Daniel Cormier Talks Strikeforce Grand Prix, Missing King Mo And Beating Josh Barnett In A Dance Off

Photo: Esther Lin / MMAFighting.com

The Strikeforce heavyweight GP comes to an end on May 19, and with it, the end of the division. Daniel Cormier has a relatively young career, and in just two and a half years of professional competition, he's managed to not only remain undefeated, but has secured a spot in the finals against former UFC champ, Josh Barnett. I recently caught up with Daniel, and covered a variety of topics including training camp, thoughts on Barnett, and where his future lies.

Stephie Daniels: When did you start your training camp for the Barnett fight?

Daniel Cormier: I've been training, but I started actual training camp a little over two weeks ago. Somewhere around the 11th or 12th (of March). That puts me at 10 weeks out from the fight, which is ideal timing. I had been training pretty hard, I'd been doing my rounds in the cage before. I was trying to get used to doing five rounds, which is something I've never experienced before, but I wasn't in the shape to do five productive rounds. I was doing shorter times with the rounds. I'm used to doing five (minutes) every round, but not for five straight rounds, so sometimes I was doing 3 minute rounds. Then I worked my way up to four minutes, and now I'm up to five full minutes at five rounds.

Fitch told me that when he was training for GSP, he started doing three rounds, when he went up to four, then went up to five. Well, I was doing 15 minutes, but I started with 3 minute increments across five rounds. Then I went up to 20, and then 25. I initially shortened the rounds, to make sure I was getting up every time, and going out to do all the rounds. That's psychologically big for me, because I've never fought or trained for a five round fight. Now I'm feeling much more comfortable with it, so that's a good thing.

I feel confident, because I go with Cain, heavy in the gym. He got a new nickname recently. We call him "Hurricane Cain" because no matter what he's doing, he's going unbelievably hard. He always gets you in shape. You could be wrestling, and he's going 110%. Sparring, 110%. Jiu jitsu, 110%. Playing video games, 110%. Eating, he's trying to eat faster than you. It doesn't matter what it is, he's the most competitive guy on earth. He pushes you and helps you get better and gets you in shape.

A lot of the reason I don't get too exhausted or winded is because I'm so relaxed. Javier really worked with me on relaxation and relaxing when I'm competing, and it's enabled me to fight these fights better. I've had two decisions, and I didn't feel too bad. When I fought Jeff Monson, I could have kept going after those 15 minutes. Against Bigfoot (Silva), I wasn't winded at all, and that was a pretty high pace for a first round.

Stephie Daniels: How is your hand, and would you say it's fully healed?

Daniel Cormier: It's finally good. I've gotten the green light from my doctor. I've been punching hard, and found some comfort in that, because when I punched Luke (Rockhold) in December, and re-broke my hand, I had barely touched him. As hard as I've been hitting guys in the gym now, and for my hand to not move, and to stay together, and be strong, I'm very confident going in to this fight.

I was concerned a little bit. I was like, 'Man, I don't want my hand to break. I hope this doesn't become something that's recurrent.' Floyd Mayweather used to break his hand all the time, and there was concern that he wouldn't be able to fight very long, but he got it figured out, and did something with his wraps, and now he's protected. I just don't want to have to deal with anything that would put my career in jeopardy.

Fortunately, it's healed, and now I'm really cracking with it. It feels good to be throwing it, I'll tell ya that.

I've got some work to do, though. Seven months of sparring with a left hand, and not really using it, actually builds some pretty bad habits. I've got time though. I'll be ready.

Stephie Daniels: Talk about the hype, going into this fight.

Daniel Cormier: Oh yeah. We're competing at everything. Just because we're not sh*t talking each other doesn't mean we aren't competing. We've already competed twice. You guys just aren't aware of it, and on May 19, we're having a tie breaker. Josh and I were at a FIGHT! Magazine party, and Luke Rockhold made me aware that Josh was in the corner, dancing and having a great time. So, I walked over there, and I said, 'Josh Barnett, I challenge you to a dance off.' That was round one. We did it, and I completely kicked his ass.

The next day, we went to the fights (Rousey/Tate fight), and I was going to bring a suit. I knew we were announcing the fight, so I thought to bring a suit for it. My girlfriend goes, 'You don't really need it. Just wear this nice jacket.' She bought me this nice jacket, and I was going to wear it, but I'm a big guy, so I get hot. There was this series of events that led to me losing the dress portion of our competition. I wore a polo, because my girl told me not to bring a suit. I had to corner Josh (Thomson). I'm walking downstairs, and Luke goes, 'Man, Barnett is looking pretty snazzy. You probably should go get that nice jacket.'

So, I wear the jacket, and get into the arena, but I can't wear the jacket to corner Josh. Well, right after cornering him, I've got to run down and announce the next fight. I'm sitting there in a sponsor shirt while he's wearing a suit and tie. I openly admit that I lost that round of the competition. May 19, we'll be able to settle it. If there's time between now and then to do the best of five, we'll do two other things [laughs]. True competition is going to hype this fight, and we're competing at every level.

Stephie Daniels: With Mo Lawal having been ill for much of the last two months, are you missing his presence in your camp right now?

Daniel Cormier: Yes. I'm missing him so bad, but it's bigger than me. It's not about me right now. I try to explain that to Mo, because he will call me, and he's wanting to know how training is going. He'll say 'How's training going right now?', and I'm like, 'Don't worry about me, how are you?' He's still got that thing on him to put the antibiotics in him (PICC line), but once he gets that out, he said he's going to come to the gym and watch training. We know he's going to try to do stuff, but he's got a team of guys that won't let him lift a finger. He's going to have to sit his little ass in the corner and watch. That's what he'll be limited to, because I don't care how tough you are, you're not going to take all of us.

