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Interview: Daniel Cormier talks retirement, Jon Jones, regrets, Mayweather

UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier sits down with Stephie Haynes for an in-depth interview about everything from Jon Jones to Brendan Schaub to Project Spearhead and more.

MMA: UFC 220- Cormier vs Oezedmir Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Cormier just turned 39 and has engaged a personal countdown timer to his retirement, exactly one year from his March 20th birthday. Even though he’s at the pinnacle of the sport, the current UFC light heavyweight champion won’t be dissuaded from the path to his career’s end, either. The possibility for a huge paycheck in a hypothetical crossover bout with Anthony Joshua isn’t enough, but perhaps more telling, a chance at redemption via a fight with longtime nemesis Jon Jones isn’t either, if those possibilities don’t arise before he turns 40.

Most athletes wouldn’t set such stringent limitations on themselves, but Cormier isn’t most athletes. His willingness to walk away from the sport while still at the top of his game is geared toward legacy and well-being, and thanks to smart financial planning, he’s positioned himself to live comfortably and worry-free in his post-fighting years. In short, Daniel will be riding off into the sunset the way fans and pundits always hope for, with an outstanding body of cage work, a solid future within the community via his work as an analyst, and with all his wits intact.

In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, Cormier discusses his future, why he doesn’t have to be concerned with finding another job as so many fighters before him have had to do, and the one thing he regrets from his time in the sport. He also fields questions on a variety of current news topics including Floyd Mayweather’s MMA ambitions, Luke Rockhold’s possible move to light heavyweight, thoughts on Project Spearhead and plenty more.

Stephie Haynes: If Anthony Joshua were to try his hand at MMA, as he has expressed an interest in it, would a big payday versus him persuade you to stick around longer?

Daniel Cormier: Nah. I mean, it would all have to work in the timeline. I’m just glad that people even consider me in this conversations, “best guy here” “one of the best to do it” “one of the best ever”… I’m just lucky I’m in those types of conversations. But, we generally don’t get to see those fighters walk away when they should, at the top of the game.

I feel like in 12 months, I’ll still be as good as I am today and when I walk away, I won’t have devalued myself by taking all kinds of unwarranted losses. You start seeing your favorite fighters and boxers start losing to guys that would have never had a chance against them before. I don’t want to be that guy walking out to the Octagon questioning if I’m still good enough to get the job done. I don’t want to be in that situation.

That’s why there’s only 12 months left for me, because I feel like in 12 months, I’ll still be competing at the level I’m at right now. If it starts to slow down, hopefully it won’t be so drastic that I can’t compete and get the results that I’m used to.

Stephie Haynes: So, there’s no scenario, no amount of money that would change that?

Daniel Cormier: A long time ago, we decided as a family that at this age, I would walk away. But my wife told me, ‘I don’t think you’ll be able to walk away. I think you like the fight, the adrenaline, the competition too much. I don’t know if you’re going to be okay, I think you might still be fighting.’ I was like, ‘Nah, I told you guys a long time ago that I was doing it at this time and I’m going to stick to that.’

My wife is like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to do with this dude?’ [laughs] She knows that whenever I don’t have fights or I don’t have anything to do…she’s like, ‘Go to the gym. You have to find a way to get rid of some of this energy because you’re driving me crazy.’ It’s still a big wake-up call that I’m 362 days away from not having the possibility of a fight again.

Stephie Haynes: What happens after those 362 days?

Daniel Cormier: I don’t know. I was talking to a friend and they told me if I start putting money away, I can go to golf school. [laughs] You know you can do that? You can actually go to college for golf. If it’s an accredited university and they offer golf as a class—I can go to golf class!

I can do anything I want. I’ve gotten lucky in the sense that I’ve locked up this commentary stuff, the TV side of things, some investments that I’ve made, and I don’t have to be one of these champions that goes out looking at the lights. I may lose some fights, but I don’t have to be like everybody else. I’m kind of looking forward to leaving with everything that I’ve done still intact.

Stephie Haynes: You don’t really have to worry about getting a job or starting a business after your fight career is over, do you?

Daniel Cormier: No, not at all. Last year, I did 10 or 11 color commentary gigs, and that’s enough money for anyone to make a really good living. That’s not counting UFC Tonight or any of the other work I do at FOX, so yeah, I’m in a good position.

Stephie Haynes: What’s going to be your outlet to release all that energy?

Daniel Cormier: I tried to retire after the Olympics in 2008. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m retiring,’ and I played like 1000 games of NBA 2K because I needed something to compete with. It’s what I’ve done my whole life, so I’ll coach at AKA. My son will be competing, my daughter will be competing. I feel like my outlet will become my children and their successes.

