On the sport’s biggest stage, the next step is always the most important of a fighter’s career. For Daniel Cormier, the aforementioned step will be his first as a UFC fighter and it will come with more expectation and attention than most have warranted in their Octagon debut.
Living up to the hype isn’t the issue for the former Olympian because he asked for the pressure. The Louisiana native could have easily entered the UFC fold with a mid-tier opponent and taken precautions to ensure the next chapter of his career was an all but guaranteed smooth transition.
But if you know anything about Cormier, then you understand his pursuits are motivated by a level of self-expectation to compete and achieve at the highest levels imaginable. And rather than test the waters of his new home in the UFC heavyweight division, the AKA-trained fighter is jumping directly into the deep end of the pool.
It’s Cormier’s desire to find out exactly where he stands amongst his peers and in order to clearly gauge his progress as a mixed martial artist, the 34-year-old wants a battle tested challenger who has stood where he one day hopes to be.
This Saturday night in San Jose, “DC” will square off with former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the co-main event at UFC on FOX 7. It is a matchup which pits one of the sport’s fastest rising heavyweights against a man who has proven to be one of the most dangerous fighters in the division.
The war of words between the two men in the pre-fight build-up has the tension meter running hot and with the stakes high for both heading into San Jose, the stage is set for Cormier to makes his first impression with the UFC fan base a memorable one.
“I’m just excited,” Cormier said. “I’ve been waiting and working really hard for this opportunity and it’s finally here. Some people never get the chance to get what I’m about to get – not only fighting in the UFC but on FOX. Co-headlining a big event against a former UFC champion, I couldn’t ask for more. I love big time competition and I’m just pumped up.
“Frank has talked and talked and he just does it over and over. He just likes to talk and I’m not sure if he actually thinks I’m not very good or he’s just trying to convince himself that he’s not in over his head. I don’t exactly know what the purpose is or his motivation behind it, but I’m a pretty level-headed guy. I’m not going to be so pissed off; I’m going to lose myself in this fight. I’m going to keep my head about me but that’s the beauty of our sport. He can talk and say whatever he wants, but on April 20th, he has to go inside that cage and back all those words up. If you don’t then it doesn’t look very good on your behalf.
“Obviously that aspect doesn’t bother Frank very much because he talked against Brock Lesnar and got his ass kicked,” Cormier added. “He’s still talking about Brock as a matter of fact. He talked about Shane Carwin and got beat up too. He’s still talking about Junior dos Santos after Junior beat him the way he did. Obviously talking trash and getting his ass kicked does nothing to his pride. I guess he can go out there and get beat up on and still feel pretty good about himself the next day.
“Normally you get beaten up on and it humbles you but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Frank Mir’s world. I don’t quite understand it, but at the end of the day he has to get in that cage and try to back all those words up he’s said about me.
“His comments actually show me he has no earthly idea what’s coming at him. It’s going to be a high pace. He’s going to have to wrestle. He’s going to have to grapple and I won’t give him any place to rest. I really do think he has no idea of what he is in for. The first mistake of fighting is not being respectful of your opponent and his comments have proved he doesn’t respect what I bring to the table. I respect Frank Mir as much as any person in the world for his skills, accomplishments and everything he has done. I’m not sure he feels the same way about me and that is going to make it a big eye opener when we step in that cage on April 20th.”
Since the early days of mixed martial arts, wrestling and jiu-jitsu have been two of the most dominant disciplines in the sport. Over the years there have been stretches where one has bested the other and vice versa, but as MMA and the fighters who compete have evolved, competitors from each discipline have been forced to adapt to the intricacies of the other.
With Cormier vs. Mir, the highest levels of both wrestling and jiu-jitsu will be on display. That being said, Cormier believes the man who is the better all-around fighter is the one who will emerge victorious this weekend in San Jose.
“The game changes and it’s much harder for a person with dominant skill to be successful and remain successful,” Cormier said. “We watched Georges St-Pierre fight recently against Nick Diaz and he beat him everywhere. He not only out-wrestled him but took it to him on his feet when they were standing. That is what you see nowadays. The guys who are at the top of the sport and continue to keep their spot there have no glaring holes in their games.
