It hasn’t been an easy year for Daniel Cormier. In February, his beloved mother Audrey passed away, and then there were the legal problems his good friend and teammate Cain Velasquez was undergoing. But just when it would have been easy for “DC” to call 2022 a wash and start looking forward to a better year in 2023, he was informed in May that he was going to join the greats of mixed martial arts in the UFC Hall of Fame.
“I'm a big sports guy, so I am fully in tune with what getting into a hall of fame means,” said Cormier. “It's one of the biggest honors I could ever hope for. Fighting has not only provided a life for me, provided a life for my family, but to be recognized as one of the ones that have done it the best in the history of the sport means the world. It's been a very, very difficult year, but this is a nice pivot from all the negatives that I've had to go through in the last few months.”
In August 2020, Cormier retired after a loss in his third bout with Stipe Miocic. As soon as the Louisiana native made it official, it was a no brainer that as soon as he was eligible, he was getting inducted into the hall of fame. He was that good.
A two-time member of the U.S. Olympic team in freestyle wrestling, Cormier made a smooth transition to mixed martial arts, and within 10 pro fights, he had defeated Jeff Monson, Bigfoot Silva and Josh Barnett to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament.
In his 12th pro bout, he beat Frank Mir in his UFC debut, but it was at 205 pounds where he would make his first big mark in the Octagon, defeating Anthony Johnson in May 2015 to earn the vacant light heavyweight crown. During his time at 205, Cormier lost a pair of bouts to heated rival Jon Jones (the second one being overturned to a no contest), beat Johnson a second time and defeat fellow hall of famer Anderson Silva. But it was his UFC 192 win over Alexander Gustafsson in October 2015 that he believes showed who he was as a fighter.
“Because there was so much that I'd been through in my fight career, I think that one showed all of me,” Cormier said. “It showed me wrestling, it showed me having to stand, it showed me having to bite down on the mouthguard and endure. It showed every part of who I was in this game. Just a guy that maybe didn't have all the physical advantages but made do with what I had and absolutely maxed out my potential. I don't believe that I could have done anything more in mixed martial arts with what I had. But through hard work, commitment and a competitive fire that was second to none, it allowed me to do some truly special things.”
If Cormier walked away as light heavyweight champion following his January 2018 stoppage of Volkan Oezdemir, a hall of fame nod would have been his regardless. But he wasn’t done yet, and when he returned to the heavyweight division later that year and knocked out Stipe Miocic to win another world title and become a simultaneous two-division champion, any doubts were erased.
At UFC 230, Cormier capped off a spectacular 2018 campaign with a submission of Derrick Lewis, and while he lost his next two bouts to Miocic as they closed out their trilogy, it was just proof that no one holds losses against you if you dare to be great, and Cormier did just that throughout his career.
On Thursday, he gets his jacket, and he will have quite the cheering section when he gives his speech at T-Mobile Arena.
“I just want to pay homage to the people that made it possible,” Cormier said. “I learned a lot of lessons growing up from my parents, and unfortunately, they aren't there to see me go into the hall of fame, but everything I do, I carry everything from them. And everyone else will be there. My entire family, my sister, her husband, my nephew and his wife, my cousin and his wife, my two brothers. Everyone that went to watch me fight is going to the hall of fame and we're going to have one more special night in mixed martial arts.”
One that Audrey, and Cormier’s stepfather, the late Percy Benoit, who passed in 2019, will undoubtedly be watching.
“They'll be smiling down, saying, ‘Wow, this boy always surprised us, and here he is one more time.’”
The 43-year-old Cormier smiles, finally able to exhale and take a victory lap, even if only for a couple days in Las Vegas. Because while he no longer fights for a living, he’s doing commentary on UFC broadcasts almost every weekend, he’s still coaching, and he’s a married father of three. So free time isn’t something Cormier knows too much about, but he still finds time for everything and everyone. That’s something that makes him not just a hall of fame fighter, but a hall of fame person.
“That's one of the things that I built my life on because it took so many people to get me to where I was,” Cormier said. “Maybe that wasn't a guy that was on TV every week that made an impact on me, but there were people in my life that always tried to prop me up and help me to try and accomplish things that I accomplished. So it just means a lot to have people talking.”
Cormier recalls a meeting with a distant cousin when he was in Austin to call an event earlier this month.
“He came to the fights in Austin and I got him to meet (Joe) Rogan and I got him to take a picture by the Octagon. It was his Father's Day gift from his wife. And he texted me on Monday, and he said, 'I kinda stopped watching after you retired, but you're always gonna be the champion of the world, and that last week just showed it again that you took that time when you didn't have to. You could have just gave me a hug and said, 'Nice seeing ya.' But you always went above and beyond. That resonates with me and that's what resonates with so many people, is that you care about the impression you leave on people.'”
That’s Daniel Cormier. Hall of Famer.
“That's what I've always tried to do,” he said. “Whether it's stopping to take a picture with someone, signing an autograph, or just having a conversation. I was never a guy that took my celebrity for granted and felt any different from the next man. I love every single person that supported me on the journey.”