When Kerry left in September, I had planned to go back to dorms but following an outing to the lake with Cowboy and the ranch guys, I decided to stay at the mid-construction BMF Ranch.
Cowboy is my favourite fighter of all time so when the opportunity to stay at the ranch came up. Initially, I thought I was dreaming (pinch me) and I couldn’t wait to train there. I started watching him in the WEC days and have been a fan since he beat the brakes off Jamie Warner in their second fight. In that bout, he was a prime example of how I wanted to fight.
Fighters should be looking to finish and put on an exciting show, not cruise for the round then score a takedown in the last ten seconds. Donald exudes a ‘don’t give a fuck, come to fight’ attitude which sets fans on fire and gets them out of their seats. He is one of the most exciting and active fighters in combat sports history because he stays ready and backs himself enough to take on anyone. Although his demeanor can come across as arrogant, he is a humble sportsman who will acknowledge his part in defeat and honour his opponents; his bravado is backed by experience and is an accurate self-assessment based on his long and successful career in the sport with the most wins and finishes in the UFC.
These attributes are what I measure myself against, I want that composure and confidence in the arena and I’m working on developing that finishing power.
I thought Cowboy was kidding but true to his word, he let me stay for the rest of my camp and train with him. Throughout my stay, he was preparing for his UFC fight against Darren Till. I felt unbelievably lucky to have an insider view on how he conducted his camp. Cowboy had flown in his coaches; Pedro Camberos (Muay Thai) and Hector Munoz (BJJ) so everyone was on Cowboy time and we did everything together. I remember Brandon Gibson saying to a few of us younger fighters that we had no idea of the sacrifice and hard work that went into the creation of the BMF Ranch and not to waste this opportunity. He didn’t have to say it twice. I was literally taking notes whilst Joe Schilling, Izzy Martinez and Johny Hendricks were in the house.
My conditioning got to the next level working with Lawrence Herrera who is Cowboy's conditioning coach and business partner at the Performance Ranch. I added in swimming to my training regimen, doing dive sprints and conditioning with Jesse at Sandia High. Combined with living in Edgewood which sits at a slightly higher elevation to Albuquerque. I felt in great shape and couldn’t wait to fight.
In the mornings, Cowboys coaches and training partners would go to Jacksons for sparring so we drove down in the van. Edgewood was a 40-minute drive to the gym. If I was commuting on my own for a different session, I would normally blast the tunes to get pumped to train. I didn’t mind that the ranch was a bit remote, I liked the journey time home to decompress after training. BMF Ranch fighter Juan ‘The Demon’ Gonzales and his partner Martha, help run the ranch and were kind enough to lend me their car, which I was more confident in than Cowboy’s old green truck.
Donald is a real-life action man, and life at the ranch is full on. In between training sessions, there isn’t really downtime. He would always be working on the ranch, the BMF Ranch motto is ‘Built by Fighters for Fighters’. I’m the first to admit that I’m not very handy but they showed me how to use a drill and I ‘helped’ lay the foundation of the wood fire sauna they were building... one scew-whiff nail at a time. I spent more time with a kitten in my lap than a drill in my hand though. They had a litter of kittens, the biggest was Gata (meaning cat in Spanish) some had died but I named the other two survivors, Little Boots because one had white feet and Prince as he was the only male. There was a wholesome country feel to the ranch with the farm animals, horses and dogs that balanced out the bad mother fuckery.
Cowboy's slogan, ‘Shit, live a life worth living’ is a hundred percent how he lives. Life doesn’t stop during fight camp. We would head to the lake and go wake surfing in Santa Rosa. I was pretty stoked to be able to stand up the first time but funnily enough, on repeat outings didn’t manage it. I think the first time I must have had a patient captain setting off slowly.
They also did cliff jumping at the lake and I went off for the first time in years. I used to dive as a kid from a 16 ft board but in my adult life had a cliff jumping related injury which messed up my shoulders (see Exhibit A).
