At 38 years old, having earned a place on two U.S. Olympic teams, a Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix title and a UFC light heavyweight championship, Daniel Cormier had nothing left to prove to the world.
But after losing a second fight to Jon Jones in July of last year, he had no intention of leaving the sport. He just didn’t know what was next.
“When you put that much into a fight and to lose, it sucks,” said Cormier. “I was very hurt, I cried in the Octagon. I’ve watched that, and I say I would do the same thing. That’s who I am. I’m Daniel Cormier who gives every part of himself to a goal, and if I fall short, I can’t really handle it. All those losses, they stick with me. They’re a constant reminder that I have to do something different if I’m gonna achieve my ultimate goals of being successful at the highest level against everyone. So it was tough to lose that fight. Biggest fight of the year and I was on the wrong end again.”
On to the next episode in Boston.
Outside of two fights with Jones, Cormier has been perfect in mixed martial arts, but his personality is such that he hates to lose more than he loves to win. And given his history with Jones, the setbacks hit him even harder.
So he went to Hawaii, taking some well-deserved family time with his wife and kids. He knew he would return, but to what?
“I have to get back to work,” he said. “It was always going to be something. I just didn’t know what that something was.”
UFC President Dana White provided that something when he called Cormier up in Hawaii and let him know that there was a potential anti-doping policy violation involving Jones. Soon after, the result of Jones-Cormier 2 was overturned to a no contest and Cormier was reinstated as champion. Just like that, everything had seemingly been turned back to July 28.
But as “DC” approaches his first fight since UFC 214, a UFC 220 title defense against Volkan Oezdemir, he doesn’t believe everything gets back to “normal” until this Saturday night.
“I have to beat Volkan Oezdemir and I have to beat him in a way that leaves no question that I’m the best guy right now,” he said. “And I feel like I’m gonna do that in Boston.”
Cormier is not like other prizefighters. There’s an intensity to his work ethic and willingness to embrace the grind that almost puts him in a situation where there will always be mountains to climb that he won’t stop chasing after until he physically can’t anymore.
“I love the competition, I love what I’m building to,” he said. “I love preparing for something.”
He’s been preparing for something for most of his life, whether in wrestling or MMA. But when wrestling ended for him, he didn’t know that MMA was around the corner. That didn’t stop him from trying to compete…at everything.
“I played 800 games of NBA 2K9 because I needed something competitive in my life,” he said of his activities post-Olympics in 2008. “So I just played video games all the time. I need to be competing against someone and something all the time, and fighting provides that.”
It wouldn’t until 2009, when he traveled from Louisiana to San Jose, found the American Kickboxing Academy, a new family, a new life and a new way to compete.
“I didn’t get to compete in the Olympics the year prior and I was kinda down on myself and I didn’t know what was gonna happen,” he said. “So I came out here for a fresh start and I not only got a fresh start but I got a lot of new friends and I made a second family. And now I’ve got my family – my wife and my children. They said, ‘Go west, young man,’ go out to find greener pastures and I did and I thank those guys for it. They changed my life.”
Fast forward to 2018, and Daniel Cormier is the UFC light heavyweight champion, ready to face a hungry challenger again. It’s what gets him out of the bed in the morning every day, and while Oezdemir only burst on the UFC scene in 2017 with three big wins that included first-round knockouts of Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa, Cormier doesn’t overlook him in the slightest.
“I think Volkan Oezdemir is a very tough guy, very strong and very confident,” Cormier said. “The one thing about these guys who knock people out like that, they start to believe that they can knock everybody out. And when they start to believe that, they become more dangerous.”
Dangerous enough to unseat the champ? Cormier smirks at such a notion.
“I’m not afraid of anybody,” he said. “Volkan can knock out ten Jimi Manuwas and ten Misha Cirkunovs. It doesn’t scare me one bit. I saw him fight Ovince Saint Preux and he didn’t knock him out. I think Volkan Oezdemir is in store for a big surprise whenever the Octagon door closes on January 20th. I’m gonna smash this dude.”
Seems evident that DC is back. He disagrees, as he’ll only say that after he leaves the Octagon with his hand raised.
“Right now, this means everything,” Cormier said. “It means that I get to take a step forward after taking a huge step back in July. I have to beat Volkan Oezdemir.”