Almost lost in the afterglow of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s dominant performance over Dustin Poirer at UFC 242, and the subsequent confirmation that Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal would headline UFC 244 in November for the made-up "BMF" title, is that there’s a pretty decent chance the Fight of the Year might be happening this Saturday night.
Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone will square off against Justin "The Highlight" Gaethje in a battle of 155-pound contenders in Vancouver.
Fans and aficionados were pretty much a universal chorus in the singing of praises on social media about the fight being made when it was first announced back in July, and even the most seasoned combat sportswriters are still excited about the potential of Cerrone-Gaethje turning out to be something special.
"If ever there was a fight that had the potential to be Fight of the Night, Fight of the Year, Fight of the Decade, Fight of the UFC History, it is this one," wrote Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole wrote.
Heck, even the main event participants seem to have some epic expectations heading into battle.
"I think it’s just my way of life," Cerrone told Bleacher Report. "It’s my way of living. I go, go, go, and this fight falls right into that."
"I’m excited for the challenge," Gaethje added during a recent media scrum captured on video by MMAFighting.com. "I want to fight the best in the world, and [against Cerrone] I’m fighting the best in the world."
Gaethje went so far as to say in the same interview that facing Cerrone was his dream fight. At the end of the night it might turn out to be everyone’s dream fight.
No disrespect to Diaz and Masvidal, but Cerrone, 36, from Denver, is the UFC’s original "BMF" gangster. Not only was he probably the first fighter to consistently throw that phrase around the company with any regularity, but this dude has backed it up in every conceivable way for almost a decade now.
Cerrone has more wins at 23 than anyone else in UFC history and is second in total number fights at 33. Additionally, he’s earned the most bonuses out of anyone in the promotion's history at 18, including six of them for Fight of the Night.
But maybe the most "BMF" thing of all is that he has no plans to stop adding to that list of impressive accolades anytime soon.
"I’m just gonna go until they tell me I can’t do it anymore," said Cerrone.
Cerrone also has the most finishes in UFC history at 16 and lives at a place called the BMF Ranch, where he rides motorcycles, corrals snakes and battles friends on a homemade paintball field he designed himself.
Cerrone is so "BMF" that he gave his firstborn son Danger as a middle name.
It might as well been Cerrone’s middle name, too, or, for that matter, his opponent’s this weekend. Gaethje, the 30-year-old knockout machine originally from Arizona but now living and training in Colorado, is a former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion and has won 17 of his 20 professional fights by knockout.
"What I do is not for the faint of heart, but I’m a different breed," Gaethje said during the media scrum. "I was born and raised and bred to do this."
Come to think of it, Gaethje isn’t far off from warranting "BMF" status, too. For a guy with such strong wrestling credentials, he seems to do his best to keep his fights in a place where he can stand on his feet and end things with his hands. And it has worked for him because Gaethje has become a human highlight reel. He’s a tremendous striker with only one speed, and that speed is super-fast. Gaethje is the type who either knocks his opponent out or tries so hard to do it that he gets knocked out himself.
"I win and lose in one way," Gaethje said in the media scrum. "And that’s either putting them to sleep or putting it on the line and going to sleep [myself]."
Cerrone-Gaethje is an intriguing spectacle of sure-fire violence. It’s hard to envision it not being anything but an epic clash between two fighters who are about one thing: beating up the other guy at any cost.
Heading into the fight, Cerrone is generally considered to have the more technical approach, while Gaethje’s methods seem more like he just found out his opponent spit in this mother's face and then laughed about it after she started crying.
But as with any prefight prognostication, that’s probably an oversimplified codification of something more complex. After all, Cerrone has torn through plenty of opponents with his own high-octane brand of excitement, and Gaethje admitted he’s been trying to fight smarter as of late after suffering consecutive knockout losses to Eddie Alvarez in December 2017 and Poirier a little over four months later.
"I really changed the way I fight after I took those two losses," Gaethje said. "I was able to go back to the drawing board, and if you go back and watch, you’ll see I’m dropping when it comes to strikes per minute. I’ve got to pick my shots, and my main focus is to not get hit. I haven’t gotten hit the last two fights, and that’s my goal on Saturday night. But Cowboy is great, and I can’t diminish what he’s done or who he is."
For his part, Cerrone said Gaethje’s style hadn’t changed as much as the fighter claims and that his hyper-aggressive work rate would ultimately be the path to Cerrone’s victory.
"He’s unorthodox and kind of sloppy," Cerrone said. "I’m more technically sound, and I think I can counter his mistakes."
But whatever happens this weekend, whether Cerrone is correct about his ability to capitalize on Gaethje’s mistakes or the younger fighter is able to overwhelm the elder statesman of the lightweight division like he’s done so many times before, MMA fans are in for a real treat this weekend.
Cerrone and Gaethje are bonafide threats to give fans the most action-packed and compelling fight of the entire year. And that there’s no special made-up UFC belt to give the winner after the fight is over is fitting, if you think about it.
Unlike the special "BMF" title belt the UFC will create for the winner of Diaz-Masvidal for their fight later this year, Cerrone and Gaethje aren’t mere representations of a concept that can’t be captured outside the medium of flesh and blood.
These guys are the real thing, and all of that will be displayed this weekend in Vancouver.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.