Stephie Haynes: You’ve got the fight with Stipe coming up this summer and you’re going back to heavyweight for it, so do you still maintain the services of FitnessVT, Lockhart & Leith?

Daniel Cormier: I’ll keep the guys, I’ll keep Tyler (Minton). I’ll still use the company, because even if you’re able to eat more, you still have to eat clean, and eat for performance. Those guys are the best in the business, so I’m going to keep working with the team that’s helped me have so much continued success. They really do help my performance.

Stephie Haynes: Are you working with Cain Velasquez for this camp or is he doing his own thing?

Daniel Cormier: He’s really going to try to help me become the champion. We’ve talked about this internally and we decided the path we’re going to take when I become champ, and he, step by step, is trying to help me accomplish this goal.

When we went to The Ultimate Fighter, we were gone five weeks, but Cain was there every single week, and he has a brand new baby. This commitment that I get from my friends and teammates is second to none. We do things for each other, and we’re trying to take care of each other in the best way possible, overall. It’s not only about just us being okay, it’s making sure our families are okay, too.

Stephie Haynes: If we don’t see Jon Jones come back before you retire, will there always be questions in your mind about whether he was clean for those first two fights and will it be disheartening that you might never get a shot at redemption against him?

Daniel Cormier: I don’t know. I don’t know what he was doing. The only thing I can base an opinion on is from what came out publicly. I don’t think for a second that Jon Jones needed any type of enhancements to compete. I think he’s ultra-talented, he’s a fantastic fighter, he’s very smart in there, and I think he can do whatever he wants, but he chose to do it the wrong way.

I can’t change that. All I can really worry about is what I can take care of. If a chance to compete against him arises, then I’ll take it and hopefully, finally vindicate those losses. That’s the only guy that’s ever beat me, and if I can get those back, I’ll be in business.

Stephie Haynes: You talked about the dedication the AKA team has to each other, but what about Luke Rockhold? Has he left the AKA fold entirely, or is he doing split camps?

Daniel Cormier: Yeah, he’s training down in Florida. He feels the training situation is a little bit more consistent for him and he also had some personal things in California that he needed to get away from—just kind of getting a new start.

Luke’s our brother and we support him, we’re happy that he’s happy, and hopefully, he again starts finding that success that he’s so known for. This guy has won at every turn and to see him lose a couple fights in the fashion that he’s lost them is tough. The moment he comes home, we help, but the majority of his time is spent down in Florida now. We’ll always be there for him and will support him and help him as much as we can.

Stephie Haynes: He’s been talking about moving up to light heavyweight, what’s your take on that?

Daniel Cormier: I don’t know. He says the weight cut is getting tough on him, and if that’s the case, then he needs to change something. Not only from a weight-cutting perspective, but also kind of reset the career. He lost his belt and then the chance at the interim title, and it kind of puts him so far back that maybe a new weight class gives him an easier path to getting back in title contention.

I think he has to be very careful because the guys are bigger at light heavyweight, the guys are stronger. They’re not as fast, though. I think the only type of style that gives Luke trouble is that fast, explosive guy like Yoel Romero.

Stephie Haynes: What do you think of Alexander Volkov’s quiet ascension?

Daniel Cormier: I think he’s good. I think Alexander Volkov is the real deal. He’s a fantastic fighter—a big, young guy that can really do his thing. He’s got good cardio, good striking, but I do believe he is better in a five-round fight because he has such a big wrestling deficiency and his acceptance of being taken down and held down.

In a three-round fight, a guy like Curtis Blaydes that can wrestle, Velasquez…those guys that can really wrestle, they become a problem for him, and he can’t really bide his time like he did against Fabricio (Werdum). I think Stipe (Miocic) also presents a problem for him. But he’s good, I think he’s real good.

Stephie Haynes: Do you think we could see some real change if he got some extra sessions in with a good wrestling coach?

Daniel Cormier: I think the majority of it is that he’s very accepting of the takedown. He cares, right. He obviously prefers not to be on his back, and when he gets taken down, he doesn’t panic. We saw him grapple for extended periods of time against Werdum, and that’s not an easy thing to do. He’s comfortable there, but when you’re on your back like that, you’re losing, and in a short fight, fifteen minutes, a guy racks up two rounds and you don’t finish him, you end up losing to a guy you may be potentially better than.