I got to the top, peered over the edge, worrying about what massive rocks could be under the surface and Cowboy bypassed me then asked if I was scared. He didn't hesitate and threw himself off, like a lemming, I followed him but let out the girliest scream ever. This was not the first time I would cramp the bad mother fuckers style.
Cowboy said he was worried, I was gonna shoot one of them in the head, after I told him about my indoor range, shooting the roof debacle so I didn’t end up going with them to Founders Ranch for the sporting clays course. I did go on a bow hunt for turkeys one morning which was pretty cool; getting up early and dressing in camouflage, then tracking this rafter of Turkeys (I had to google the term for a group of Turkeys, I have no idea if hunters actually go looking for ‘rafters’).
It was Summer so most days it was good weather to put ‘knees in the breeze’ and ride out to a local spot and grab a beer. One day we rode out to Madrid, where some scenes from the film Wild Hogs were recorded. I didn’t ride so I had to travel as a backpack. I was forbidden from driving a car to follow them and could only roll out in the Polaris Slingshot but being a dork, I refused for fear of crashing it and not being able to pay for repairs (stay in your financial lane!). Everything looks better from a bike, I’ve always wanted one myself and I resolved to do my test back in Australia.
It wasn’t all fun and games, whatever time we got back from outings, we would still train. It took me a little while to settle into ranch life, I have a tendency to be very rigid and tried to hide my OCD which was constantly triggered as Cowboy made up his schedule like a King. Aside from this, he is such a down to earth guy. You definitely need thick-skin to hang at the ranch. They would make fun of me for dumb stuff I did in training but then help me improve. I messed up a takedown in sparring resulting in pulling the girl on top of me, for the rest of my time there if anyone fucked up, it was slated as 'to do a Nat’.
Prior to booking my trip, I had been in touch with One Championship, they had a lot of shows lined up so I raced back to the States to get ready for my next match. I had hoped to get on the Shanghai card in particular but two months in, I still had no fight news. I took all the money from my business to fund my training camp, on my return to Sydney, I would have to start all over again. Cowboy gave me some sage advice and told me to 'avoid doing that' (starting all over again / not having a safety net). Unfortunately, as a self-funded fighter, I didn’t really have much choice at the time, I just wanted to put myself in the best position to win my next fight. I have no regrets as the whole experience was priceless.
I had come for the maximum length of time of 90 days which may have raised a red flag and contributed to my tougher than normal interrogation at the airport. I was questioned about my financial support for my trip and border control even went through my phone messages. Going as far as to word search ‘work’ in my WhatsApp and Hotmail inboxes! I had nothing to hide but the whole process was deeply intrusive #phrasing and I was incredibly embarrassed due to the content of my group chats which I blame my inappropriate friends for.
‘I left Sydney and quit my office job to remove the doubts, what ifs, excuses and basically fear I had about doing this ‘MMA thing’ full time. I’ve got two weeks left here n my ESTA and still no visa update or fight news! Instead of freaking out, the reality is that I will be going back to work, save up and do this all over again but #noregrets. I’m having the time of my lie and getting better all the time. Life rarely works out as planned, I’m learning the trick is to keep grinding and smiling through it all’.
Coincidentally, whilst still waiting to be matched during my final weeks in NM. I couldn’t have actually fought due to getting knocked out in sparring. My last two weeks consisted of much more leisurely activities, including the infamous NM Balloon fiesta; unfortunately, this was a flop, with strong winds making it impossible to actually launch. The field looked quite sad with deflated or half-mast balloons on the ground.
Cowboy flew out to Boston with his corner before the fight and the ranch was quiet with everyone away. The rest of us watched Cowboy VS Till together at the ranch.
My favourite time of day at the ranch was the morning when no one was awake apart from the animals and I would have my coffee on the porch swing. It was always a surreal moment for me, wondering 'how did I get here?' but taking it as a sign I was on the right path. Living and training alongside my favourite fighter, learning from the best. This spot and headspace always set the tone for a good day and is a time I will always be grateful for and remember.