Of course he couldn’t have known that he was going to see Jones again or that it would take several starts and stops over the next 30 months to bring him to Anaheim this weekend, but he knew what needed to happen if he was ever going to even the score with the only man to beat him.
“The first time he beat me, it was in the most important moments, in the fourth and fifth rounds,” Cormier said of his UFC 182 decision loss to Jones. “The fourth round was his most dominant round, and in the fifth round, he pretty much won on control, holding me and pushing me against the fence.”
Cormier, used to being the boss in competition, took those hard lessons to heart, and every opponent until he got to Jones again would have to pay for ten minutes he wished he could forget, but couldn’t.
Before, beating his opponents was enough. After UFC 182, Cormier had to break them first.
“Because he got me in the championship rounds, I had to try to push my opponents to go even further, if they made it that long. I had to see if when faced with those types of scenarios again where it’s late in the fight and it’s a close fight, can I pull it out or am I going to fold like I did the first time? How do I stop him (Jones) from doing that to me a second time? I take the initiative and I become the person that’s pressing the fight in rounds four and five. That started from the moment him and I walked out of the Octagon. I had to make a commitment to doing more in the training room so that I do the same thing in the fight.”
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In the past two and a half years, Cormier has put in his work in the gym and on fight night. Several training camps have seen him push past his limits, even if cancellations and injuries have only seen him make the walk to the Octagon four times since his first meeting with Jones.
But now the 38-year-old Louisiana native is a champion defending his crown, not a challenger looking to take it, and in the process, Cormier is prepared to sing his redemption song on Saturday night.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable in this position and I’ve gotten more comfortable training for this type of fight,” he said. “Every single time I train for one of these championship fights, it’s a learning experience in terms of preparing myself for the big one.”
Wins over Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson and Anderson Silva were big enough for everyone else, but for Cormier, the only big fight is the one ahead of him. It’s also the biggest fight to be made at the moment, and while a win over Jones will likely set up a rubber match and mark this as one of the sport’s great rivalries, Cormier is still on the fence when it comes to the idea of his series with Jones being the Ali-Frazier of MMA.
“I want to be done with him, but on my terms, when I’ve won a couple fights,” he said. “Right now, this is my rival, this is the person that beat me. So it immediately makes him stand out above everyone else. Jon’s been going on this whole thing how this is no different than any other fight and if that’s his approach, great. But I know there’s more to it. I will be honest and say, yes, this is the rival for me because this is the person that beat me. Now if I don’t win this fight, this is no rivalry. It’s just one guy that beat the other guy twice. You don’t consider those rivalries. Frazier and Ali was really good because Ali won two. I have to win.”
It’s a lot to put on one 25-minute segment of someone’s life. But Cormier has been competing his entire life, with a lot of that time spent doing it at the highest level on the mat and in the Octagon. So this is normal. But it isn’t. He knows it too. But he also knows that if he does win on Saturday night, he won’t be lost on Sunday morning, wondering what’s next.
“I get up, get on the airplane, head back to San Jose and take my daughter to gymnastics camp at Stanford on Monday,” he laughs. “That’s what I do.”