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Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone ready for title shot against UFC champion Rafael dos Anjos despite unusually long layoff

In this Jan. 2, 2015, file photo, lightweight

In this Jan. 2, 2015, file photo, lightweight fighter Donald Cerrone gestures during the weigh-in for UFC 182 in Las Vegas. Rafael Dos Anjos defends his UFC lightweight title belt against Cerrone in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, Dec. 19, in a meeting of two fighters who traveled lengthy roads to their showdown. Credit: AP / L.E. Baskow

Donald Cerrone grudgingly acknowledged he would have to take several months off this year between his eighth consecutive UFC victory and his first shot at the lightweight title while champion Rafael Dos Anjos recovered from injury.

That’s a standard schedule for top-level mixed martial artists, who don’t share Cerrone’s insatiable desire to fight several times every year.

There is nothing standard about the thrill-seeking, beer-drinking, extreme-sports-loving, life-maximizing fighter known to all as Cowboy — and Cerrone used his spare time as only he can.

“I took on a bunch of new hobbies, and they cost me a lot of money, so I’ve got to make some more,” Cerrone said. “I took up scuba diving, and my next big thing is BASE jumping. I spent a week in Orlando getting certified for that, so after this fight, I’m excited to see Cowboy in his wingsuit.”

Cerrone (28-6) started off the year by fighting twice in 16 days, but he’ll end it in Orlando on Saturday night by taking on Dos Anjos (24-7) for the UFC 155-pound title. The Fox show at Amway Center also features former heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos’ showdown with Alistair Overeem and a lightweight bout between Nate Diaz and Michael Johnson.

Cerrone styles himself as a good-ol’-boy who would rather be drinking Budweiser on his ranch in New Mexico, but an intellectual curiosity propels his thrill-seeking behavior. The Colorado native started kickboxing professionally because he wanted to travel the world, and his excursions from Japan to Morocco eventually led him to UFC stardom — with a few knocks along the way.

The former professional bull rider is also an avid wakeboarder, gun enthusiast and rock climber. He has broken his back twice, and he was once disemboweled by the handlebars of his all-terrain vehicle, losing a section of his intestines and stomach after a 60-foot jump gone very wrong.

He injured his ankle badly before a bout 2 1/2 years ago, but still beat KJ Noons by unanimous decision. He hasn’t had a serious pre-fight injury since then.

Cerrone realizes that his boss, UFC President Dana White, could be understandably curious about his popular fighter’s life choices.

“Me and Dana have a pretty good understanding,” Cerrone said. “He just kind of lets me be me. I’ve never pulled out of a fight, never not showed up to fight, so injured or not, I’m coming. It’s a relaxed intensity I’ve got to live my life in.”

Cerrone also flouts the standard fight-sports wisdom about allowing his body to recover from the training grind. He has fought four times in each of the past three years, declaring himself more interested in fattening his bank account than taking the belt.

But his winning streak and his subsequent rise up the lightweight rankings finally did what fatigue, beer and broken backs never could: They forced Cowboy to slow down.

He hasn’t fought since May, when the UFC decided to keep him healthy for his title shot while Dos Anjos recovered slowly from a knee injury.

Dos Anjos beat Cerrone by unanimous decision in August 2013 — and Cerrone hasn’t lost since, piling up eight wins in a stunning 17-month span. The loss forced Cerrone to re-focus his training, and the results have been outstanding.

Yet he’s still Cowboy: After spending last weekend in Las Vegas for UFC 194, Cerrone and his friends drove their RV cross-country to the fight, even stopping for a full day along the way to get it fixed.

If he wins the title that he claims he never much wanted, Cerrone still plans to keep pushing the limits of life outside the cage.

“MMA makes you sore and tired every day,” Cerrone said. “I wonder what we’re going to be like when we’re 50 or 60. I wake up some mornings and just say, ‘Oh, God.’ And then I go scuba diving.”

New York Sports