If UFC lightweight contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone’s hunch is correct, a conversation that started over a cold beer might end up being responsible for a significant change in the sport of MMA.
“I was at Texas Motor Speedway, and we were drinking beer with some NASCAR drivers,” Cerrone told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I didn’t know who Kevin Harvick was at the time, but they were handing out Michelob Ultra. I was like, ‘Man, who’s the Budweiser guy? Let’s get that guy over here with some beer.’ Kevin was like, ‘That’s actually me,’ and he brought a case out. That’s how we met.”
The two have maintained a friendship over the past few years, with Cerrone often seeking Harvick’s advice on professional matters. As the conversations increased, Cerrone sought a more formal arrangement.
“We just got to talking, and I was like, ‘Maybe you should help me out,’” Cerrone said.
Harvick, a 21-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and his wife, DeLana, are co-owners of Kevin Harvick Inc., which recently shifted its focus from racing operations to professional athlete management. Cerrone joins NASCAR’s Harvick and Jeff Burton, and pro golfer Jason Gore as KHI-represented athletes.
“We’ve been looking for that next niche, and I think we’re kind of dabbling our toe in the water to make sure we get the foundation set up right,” Harvick said of his first MMA client. “We’ll look to develop good relationships and see where it goes from there.”
Cerrone (20-5 MMA, 7-2 UFC), ranked No. 11 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA lightweight rankings, thinks KHI brings a level of professionalism and experience in dealing with blue-chip sponsors. By bringing them into the sport, he thinks it could prove beneficial not only to his own cause but also to his fellow fighters, whose income is often significantly impacted by sponsorship agreements.
“That’s what I think we need in the sport,” Cerrone said. “We don’t need, ‘Hey, my brother knows a little bit about fighting. He can manage you.’ I see a lot of that in the fight game — guys that know nothing but think they can make a dime by just managing people, and it’s crazy to see. In the NFL, you don’t just have your uncle call up the NFL and say, ‘Oh, I need to do a Nike deal.’ That happens a lot in MMA.
“I’m really excited and looking forward to what new sponsorships KHI can bring. If they bring a big sponsor for me, it opens it up for everybody, just like Jon Jones did with Nike. Hopefully we’ll see new sponsors come into the sport and maybe new agencies and representatives as well.”
Cerrone is scheduled to face Rafael dos Anjos (19-6 MMA, 8-4 UFC) on Aug. 28 at a UFC on Fox Sports 1 event at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Harvick is expected to attend.
“The most important thing is to make sure we do this right in the beginning,” Harvick said. “It’s going to be fun, and we’re looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get to Indianapolis to watch ‘Cowboy’ fight.”
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(Pictured: Kevin Harvick)