I am missing his presence big time, and I know he's missing us. Every time that I've competed, and had the most success in my career, athletically, he's been a major part of it. In 2003, when I was 5th in the world championships, he was my main training partner. In the 2004 Olympic games, when I came in 4th, he was my main training partner. In the 2007 world championships, when I got 3rd in the world, he was my main training partner. Jeff Monson fight, main training partner. Bigfoot, same thing.

He's still doing things outside of the camp. Mentally, he helps me. He talks to me, and is just there for me, and that, to me, in his situation, speaks volumes. Even right now, when he's down and out, he's concerned about everyone else. 'How's Cain looking? How's Thomson looking? How are you doing?' I tell him, 'Look man, we're worried about you, and you getting healthy. All this other stuff is so small in the grand scheme of things.' I think that's what enables our guys to compete at the high level that we do, because we keep things in perspective. I think Mo will be a better fighter, because it's not life or death going down into that cage. We're just going out there to have fun and compete, and make some money. Competing without the weight of the world on your shoulders makes it a lot easier.

Stephie Daniels: Tell me areas you plan to use your smaller stature to your advantage in this fight.

Daniel Cormier: I'm definitely a lot shorter than him. The last person he probably fought that was my size was Jeff Monson. They had a pretty decent scrap. Josh won by decision, but Jeff is a tough guy. The guy can grapple and take a punch. He's a gamer. That can be an advantage to him, but can also be an advantage to me. My low center of gravity allows me to defend takedowns a lot better than most people. It's very hard to get to my legs. It's going to be really hard to take me down. There are a lot of positives to being my size. I'm a lot quicker, and I move around a lot better and more fluidly than some of these bigger guys. I think one of my biggest advantages is that I move around these big guys very well.

One thing I've found in mixed martial arts, is that not many guys fight to the advantage their height gives them. I think a prime example of it is Jon Jones. I think for the first time, against Rampage, you actually saw him use his length, and he completely stomped him. Leading up to that fight, he never really used his length, as he probably should have. Reach, and all that other stuff, doesn't play as big a part in MMA as it does in boxing. Guys don't really fight with their length all that much, because they have to worry about the takedown or kicks. They have to worry about so many other things, that they can't just fight real tall.

Before the Bigfoot fight, everybody was talking about how he had a 12 inch reach advantage. I was like, 'Well, if he stands tall and tries to jab from the outside, I'm just going to take him down." You can't really stand tall. When we got in there, he was squatting down, and I was standing a little taller, because I'm very confident in my takedown defense, so we were close to the same height at that point. That's a big benefit to my height.

Stephie Daniels: With both of you being highly accomplished wrestlers, your game plans are likely to be similar. What are your thoughts on that?

Daniel Cormier: I think they may end up being pretty similar. Josh is a wrestler first. I'm a wrestler. I'm going to use my wrestling, too. We're going to grapple. I think a lot of our plans will be similar, but I'm going in there to fight Josh in all situations. I want to secure some takedowns, and I want to gain top control. He'll want to do the same. You're going to see who's going to be able to implement and follow their game plan better.

I'm confident in my team. I'm confident in my coaches. I'm confident in my ability. I worked really hard to become a better mixed martial artist. I like to tell people that graduation day is May 19. I'm going to see if I graduate to the top of the sport, or if I still have a little time to go. Regardless of the outcome, this will not define my career. Beating Josh, or losing to him, it won't define who Daniel Cormier is at the end of my career. Either I'm going to continue to move up, or I'm going to go back and reassess where I need to get better. I'm excited. It's a great day for me. May 19 is my birthday.

Stephie Daniels: There's lots of talk and rumors that you and Josh are UFC bound. Has Dana White or anyone at ZUFFA spoken to you or confirmed this?

Daniel Cormier: It's really still a rumor, but, if you're a logical person, which most people are, it makes sense. You would think that it's a lock, but remember, there are no absolute locks in MMA, obviously. If you're part of the biggest thing this organization has, this heavyweight tournament, and you're the last two standing, you would think that since everybody else is over there, you would get your shot, too. They've really taken away all the mystery by taking everybody else over there. There's really no surprise to it. It just seems like a matter of time.

A guy asked me yesterday if I was sad that I made it to the finals, but I'm stuck in Strikeforce. I'm not stuck in Strikeforce. I'm happy to be with them. It's where I started, and they've been great to me. It's a chance to win a belt, and to be the one holding that belt when the division dissolves, for me, after two and a half years of fighting, that's like a dream come true.

As you've seen, when Strikeforce champions come over to the UFC, Overeem, Diaz, they didn't have to fight many times before they got title shots. You would assume that the winner of Josh and I would be in that same sort of situation. There is so much riding on this fight, that I can't even begin to tell you, but you know what? I'm not letting it hinder me. It's actually pushing me and motivating me to the point that I'm training like I'm getting ready for the Olympic team.

I've really got to take care of business. I'm training like a mad man, because I know what's at stake. I know that this is a chance for me to fight on the biggest stage and really put a stamp on what I'm doing. With a great performance, that might just throw you in some real, live, championship type of conversation. This is a great opportunity and these are great times for me.

Follow Daniel via his Twitter account @DC_MMA

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