UFC 246 preview: Cowboy Cerrone-Conor McGregor fight puts Kevin Harvick in spotlight

Kevin Harvick is a force as a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, but he’s also the driving force behind one of his off-track ventures in KHI Management.

The full-service sports and celebrity marketing agency — and NASCAR national series team once upon a time —  has allowed the championship-winning driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to branch out into different business opportunities, representing clients ranging anywhere from his fellow competitors (Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon, Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) to broadcasters (Shannon Spake) to golfers, motocross stars and more.

Harvick also represents an elite athlete that many across the country will be tuning in to see Saturday night in Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

RELATED: Kevin Harvick’s career highlights

The UFC’s all-time winner Cerrone (36-13-0, one no-contest, +215 underdog) will hit the octagon this weekend in UFC 246 just outside Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena to square off in a welterweight bout with former UFC Featherweight and Lightweight champion Conor McGregor (21-4, -280 favorite), who is making his long-awaited return after a 15-month hiatus.

Two of the sport’s most electric and outspoken figures will capture the attention of the masses on Saturday night. It’s a moment that will only help solidify Harvick’s side hustle which, over the years, has looked more and more like where his full-time passion might lie after the 44-year-old’s racing days are up.

Our business model is a lot different than a lot of agencies because we cross-promote our athletes amongst each other with our sponsors,” Harvick told NASCAR.com Thursday afternoon. “Donald has branched out to do a lot of things from a personal services side and he’s just a good person that really has bought into our model. He’s actually our original client and really the reason that KHI Management started was because of Donald Cerrone and him asking the question ‘Why couldn’t you represent me?’ That’s really what started our company, just drinking a beer beside the bus at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s evolved from that into what it is today; he’s responsible for the management company even starting.”

Knowing how crucial his small faction of clients has been to his business successes, Harvick doesn’t hesitate to pump them up any chance he can.

KHI has been on the ground in Vegas this week as well, following along as the moments unfold between Cerrone and McGregor. Harvick and wife DeLana, an invaluable resource in KHI’s business management, are expected to host 140 people and 11 sponsors at the event this weekend.

It’s little things like that — overwhelming support for your biggest client on one of the greatest stages of his career — that help the small-statured, big-minded KHI stand out as an attractive destination for athletes far and wide across several disciplines.

“Sometimes I feel like there’s a lot of things that the really big agencies can do for you if you’re a really big athlete and a really big household name, but most of us aren’t that,” said the 2014 Cup Series champ. “For us, it’s a little bit different world. I’d refer to us as a boutique agency just because of the fact that we’re a lot smaller and it’s something that is run based upon the things that I’ve experienced and gone through and refined through the years.”

Wednesday’s press conference for Cerrone and McGregor was expected to be a bit fierier between the two strong-headed competitors after a serious jawing between them at a 2015 news conference — when they weren’t even slated to fight each other.

It appears McGregor has a sincere appreciation for his counterpart, however, as the press conference was fairly subdued and without drama.

“It’s hard not to respect Donald right now at this stage,” McGregor said, according to ESPN. “He has my respect. And although there will be blood spilled on Jan. 18, it will not be bad blood.”

So where does that leave things heading into the fight? While Harvick is hesitant to make any sort of prediction on Saturday’s winner — he’s admittedly biased and careful with his forecasting, he noted — he’s comfortable with the work Cerrone has put in to put himself in the best possible position to succeed.

“I feel good about where Cowboy’s at, the things he’s done, where he’s at mentally,” Harvick said. “I think, obviously, he’s fighting a tough opponent. There’s a lot of things that come with fighting Conor that aren’t like fighting with other people, just with all the outside noise. I think Cowboy’s dealt with that well. Watching the press conference, there’s obviously a lot of respect between them. They’re both pretty experienced guys, but in fighting it usually comes down to a moment. Sometimes you’re on the right side, sometimes you’re on the wrong. … We’re confident in Donald and the things that he’s done and love being a part of his team.”

And as the 36-year-old Cerrone is likely nearing the final rounds of his fighting career, it appears the bell has just rung on a long and prosperous stretch for Harvick’s KHI Management group.

“It’s definitely turned into a real business accidentally,” Harvick said. “… It’s not something that’s going to go away any time soon because of the way that it has morphed into what it is today and we’re going to keep trying to grow in ways that let us still be small and capitalize on opportunities. That’s really the way it started.”

UFC 246 goes down Saturday night with prelims starting at 6:15 p.m. ET and the main card starting at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.