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Cormier Talks O’Connor’s Grittiest Performance | UFC FIGHT PASS

Long Before Announcing His Professional MMA Debut, Fury FC’s Austin O’Connor Gave The World Of Combat Sports One Of The Gutsiest Performances We’ve Ever Seen, Taking On The Best In The World With A Torn ACL.

Already a fan of Austin O’Connor well into his career, Daniel Cormier can pinpoint the exact moment he knew the UNC Tar Heel was undeniably a fighter.

If you asked any wrestling fan watching the 2021 NCAA National Championships which wrestler on the 149-pound All-American podium would make the best mixed martial artist, you’d likely have a unanimous vote for the University of North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor.

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If you posed the same question about the 2023 157-pound podium, you’d likely get the same outcome.
 

If you opened it up even further and asked 100 wrestling fans in that entire span to name a wrestler, in general, who would make the best mixed martial artist, you still would’ve likely seen O’Connor running away with it, especially if Daniel Cormier was one of the voters.

O’Connor’s style alone tells you you’re going to have to accept walking away in pain, you’re going to have to be willing to dig deeper than you usually would and you’re likely going to have to get very creative. It’s the exact reason he’s been a fan favorite since his freshman year, but when he showed the world just how deep he’ll dig to reach greatness at the 2022 NCAA National Championships, he moved everybody, including the man who has seen it all and accomplished even more, Daniel “DC” Cormier.

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“It was something I saw in his junior season that made me feel like he was a kid that I wanted to make sure that we got,” Cormier recalled. During that year, Austin tore his ACL and he couldn’t walk. I remember standing on the side of the mat watching him and he could barely walk. He’s got a huge knee brace, and he became an All-American and then he forfeited out. I almost wanted to cry watching him because I had gotten to know him and the kid had horrible shoes; as horrible as his style is, I was proud of him. I remember my heart kind of skipping a beat.”

Most wrestlers’ “top of the mountain” moment is either All-American honors or an NCAA National championship. After winning a National title in 2021 and a tear-jerking All-American honor in 2022, O’Connor laced up his horrible shoes for one last run.

Viewed as a “huge threat” but also “damaged goods,” O’Connor was a dark horse to run the table but no longer the threat he once was.

Or so they thought.

“I just remember feeling proud of him and the next year he won again,” Cormier said. “When he was healthy, he won and it wasn’t hard. He won in a way that showed you he was the absolute best.”

Universally feared walking into his first match and universally respected walking off after his final match, O’Connor had many options on the table but Cormier finally got a call he had been waiting for since watching him battle through a devastating injury in his junior year. In addition to coaching, O’Connor wanted to fight. Cormier pounced, and in true DC fashion, he wasn’t going to be outdone.

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“I reached out to him and he came out to Las Vegas because we weren’t the only management team trying to get [O’Connor],” Cormier said. “I was tasked with the recruitment of Austin. Listen to this, Austin comes to Vegas and I take him to an APEX show. At the time, it was hard to get into the APEX shows. I’m swinging big stick a little bit. We take him to the APEX, he watches the fights, then I take him over to the Palms and he watches Lomachenko. We had backdoor access and all of this cool stuff, so this guy is getting the real deal. One of the producers of the UFC goes with Austin afterwards and hangs out with him a little bit, plays cards because I’m tired and I worked all day. Next thing you know, Austin signs with us.”

Already in the infancy of his MMA career, O’Connor goes to lengths only true fighters are willing to go to, to be great. Instead of using his NCAA accomplishments to manipulate promoters into giving him favorable matchups, O’Connor is doing what nobody wants to do to sharpen his tools: coming down off his pedestal and starting from the bottom.

“Him being able to recognize that he’s not where he needs to be but also be willing to work in that area and be diligent to be able to get better is what’s going to make him great,” Cormier explains. “When a guy wins NCAA Championships, you know that there’s something there in terms of being a competitor. Being around this kid, I know that he’s willing to put the work in.”

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Neither Cormier nor O’Connor know if he’s going to rely on his wrestling or his grit to get him through his MMA career, but one thing they’ll both assure us is that we’re in for a fun ride.

“When you find a wrestler that’s willing to stand and engage in standup, that is what makes them great,” Cormier explained. “He’s hard on himself in terms of how he looks at his striking. I know that the way he looks and the way he feels is exactly what I felt in 2009 when I walked in.”

Catch Austin O’Connor’s professional debut at Fury FC 91 Sunday, June 9, ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!

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