"You don’t want to be lying to yourself going into the cage. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night and I’m fully aware of
that." - Daniel Cormier
Years from now, if Daniel Cormier wins a UFC light heavyweight championship and cements his place as one of the greats, Gary Frazier, the man “DC” fought and beat in his first pro fight back in 2009 may become the answer to a trivia question.
For Cormier, he was much more than that.
“I fought a guy named Gary Frazier in my first fight and I thought he could beat me,” he said. “Maybe nobody else did.”
Frazier was making his debut at the time, and after getting stopped in the second round by the two-time Olympic wrestler in their Strikeforce bout, he went 1-1 before calling it quits. Cormier has had quite the different road, but his mindset hasn’t changed.
“You don’t want to be lying to yourself going into the cage,” he said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given night and I’m fully aware of that. It allows me to be completely open and honest with myself that if I do something wrong, I’ll get beat, and I don’t want to get beat. And if I believe that this guy can beat me at any moment or over the course of 15 minutes, it allows me to make him bigger and badder than he can ever possibly be, and then I train better for him.”
This week’s version of Godzilla is Dan Henderson, and the former two-division PRIDE champion may be as close as it gets to the mythical monster, as his right hand, affectionately called “The H-Bomb” can seemingly take down buildings – or at least light heavyweights – if it lands. Cormier knows it, but he’s also thankful that when the Octagon door closes, his awareness of what’s going on increases.
“In my fights, my awareness is elevated a hundred times over,” he said. I have no idea how that happens. Maybe it’s because I’m scared. (Laughs) But I’m seeing things as they happen.”
And he’s able to avoid the bad ones before they end his night. That’s not luck, that’s years of competing in wrestling and MMA and countless hours in the gym drilling, sweating, and bleeding in the pursuit of excellence. Being the best is what Cormier has been chasing his entire life, which made his February stoppage of Patrick Cummins perhaps the most pivotal fight of his career to this point.
Sure, you can look at the then-unbeaten Cummins and say he didn’t belong in the Octagon with the Louisiana native after being called in on short notice to replace the injured Rashad Evans, but let’s look at what this fight meant for Cormier. If he lost, all hopes of a title shot in the next year are dashed. If Cummins gives Cormier a tough fight, or if “DC” can’t finish him, the stock of the former Olympian plummets. So the only positive result for him is a blowout win, and he got just that, stopping his foe in 79 seconds.
“You look at it and you think this is a kind of lose-lose situation because if the fight goes long, people will question what level you truly belong at,” said Cormier. “But for me personally, I just prepare. And if the guy goes out of the fight, it just becomes no face and I continue to prepare. I think people should pay more attention to that because not only does Pat bring some skill with his wrestling, it was extremely short notice and I did have everything to lose in that cage. But I felt good getting the win the way that I did. When you get a guy that you’re supposed to do that to, you just do it to him. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.”
Easy for him to say, but you can assume that it’s not that easy. Cormier has spoken in the past of being the one guy in the room who was the nail and not the hammer when he first started training in MMA, and even now it’s hard to believe that he’s only been competing in the sport since 2009. And while you know that if a title fight was offered to him tomorrow that he’d take it before the question was finished being asked, he believes the longer it takes for him to get that shot, the worse it’s going to be for the man holding the belt.
“I do feel like I’m getting closer,” he said. “When I look back on my career I feel as though I’m last to the party as far as Strikeforce guys. I would have hoped to have fought for the belt at this point and I didn’t, but I think patience is going to end up being the biggest factor in me becoming a champion. Because through all the time I’ve had to wait, I’ve gotten better. Maybe a couple years ago or when I got into the UFC, if they would have granted me an immediate title shot at 205, I would have maybe struggled with the weight cut, and I would have struggled with the actual fight. Now I’m a better fighter, I’ve learned to manage my weight very well and get down to weight in the most professional manner possible, so the time and the patience is going to be the biggest key in me becoming a champion because I’ve gotten better. Every year I’m getting better. I’m still just four years into this thing and I’m not a finished product yet.”
Now that’s scary. Godzilla-scary.