“Just because a guy is really good at jiu-jitsu doesn’t mean I have no jiu-jitsu. Whether or not I’m a white belt in jiu-jitsu, I’ve been grappling my entire life and jiu-jitsu is a form of grappling. I’ve done it my entire life and I understand positioning. I understand where my arms are. I understand where my feet are. Obviously we all make mistakes and when fighters make mistakes is when they get submitted. But if you look back at a lot of his submissions they aren’t very recent. I’m comfortable fighting him anywhere. I don’t think it’s my wrestling that will nullify a guy’s jiu-jitsu; I think it’s my understanding of grappling.
“The game changes but the rules aren’t much different,” Cormier continued. “You don’t get triangle choked if you don’t have one arm in and one arm out. That’s a fact. It’s harder to armbar you if you don’t put your hands on the mat on opposite sides of a guy. I think that is where you would see a lot of wrestlers get submitted a few years back because we would take people down and put our hands on the mat. Well don’t put your hands on the mat and it makes it a lot harder for a guy to armbar you or lock up a kimura.
“It’s all about hand positioning and posturing to do damage. You have to recognize where you can do damage. Listen, if I’m in Frank’s guard he has a better chance of doing something to me rather than if I was in half guard or in side control. There are some positions I can get myself to where I’m a little more safe. It’s not as easy as just taking a guy down and submitting them. Just like Josh Barnett told me. He said back in the day you could get leg locks and knee bars easy because nobody knew how to defend them. That isn’t the case anymore. We train in all positions and prepare for everything that can happen. Guys are way more skilled in all situations and that’s the truth. There is no way around it.”
As Cormier prepares to begin the next chapter of his career, it’s easy to forget that there aren’t very many chapters which have preceded it. He made his Strikeforce debut in September of 2009 and three and a half years later, he will step in against a top-ranked heavyweight for his UFC debut. Granted, in that short amount of time he wrecked shop through the Strikeforce Challengers Series and went on to win the Heavyweight Grand Prix, but on the larger scale, Cormier is very much a work in progress.
But it’s the process of that progression and the ingrained attributes which have carried over from his storied wrestling background which have allowed the former Oklahoma State standout to make such a large impact in a short amount of time. By all intents and purposes, Cormier is a workhorse who isn’t afraid to test himself against competition that resides at the level he desires to be.
It may seem like a bold move to some, but for Cormier – it is the only way he knows how to operate.
“I’m coming up on four years in this sport and I’m not sure if that’s considered young, but when I fought “Bigfoot” Silva I hadn’t even been fighting for two years yet,” Cormier said. “I hadn’t even been in the sport for two full years. I’m not talking about time training or having an amateur career. I had wrestled, took a year off to work in an office, started training in September and then I started fighting. Three weeks later I was fighting for Strikeforce.
“I fought a guy in Silva who is getting ready to fight for the UFC title and had been fighting for less than two years when we stepped into that cage. You have to improve with your competition. I didn’t have the luxury of an amateur career or a background in standup. I have a background in wrestling and I took those things and applied them to mixed martial arts. I took my work ethic and my ability to train consistently and applied it to what I’m doing in mixed martial arts.
“As my competition has gotten better, I hope that I’ve gotten better in the process. My coaches and people who see me on a daily basis have all told me that every time I step in to fight, I have looked better than the last time. That means something to me. The fans have noticed an improvement from fight to fight but the people around me every day see all the little things I’ve improved at since I began. Consistency is key -- but it is developed in the training room, not just in the cage.”
“This is a dream come true,” Cormier concluded about his UFC debut on Saturday night. “It’s awesome. I wanted to put myself in a position by winning fights, being as impressive as I can be, and competing at the best I possibly can so that when I did get to the show I wasn’t opening events on the preliminary card where people are just getting into the arena. I wanted to be there when the energy is up, it’s late in the card and people are excited to watch me and another great fighter fight. Or me and another person they recognize fight.
“This is the ideal situation and what I have prepared myself for. This is what my manager DeWayne Zinkin, Bob Cook and my team at AKA prepared me for. We all set a goal that when I reached this level I would be fighting in big fights. This is exactly the situation and scenario we envisioned. It is exactly where we think I need to be at this point in my career.”
Daniel Cormier: The Time for Talk is Over
"He can talk and say whatever he wants, but on April 20th, he has to go inside that cage and back all those words up." - Daniel Cormier