This weekend, at UFC ON FOX 7, a powerhouse, world class fighter will make his much anticipated debut in the main event. Daniel Cormier will face Frank Mir in a bout that has been over a year in the making. I recently sat down with Daniel to get his last minute thoughts going into Saturday night, as well as a few other topics. Here's what he had to say:
Stephie Daniels: You've spoken about having some anxiety to get in there and fight Mir as you reach your last couple of weeks. Does that nervous energy help you stay focused in the gym?
Daniel Cormier: It does, because all I think about is, 'Man, I cannot wait until Saturday.' I'm ready to try out some of the stuff I've been working on in the gym, and really ready to just get in there again and test my skills. That's the best thing about fighting, to me. I get to go out there and use all my new tools on a big stage against a guy that knows what he's doing. The uncertainty of it all just adds to the feeling. It's awesome. I love it.
SD: What differences have you noticed, in terms of media obligations, between your Strikeforce career and your first big UFC event? How are you coping with those?
DC: For me, personally, I've done a lot of media. I do a lot of it anyways, and it hasn't been overwhelming, by any means. I do the same type of stuff, just more of it. I do a media tour tomorrow. With Strikeforce, it might have been three interviews, but now it will be seven. Everything has doubled. It's all part of the game, and with it just being a few days out from the fight, we're not doing that much anyway. All they're going to do is get me out of my hotel room from laying down and playing video games [laughs].
SD: You were training for Mir once before, near the end of last year, but unfortunately, that fight didn't happen then, and we're just now getting to see it. Since then, Mir has switched it up, and has been training with Greg Jackson. Has that change made any difference to your preparation this time around?
DC: No it doesn't. I appreciate that he went and trained in a different place to prepare for me. When you do self evaluation, and you think, 'I'm a professional fighter, and when I look at myself honestly, I have to wonder if I'm good enough right now for the way the sport is changing.' I guess after Frank fought for the belt last, he realized he wasn't good enough, so he went out and tried to find a better training situation for himself. That's hard to do when you've had as much success as he's had.
I applaud him for it. I know that's a tough decision to make. He knows that he has to get better in order to keep up with this division. That said, it doesn't change up my preparation. I truly believe that if I do what I'm supposed to do, and I fight the way I'm supposed to fight, it really doesn't matter what the other guy does so much. It's what I do that matters. Most guys go in there and try to have a certain game plan for a certain fighter. You've got to go out and fight your fight. If you truly believe in yourself and your skills, most times, it's enough.
SD: Do you feel this fight against Mir is a jump up in competition, or do you feel you've faced the same or better competition in the Strikeforce GP?
DC: You know, I don't feel like it's that much of a step up, honestly. I don't know if that's just my respect for Josh Barnett and Bigfoot Silva, but those guys are really good. I don't think many guys are a step up from those two. Bigfoot just beat Alistair Overeem, and Josh has long been considered one of the best in the world, and still is, in my opinion. I think anytime you start thinking about taking a step up from Josh or Bigfoot, you can only look to Cain for that position, or maybe Junior dos Santos. Really, those two are the only ones that are better than the rest of the guys in the division.
SD: Speaking of Josh Barnett, I know the two of you had great respect and admiration for each other, and ended up becoming friends. Was it a little disappointing for you, to not see him come over to the UFC?
DC: I wish he would have. Josh is one of those rare guys that knows what he's worth, and he's willing to fight for it. There aren't too many guys that are willing to do that right now. It was very disappointing for me, because I really wanted to see him fight those guys and show that he is still one of the best in the world, and is to be respected. He's got great skills and is a great fighter. I think he would have brought a lot to the organization. I still hold out hope that at some point, they can get it figured out.
SD: You are one of, if not the most decorated wrestlers in MMA at the moment. What are the major differences between freestyle wrestling and wrestling for MMA? What habits did you have to unlearn or relearn?
