BJPenn.Com Exclusive: Daniel Cormier on Frank Mir, Josh Barnett and Fighting in the UFC
After Daniel Cormier defeated former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett and captured the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Championship, fans and media alike knew a star was born. In his last three fights Cormier has beaten Jeff Monson, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and of course Barnett. Those are three fighters who have a hell of lot more experience fighting in the cage than Cormier does, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in skill and sheer determination.
The 33-year-old native of Lafeyette, LA hasn’t had an easy time by any means. He lost a daughter in a car accident in 2003 and has had to deal with nagging injuries that come with competing at such a high level. He got into mixed martial arts at a late start because of his desire to compete in the Olympics which he did twice in 2004 and 2008. Despite the late introduction, Cormier has taken to the sport in the same manner he tackles everything else, with a vengeance.
As he prepares for the biggest fight of his career against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir sometime this fall, Cormier is finally feeling 100%. He believes he has finally found the answer to a recurring problem with his hand that he has broken on a few separate occasions.
“I broke my hand again during the Barnett fight and I had surgery in May,” Cormier told BJPenn.Com Radio. “I’m actually training at 100% again, but in hindsight I probably should’ve had the surgery after the Bigfoot Silva fight. We tried rehabbing it and after I took the cast off I re-broke it during training. I’ve broken the hand three times, once on Bigfoot’s head in September, I broke it on Luke Rockhold’s face in December and then I broke it on Barnett’s face in May! I broke it three times in less than a year, but I think we’ve finally corrected the problem.”
After defeating Barnett, Cormier stood inside the cage and let it all soak in. While he listened to his name being announced as the winner and Grand Prix Champion he thought back to a picture his nephew had taken a few years back and he knew that he had reached the pinnacle of the sport all the while beating a legitimate legend in Barnett.
“I can sum it up through a picture of my nephew posted on Facebook that was taken in 2009 of me & Bob Cook,” said Cormier. “We were in Chicago for the Brett Rogers-Fedor fight and it was the first time I got to see the Strikeforce title. Jason Miller was fighting Jake Shields for the middleweight championship and I was holding the belt standing next to Bob. When my nephew posted the picture it had a caption of goal accomplished and that pretty much sums up the feeling I had after being Barnett. It was something I dreamed of when I started fighting and I never knew it would come after defeating someone like Barnett, who I respect so much. That picture pretty much explains it all.”
With less than three years in the sport, Cormier’s ascension has come at a rapid pace, but while he never imagined it would happen in the manner it did and against the opponent he had just defeated, he was confident that he would be a champion at some point in his career.
“I think I was a little bit surprised at how quick all this has come about,” admitted Cormier. “I can sit here and tell you that I am not, but when I was in the cage watching Barnett walk in, I thought to myself, holy cow I’m about to fight Josh Barnett! That’s when you know it’s going fast, when I realized I was fighting Barnett I knew I was fighting at the top of the sport. I’m not surprised that I have been successful, but I am a little at how fast I’ve reached this level. I went from Devin Cole to Jeff Monson then on to Bigfoot Silva and finally Barnett. There was really no buffer zone; I went from hoping to be on the main card to fighting in the main event.”
Before Mir was announced as his last opponent in the Strikeforce Hexagon there were a few other names mentioned including former Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia. In fact, the media had gone as far as announcing that the match-up with Sylvia was a go. Sylvia himself thought it was a done deal and thought he had finally gotten another chance at the big time, but lo and behold it was not to be and when the fight with Mir was finalized it shocked a lot of people. Sylvia came away disappointed, but Cormier believes that Sylvia will get a shot if he continues on the road he is on.
“We had talked about Sylvia, there weren’t many guys out there who we considered,” Cormier offered. “His name was floating around, but I never got the idea that it was set in stone. Tim isn’t making any of this up; he was one of the last guys who were in the running. It shows you what he is doing isn’t going unnoticed. For it to come out in the media proves that it was close to happening. He needs to keep doing what he is doing and he’ll get his shot. I can’t remember who some of the other guys who were being considered. I believe a fight with me is a fight that any elite heavyweight should want right now.”
“I was very surprised that Mir turned out to be my opponent,” said the AKA Heavyweight. “It all happened really fast, like I said the only name that I had heard from the organization was Sylvia. I walked in to the gym to do some cardio and Cook came up to me and said we’d have a fight announcement sometime tonight. He said you are getting a big name guy, but he wouldn’t tell me who it was! He did say it would get pushed back because he was such a big name. About an hour later a friend of mine told me that it had just hit Twitter that I was fighting Mir. He knew before me, I couldn’t believe it. I feel that’s a big gesture to me from the UFC that they believe in me enough that they would send someone like Frank Mir over to fight me.”
