On the eighth day of February, 2007, Daniel Cormier had a hell of a day on the wrestling mats. The 2004 Olympian competed in America's premier international wrestling tournament, the Dave Schultz Memorial, opting to enter the 120 kg weight class, up from his normal weight of 96 kg. The extra mass did not affect him at all, as he mowed down one elite American heavyweight after another. In the semifinals, Cormier beat Tommy Rowlands, a top five finisher in the World Championships, and in the finals, Cormier edged out 2008 Olympian Steve Mocco.
Both Rowlands and Mocco were impressive wins, but Cormier's most resounding performance of the day may have come in the quarterfinals. There he defeated a very good heavyweight named Pat Cummins by a lopsided margin, scoring seven points in the four minute match, while yielding none.
Moving up in weight, and soundly defeating a wrestler like Cummins says amazing things of Cormier's skills. For, as you will see, Cummins was awfully darned good.
Pat Cummins's Wrestling Career
Before Cummins became the "Rocky" story of UFC 170, he did the same thing in NCAA wrestling. As a high schooler, Cummins never placed in the top eight of Pennsylvania State Championships, and he only joined the Penn State University wrestling team as a walk on. During his first three years at Penn State, Cummins yielded only mediocre results on the mats as he bulked up from his high school weight of 189 pounds to well over 200 pounds. As a sophomore, he secured the job as Penn State's starting heavyweight, then, as a junior, he suddenly went from a relative nobody to one of the very best heavyweights in the entire nation. In 2003, he completed his break-out season by placing fourth at the 2003 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
In developing from a wrestling also-ran to an All-American, Cummins had taken part in one of the sport's great Cinderella stories, and he was not yet finished. In his senior year, he would defeat NCAA champion Tommy Rowlands in an early season dual, and ascend to the number one ranking in the country. Cummins's spectacular final season culminated in a meeting with Rowlands in the NCAA finals. Though Cummins lost his final match, he ended his improbable run in college wrestling as the second best heavyweight in the country.
After college, Cummins continued his competitive career as a freestyle wrestler on the Senior level. For the first few years on the freestyle circuit, he wrestled at 120 kg and enjoyed decent success as one of the better heavyweights in the USA. Then, in 2009, he dropped weight classes from 120 kg to 96 kg, and his freestyle career really took off. A leaner, meaner Cummins achieved higher finishes at various events, and in 2010 he claimed his first international tournament championship, winning the gold medal at the Dave Schultz Memorial.
Later in 2010, Cummins showed truly world-class wrestling ability by making the finals of the World Team Trials challenge tournament. There, he dropped a fairly competitive match to 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner. With his performance at the trials, Cummins finished his wrestling career as the third ranked 96 kg freestyle wrestler in the United States, and had he not gone in a different direction, he would have had an outside shot at making the 2012 Olympic team.
The wrestling technique of Pat Cummins
Cummins was one of the most exciting and dynamic big men seen in college wrestling this century. Despite wrestling against giant men, he carried with him the versatile set of techniques normally seen in much smaller wrestlers.
Cummins had a fondness for shooting right handed high crotches. Above, you can see him take this shot against Michigan's All-American heavyweight Greg Wagner (who trounced Cain Velasquez in his final college match). Not only does Cummins have the mobility to penetrate on Wagner, but he also has the strength to lift the massive man completely off the mat.
In this sequence, Cummins shoots a head-inside single to Wagner's left leg, and finishes with a quick trip. You do not often see a heavyweight with the athleticism to take true shots to both sides and finish them with ease, particularly against an opponent as big and skilled as Wagner.
In 2005, Cummins won the heavyweight championship in the first and only season of the ill-fated, and fairly wacky, Real Pro Wrestling. Though the show looked corny, it featured first-rate wrestling competition. In the two bits of footage above, Cummins demonstrates his competency in upper-body wrestling, as well as his immense power, launching Wes Hand in two high amplitude throws. Just for perspective, the 250 pound Hand is best known for coming within a whisker of defeating Brock Lesnar in the finals of the 2000 NCAA Wrestling championships.
[I'll add here that placing the RPW wrestling surface on a raised platform was a terrible idea, like, YAMMA pit terrible.]
The Fighting Style of Pat Cummins
Watching the entirety of Cummins fighting catalogue only takes about ten minutes. Throughout his short fights, he looks poised, polished and sharp, though, admittedly, his competition is abysmal. Cummins adopts a smart, unabashedly wrestling-centric approach. Striking only serves to set up shots, and he looks for the takedown as soon as possible. Once on the ground, he looks very comfortable in the grappling phase of the fight; he maintains good posture, generates impressive force on his grounded strikes and has even finished one of his fights with an arm triangle.
Overall, Cummins exudes confidence and skills which belie his lack of cage time, but, without question, he has never taken on a fighter in the same universe of ability as Daniel Cormier.
In all honesty, Cormier represents a nightmare matchup for Cummins. Cormier has vastly more experience in actual fights, has faced infinitely superior opponents and possesses a vastly more sophisticated striking game. If he wants to win, Cummins absolutely needs to take the fight to the ground; unfortunately he faces a man who once held him scoreless in a real wrestling match, and who has never come close to yielding a take down in a fight.
Hopefully, as a reward for taking this fight, the UFC gives Cummins a couple more chances, because I believe he is a legitimately good fighter who can make a serious mark on the current landscape of the light heavyweight division. Against Cormier, however, he has about as much hope as boxing Homer Simpson facing Drederick Tatum after fighting nothing but hobos.