they find water, you find out the livelihood of species.”
Cowboy is a bird guy through and through, hunting pheasants, ducks, and turkeys in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and New Mexico. And though he doesn’t hunt larger game, he’ll still happily join his father or friends on a deer or elk hunt for the fun of it.
Pigs, he says, are another issue. Henry, one of Cowboy’s sponsors, recently built him a new 45-70 with thermal sights, especially designed for pig hunting. “Eradicating is probably the better word,” he adds.
The self-styled firearm aficionado also has a short shooting range on his ranch, where you’ll frequently find him shooting everything from hand guns to mid-range rifles.|
The years of punching bags, mitts, and people have done a number on Cowboy’s wrists, so when he’s target shooting he’s limited to a 9mm with quarter and half loads to minimize the recoil. “If I shot a .45, I could do half a magazine before my wrists are gone,” he admits.
For mid-range target shooting, he’s a fan of .22s, especially the custom-designed rifle Henry made for him emblazoned with his son’s name as the serial number, and engraved with some of Cowboy’s famous mantras like “Live a life worth living.”
“We can also shoot damn near almost anything with a .22,” he says, “and I can shoot thousands of rounds of ammo, and it only costs us like 12 dollars.”
Not that the man who regularly collected six figures per fight is hurting for cash, but he also reloads his own shotgun shells like he’s a dad teaching kids the value of money. Cowboy’s motivation for reusing shells isn’t financial, nor does he find it a meditative escape from his family like so many men who retreat for hours to the garage. Instead, it’s out of precaution. “I got into reloading because I wanted to learn the art in case something happened,” he says. “Then something did happen during COVID, you couldn’t find primers, you couldn’t find black powder. You couldn’t just go down to Bass Pro Shops and buy ammo. I had a surplus, so we shot mine, but if the world ever shuts down I have the art.”
He also says he can ensure the consistency of his shells so he knows exactly how true his shot patterns will be. Commercial ammo, he says, doesn’t have the same guarantee.
“Guns aren’t the problem,” he says, “it’s the idiots who don’t know gun safety. My four-year-old knows gun safety, and having that knowledge around is very important.”Cowboy Cerrone
Cowboy’s love of firearms also extends to the kids camp he runs at the ranch, where gun safety is an integral part of the education he imparts to underprivileged youth. “Guns aren’t the problem,” he says, “it’s the idiots who don’t know gun safety. My four-year-old knows gun safety, and having that knowledge around is very important.”
From fighter to off-road racer and movie star
For two weeks prior to his Home Depot run, Cowboy was off-road racing CanAms, where he’s currently second in the series’ championship standings with two races left to go. After that, he’s pursuing his acting ambitions, flying to New York to film a romantic comedy for Amazon Prime, then to Thailand in January for a CIA-based action flick. “I wanna be the next action star of our time,” Cowboy says. “But I also want to widen my scope, let people know I’m not just a tough guy.”
His scope already includes an Amazon Prime feature called Project Legion, a supernatural thriller about a man trapped in his apartment as the world is taken over by demons. He’ll also star alongside fellow fighters Rampage Jackson and Chael Sonnen in the forthcoming Mojave Diamonds, a film about an MMA star rescuing his kidnapped family.
As he strives to make a career in Hollywood the way he did in the Octagon, Cowboy Cerrone is well on his way to forging a solid post-fighting life. But on the way to movie stardom and off-road racing championships, he still feels the irresistible pull of the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. And despite the beckoning doors and windows at Home Depot, he pulls off to stop for breakfast. “Number four with a sausage biscuit and a Dr. Pepper,” he yells out the window to a person who has no idea the voice on the other end is one of the greatest legends in MMA history. “And a sweet tea. That’ll do it.”