When and where he will meet Mir is not yet known to the AKA heavyweight, but he believes it will be sometime this fall. Cormier wouldn’t commit to a date, but he is thinking sometime in October or early November.
“They still haven’t given me a date, but I think they are getting pretty close,” Cormier admitted. “It’s not like we have that much time anymore. When the fight was initially announced it was before Ronda Rousey’s card in San Diego. Strikeforce doesn’t have too many cards and there is only one fight card left before we fight. I would expect that we would know something pretty soon. It’s kind of odd that we don’t know when & where we are fighting considering they already have a full card booked and a venue for their UFC on Fox card in December.”
Fighting Mir is something Cormier is looking forward to and he understands just how dangerous the former two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion is, especially on the ground. Being a wrestler, Cormier knows that he is walking into the snake pit each and every time he takes Mir down.
“I think it’ll be a very good fight, I think it’s a very dangerous fight for me,” explained Cormier. “I think he and Josh have a very similar skill set. I think Frank is very crafty; he seems to set traps for guys while Josh is a little more in your face. Frank is more of a timing guy, he’s not the fastest guy, but very powerful and his submission skills are second to none in the heavyweight division. I think with my skills it makes for a very dangerous fight because I’m a wrestler first and when I take him down I have to be very aware and very careful. He’s obviously one of the best heavyweights around. It’s an ideal situation for him to come off fighting for the UFC title and to fight a guy like me who has built up a lot of momentum; it’s a good fit for him.”
If you add a win over Mir to his last four victories and the fact that he is essentially the last Strikeforce Champion it would be safe to assume that he would be in line for a shot at UFC gold or at the very least a number one contenders bout when he makes his way to the Octagon in early 2013. For now he is focused on Mir and helping teammate Cain Velasquez prepare for his rematch with current heavyweight kingpin Junior Dos Santos in December.
“I think a win over Mir should get me a title shot or very close to it,” said the 2004 & 2008 Olympic competitor. “I mean honestly I don’t see myself as a guy who will ask for title shots, I just like to plug along and not say too much. If you look at my last five wins (Including Mir) and place them next to anyone else’s it would warrant me getting a title shot. Cain’s my teammate and he got his shot by beating a guy I just beat (Silva). I have no problem with Cain getting that shot, I am happy for him and I’ll help him prepare, but it only makes sense for me to be considered. Defeating Cole, Monson, Silva, Barnett and Mir, should be enough to get anyone a title shot.”
The topic of him and Velasquez fighting has been brought to his attention many times. When Josh Koscheck was still training at AKA along with fellow welterweights Jon Fitch and Mike Swick, all three men were adamant about not fighting one another. Should Velasquez regain the title, Cormier will look into other options including dropping down to 205. He spoke to us earlier about the prospect of facing Jon Jones and he made it clear that’s a fight he would welcome with open arms.
“At the end of the day it’s not a reality yet,” Cormier said. “Cain still has to get by Junior and I still have to get by Frank Mir. If Cain is to win, you have Overeem who is pretty close to getting a title shot so there may be two fights for him before we even have to think about fighting one another. There are a lot of different things that have to happen before we have to worry about that. I have some options in terms of what I could do to avoid having to fight him.”
A lot of speculation has been made that Cormier is physically not able to cut any weight. While he can’t put his body through the rigors of weight cutting like he did when he was wrestling he knows there are other ways of lowering his weight that are safe and won’t put his health in any danger.
“I can’t suck off a whole bunch of weight like I did when I was wrestling,” said Cormier. “Sometimes I would weight 250 and I would have two weeks to get down to 210, I can’t do that anymore, but in terms of dieting and working with a nutrionist and getting my weight down to 220, then I could possibly fight at 205. I think that is one of the options I have, but right now Frank Mir is the number one option on my mind.”
Regardless of how long he has to wait to face Mir, Cormier promises to do what he always does and that’s go out and lay it all on the line. He doesn’t know how to compete at anything but full speed and that is what has endeared him to the fans. He promises that at the end of the fight the fans will go home happy and he will bust his ass to remain undefeated.
“When fight night comes and that bell rings I am going to fight my ass off,” said an excited Cormier. “I am going to bring the fight to Mir like I do every fight. I don’t stand back and wait for stuff to happen. When that bell rings I get right in their face and I start swinging. That’s exactly what I’m going to do against Frank. I’m working hard in the gym, training hard and I plan on giving myself the best chance to win like I do every single time. Hopefully at the end of the fight I’ll do the only thing I’ve done so far and that’s have my hand raised.”
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I'm a married father of two and a lifelong Long Island resident.
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