UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier defends his belt against number one-ranked challenger Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson this Saturday night (April 8) at UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York. In Fighters Only issue US84 Tony Reid caught up with Cormier to hear all about the five fights that have shaped the Louisiana-native’s brilliant career.
#5 Cael Sanderson, NCAA Finals 2001: Just losing to him in the finals shifted the way I was going to try to chase my Olympic dream. Initially, I was going to stay at 185 and try to make the Olympic team but Cael was still there. I started to gain weight after nationals. John Smith was like, “Just go to 211. You are as good as anyone there. Just wrestle at your more natural weight class.” I went up to 211 and ended up making two Olympic teams. But that NCAA finals match was one of the closer matches we had in our series. Wrestling Cael so close just showed me that if I can compete against him, being the greatest college wrestler of all-time, I would have an opportunity to make an Olympic team and I did it.
I still talk to Cael occasionally. We will talk or text or Twitter message. He is a great guy, man. I have known Cael Sanderson since I was 15 years old when we made the Cadet World Team together. Our story started way back in 1995. He has always been nothing short of a gentleman, a really good friend and a guy you can look up to or look towards when you are trying to accomplish something great.
One of the things that stuck with me most is when we were in Athens Greece in 2004. We would train. We would train hard. Every day after practice we would get ready to walk to the cafeteria and eat lunch. As we walked past the track, there was Cody Sanderson holding a stopwatch and there was Cael Sanderson running laps. Every day after practice. We would be done and he would be on that track running laps, running miles, running sprints and then he would come to lunch. He did way more than anyone else. That is what made Cael Sanderson so great and so special. That image never left my mind. It is burned into my memory. It was an unbelievable sight.
#4 Gary Frazier, Strikeforce Challengers 3: That was my very first pro fight. It showed me that I could actually do this.
I trained to fight Gary Frazier for about three-and-a-half weeks. Bob Cook came in and said, “Do you want a fight? Do you want to make some money? You will be fine. Let’s go!”
I fought Gary Frazier and I had a panic attack the day of the fight. I was like, I am actually going to go into the cage and I am going to fight. I don’t know if I can do this. I went in there and we swung wild punches like we were in a bar. Eventually I fell on top of him and then got behind him. In the little bit of time I was in a gi I knew if I could get behind someone I could get my hooks in. I started punching him and got a stoppage. It was unbelievable.
After the fight, my emotions, even though I was in an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma I felt like a rock star. I went out there and fought in front of 2,500 people and I felt like a star. I had an after-party. Everything I saw people do in MMA, I was doing. I felt like a complete rock star even though it was a small show and I hadn’t beat the best guy. I actually did it. I went into a cage and I fought and I won and it was something to be proud of.
#3 Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett, Strikeforce Grand Prix Tournament: Let’s just call this choice the Strikeforce Grand Prix. Getting in there with Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva less than two years into my mixed martial arts career, after he just beat Fedor, before they made him stop taking his medication for the pituitary gland issue… ‘Bigfoot’ was a beast! He just beat the greatest heavyweight of all-time and I fought him on five weeks’ notice and knocked him out.
Then right after that I had to fight Josh Barnett, a former UFC Heavyweight champion and a guy I respected tremendously. He is someone I had watched for a long time. I was able to beat him and win that tournament.
I always dreamed of Scott Coker putting that belt around my waist. When I first started fighting I went to an event in Chicago, to the Strikeforce event, and watched Brett Rogers fight Fedor. I watched ‘Mayhem’ Miller fight Jake Shields for the Strikeforce middleweight championship. I thought it was the coolest thing ever when the belt was wrapped around the fighter’s waist. Just seeing the belt, seeing what it meant to the guys in that moment when they won the belt… I thought if I could ever accomplish this, it would be great. I actually dreamt of Scott Coker wrapping the belt around my waist.
I had to beat a former UFC champion in Josh Barnett, a consensus top five guy in the world and a consensus top five guy in the world in ‘Bigfoot’ Silva to do it. I wasn’t even in the top 25 when I fought those guys. To beat two top five guys in the world after only being in the sport for two years, to cap off my Strikeforce career, was a fairytale ending. I dealt with a lot of adversity leading up to the Barnett fight. I felt like in the Barnett fight I really grew up. I became a man in mixed martial arts in the Barnett fight.
#2 Jon Jones, UFC 182 Championship Loss: It was the first time dealing with a loss. It made me view things differently. I thought I was invincible, man. It made me realize I wasn’t invincible. I beat all these guys leading up to this fight and I truly thought were was not a guy on the planet that could match me in the fight game. Jon Jones showed me that was not true. He had a better game plan than I did. He stuck to the game plan better than me. He relied on his experience at the championship level to get past me. I had to reevaluate a lot of things coming out of that fight with Jon Jones. It taught me a lot. The fight with Jon Jones was a big one for me.
#1 Anthony Johnson, UFC 187 Championship Victory: This is the redemption fight; getting the second chance to do something great; a second chance to accomplish a goal that most guys don’t ever get the chance to do once. There are so many guys that make it to the UFC and so many guys that never even make it to the UFC and never get the chance to compete for a championship. The organization thought enough of me to let me fight for a belt after losing to Jones in January. When I won and Anthony wrapped that belt around my waist I was appreciative. He made my experience different. He made me getting crowned champion different. Most guys get Dana (White) doing it and that would have been great, too. Being the classy guy he is, he chose to make my experience different. Having the belt wrapped around my waist felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders.
When I won the Strikeforce championship I felt like I accomplished something great. But then when I won this one… the UFC is the biggest organization in the world. No other organization does what the UFC does. Nothing compares to the UFC. They are the leader in the sport, they set that standard for everything in mixed martial arts. To be crowned the champion in the largest organization in the world… there is nothing like it.
But to get it done, to accomplish it, to actually win the fight… if I wanted to walk away from mixed martial arts today I could actually say I could. I’m good. I have done just about everything I can do in the sport. I have won the Strikeforce title, I have won the UFC title, I have won regional titles, I have headlined cards in Las Vegas, I have made a ton of money, I can be OK walking away. I can be OK with a five-year mixed martial arts career and walk away knowing I accomplished everything I set out to do when I started out.
We are going to get a nice display case for the UFC, Strikeforce and my other belts and put them in the trophy room for our kids to see. A lot of the things I have accomplished in my career… it’s going to be great for my children to see. They will see these things. And knowing where I came from to where we are today, they will know that anything is possible. They will have opportunities we didn’t have as children. They will have access we didn’t as kids. My kids can go be fighters, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, the President of the United States. Anything is possible.