Over the last few weeks, Daniel Cormier has fielded questions on a number of topics: going to the UFC after his final fight in Strikeforce this Saturday, Strikeforce closing its doors, moving to 205 pounds eventually, and a cancelled fight with Frank Mir. It seems like the only thing the two-time US Olympic wrestler hasn’t been asked about is the man who will be trying to punch him in the face this weekend in Oklahoma City, Dion Staring.
“It has gotten a little crazy,” laughs Cormier, who has taken all the non-fight questions gracefully before giving thoughtful answers to each query. But make no mistake, Cormier’s mind is entirely on the task at hand.
“Even though it may seem as though people are looking at what’s next for me, I’ve kept my eye completely on the prize, and that’s Dion Staring January 12th,” he said. “It’s actually been difficult because it’s easy to get caught up in everything that everybody is saying around you, but I’ve managed to keep myself pretty locked in on Dion.”
He needs to be this way, and you would expect nothing less from a competitor like Cormier. But truth be told, most expect Staring to be the last hurdle for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner to jump over before he begins his journey in the UFC Octagon. That’s a lot to look forward to for the unbeaten Cormier, but as quick as that can happen, it can be taken away just as fast when dealing with any fighter at this level, especially one like the 28-7 Staring.
“You have to be as professional as you can when preparing for someone because at the end of the day we’re heavyweights, and a solid punch from any 240-plus pound man can end your night pretty quickly,” he said. “So I’ve had to train with my mind specifically on Dion and kinda block everything else out. All the other stuff’s gonna happen, but it doesn’t happen if I don’t take care of business.”
And Cormier has done his homework on the Holland native, who now makes his training home in south Florida with the Blackzilians.
“Dion has the ability to make these fights ugly and grinding, where he crowds you, pins you against the cage, kicking you, punching you, kneeing you, and he’s a very, very tough guy,” said “DC” of his foe. “He’s not an easy guy to get out of a fight. He’s very strong and he’s been in the cage a lot. The guy has almost 40 fights, he comes from a great camp down there in Florida and previously in Amsterdam, he’s got good kickboxing and I think his durability is probably his best asset.”
The 33-year-old Louisiana native speaks like a seasoned veteran of the sport, and while the acclaim he’s gotten over the last two years makes it seem as if he’s been around a lot longer, it pays to remember that he’s only had 10 pro fights. Of course when those 10 victories include successive wins over Jeff Monson, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Josh Barnett, your experience level can skyrocket substantially. And that’s been the case for Cormier, who says that he’s beginning to reach the point he set for himself when he turned to mixed martial arts in 2009.
“I can see the (experience) difference in those (recent) guys from some of my early opponents,” he said. “Jeff, Devin Cole, and Josh Barnett, they’re really tough to finish. So earlier, when I was fighting guys with less experience, it was easier to finish them. These guys, they know how to keep themselves in fights. Even though they may not be winning, they’re not getting put out of the fights. So I can sense it in their ability to survive, but when we’re in the cage together, I feel okay because I think that now, my skills are starting to match the level of belief in myself, and when that happens, you don’t feel out of your element with anyone.”
It’s why fight fans got so excited when it was announced that Cormier would be facing two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in a November 2012 Strikeforce bout. But Mir was forced out of the match due to injury, leaving Cormier to wait until January and this week’s fight with Staring. It sent 2012 off on a sour note for Cormier, even though he counts it as a good year despite the ups and downs.
“It was a great year with the Barnett win, but it was more up and down,” he said. “I would have loved to been busier, but with everything that was going on around the organization it was kinda hard. I just think after the Barnett fight there was an opportunity to build a whole bunch of momentum that was missed a little bit. But all in all it was a good year. Anytime you beat a guy like Josh Barnett, it makes for a pretty good year. I just would have liked to have been a little busier.”
2013 should solve that problem, as Cormier kicks off the year this weekend against Staring, and then looks forward to what is expected to be a bright future for him in the UFC. Of course, nothing is for certain until the final bell sounds, so in the meantime, Cormier’s going to focus on his own development as a fighter and eventually becoming the best in the game.
“That’s something I never really accomplished in wrestling,” he admits. “I was always on the verge, but never the actual guy, and that’s how it is in MMA. I’ve got to continue to get better until I’m the best fighter in the world. Then you can look back – but not for too long. You can’t sit back and admire your work, but for a second you can say okay, now I’ve finally done the things I’ve wanted to in this sport, and now I’ve got to continue to build and hold on to the level of success that I’ve had. So you have to constantly be evolving, and that’s where this sport is going.”