DC: What I had to do was almost dumb it down a little bit. Your wrestling doesn't have to be as sharp as when you compete on the level I was. You've got to tone it down a little, because these guys, for the most part, aren't thinking like the world class wrestlers I was going against.
A lot of times, when you're wrestling a guy at the elite level, and he understands the sport, you can almost anticipate where he's going to go, because he's doing everything right, in terms of his defense and offense. Most guys aren't doing that in MMA. They're kind of just reacting to situations, and a lot of their reactions aren't what you'd expect from a great wrestler.
SD: How much of an advantage for you is it, going from being a coach to a high level competitor? Do you think your own experience as a coach has made you more coachable?
DC: It definitely helps me, in terms of learning, but I also get better when I coach. Every Tuesday or Saturday when I'm teaching wrestling practice, I'm doing techniques over and over again. You definitely get better as a coach. You're constantly learning as you're teaching.
SD: Talk about the viability of your 'go behind' game in MMA. Do people even shoot in on you anymore?
DC: They do. Bigfoot Silva took a shot on me. I think Mir is gonna have to. If he allows me to just control the fight, he's in for a rough night. He won't want to stay in those stand up exchanges and get beat up. He'll have to get it to the ground.
SD: You teach both children and adults. Is there a marked difference there? Who learns better, kids or grown ups?
DC: I think older guys learn better, because they just understand positions a little bit more. I do have some kids that pick stuff up really fast. I've got a kid right now named Moses. He's seven or eight years old, and last year, this kid couldn't win a match. He was terrified, and as a result, he only won five or six matches. Even though he was scared, you could tell he was a natural. He just had no confidence. He ended up coming back the entire summer and training. He learned and absorbed everything. This year he's 56-7. He did that all in a matter of less than two years.
SD: How did you feel watching Jake Varner win Olympic gold at a weight you dominated domestically for five years?
DC: It felt good. I was coming through the airport from a wrestling clinic in Washington, and I was just watching the TV, watching Jake. I was very happy for him. Any time an American becomes an Olympic champion, I'm happy. I'm always glad to see another American have success. I know what he must have had to go through to accomplish and achieve what he did.
SD: How's your jiu jitsu coming along, and do you ever think about competing in some of the tournaments?
DC: I always loved Dave Camarillo, but when I first started out here, he was already transitioning into doing his own thing. I didn't get him like Jon Fitch and Josh Thomson and those guys got him. I didn't have as much time with him as those guys did. Now, I've got a jiu jitsu coach that's there all the time, Leandro Viera. He's there all the time, and it's great. I love it.
I have a great coach in Leandro, and I love working with him. I actually envision in the next year or so, doing some competitions. I may do no gi stuff, because I like that better. It's coming along good, and I'm learning a lot of the little details, especially ahead of this fight.
SD: There's sort of been a contingency plan in place for you to face Jones at 205 if Cain held the HW belt. Is that plan becoming more of a reality now?
DC: Not necessarily. Even though that's been the plan, and I've been very vocal about it. The thing is, as of right now, it's not really part of reality. Right now, my focus and my reality is Frank Mir. A lot of people get lost in what can happen in the future. I'm not one of those guys.
I'm supposed to go in there on Saturday and beat Frank Mir. If I don't do that, then all that Jon Jones talk doesn't mean anything. My focus is on Frank, and it has been for a really long time. I am fully aware if I don't take care of this business in front of me, all that other stuff ain't gonna happen.
I have a lot of faith in myself. That's why I've trained and prepared so hard. I'm ready to go in there and do what I'm supposed to do on Saturday, and that's get my hand raised. It's not arrogance or cockiness. It's just believing in what I've done in the gym, believing in myself and believing in my team. I think we've done everything we can possibly do to prepare for this fight, and if it doesn't happen, and I lose that fight somehow, it will just be because Frank Mir was the better man, and I will be able to admit that.
You can follow Daniel via his Twitter account, @DC_MMA