Stephie Haynes: Let’s talk about the FOX desk. Over the past few weeks, Brendan Schaub’s odd comments about the quality of the analysis coming from there have led to lots of debate and hard feelings. You were mentioned by Brendan as being the best part of the team. What’s your opinion on that situation?

Daniel Cormier: I don’t exactly know what the intended reaction was to those comments. If you listen to the podcast, he’s very complimentary of me regarding the job that I do, but he went on to say the other stuff. I’ve made those comments myself—sometimes it’s me, Karyn (Bryant) and Tyron (Woodley) and I’m like, ‘What is this, BET?’ Of course, I’m joking, I’m playing around. We all play around.

The crazy thing is, FOX doesn’t even hire the talent. The UFC puts them in those positions, so I don’t really know what was intended with what he said. But, Brendan has developed this style where he’s shocking people with some of the things that he says, and when you start to do that, you’re almost obligated to stay down that path. Sometimes Skip Bayless says things that are just ridiculous, but it’s almost like he has to because that’s what we’ve come to expect from him. It’s kind of what he built.

I think Brendan has developed that type of style. You know what, it’s obviously working for him. He’s got a show on Showtime, two massively successful podcasts, and a comedy career. I think in this day and age, that “Oh my God, I can’t believe he said that” tone is really valuable in the sports community. That’s why these debate shows are so popular around the world. You’ve got one guy speaking facts and the other guy saying random, crazy shit, and everybody is like, ‘Oh I can’t believe that dude just said that.’ That type of on-air personality has gotten really big in today’s society.

Stephie Haynes: Dana White is a playable character in the new UFC game and people are going nuts over the stats he has. How do you feel about seeing him in the game?

Daniel Cormier: I think Dana is actually being nice. Why isn’t he at a 99 across the board? I know every time I make a football player or a basketball player, I’m like the best guy to ever lace up a pair of basketball shoes or cleats. My guy’s like 7’3” and 300 pounds and nobody can ever stop him.

I think he’s being nice. I mean, you’re only a 90? Are you kidding? I would’ve been a 99. Why is everybody so upset about it? Dana is just another guy creating a character in a game. All the people in an uproar about Dana’s stats, let me see your created characters. I bet your guy is a 99, but you’re made because another guy made himself a 90?

Stephie Haynes: Floyd Mayweather says he’s serious about trying his hand at MMA. How do you think that will go if it indeed happens?

Daniel Cormier: I just don’t understand the point and I also don’t understand Tyron’s endgame in this. I told him the other day, ‘I don’t know what your endgame is, but I hate you because I didn’t think of it first,’ because I know it does involve Tyron making a bunch of money. [laughs]

I don’t see why Floyd should fight MMA. Why does he need to? He’s 41 years old and the greatest boxer of all time. He’s rich beyond anyone’s imagination. I saw a video of Floyd’s Los Angeles mansion and he walked into this movie theater which is probably the most massive theater I’ve ever seen in my life. He had all these candy drawers and he’s walking around in socks because his carpet is so nice you can’t wear shoes and walk on it. What does this guy need a fight for? He’s got everything. He has so much money. This is not even money to last you a lifetime. This is generational money, the kind you pass down to your kids and their kids.

Stephie Haynes: Anthony Joshua has expressed interest in coming over to MMA and mentioned Francis Ngannou. Everyone at heavyweight wants the fight. What’s your take on all these crossover aspirations?

Daniel Cormier: Because Francis won’t take him down. That is until he hits Francis, and even though he’s not known for his wrestling, he has been wrestling for a lot longer than Anthony Joshua. All the sudden, Francis will look like Stipe Miocic and Joshua will look like Francis. It’s crazy. They can’t do MMA. These guys are out of their minds. Just like we can’t go box. If these guys go to box with Anthony Joshua, they’ll get their heads knocked off, like completely knocked off.

Stephie Haynes: Who wins, Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder?

Daniel Cormier: I don’t know. I was on the Olympic team with Deontay Wilder. I think he’s phenomenal, but I think that because he hits so hard, he gets a bit wild, and I don’t know if you can get wild with Anthony Joshua.

Stephie Haynes: Leslie Smith has launched Project Spearhead in an effort to get better representation for fighters. Do you think the sport is at a point where a union or association could finally be assembled and work?

Daniel Cormier: I think what Leslie is doing is very brave. Not many people are willing to step out in front and say, ‘Let’s do something new.’ It’s tough, and it’s going to take big name people to do it. The problem is, most big name people are the ones that are getting taken care of. So, you’re asking these guys or these women who are making millions of dollars a year to say ‘What I do to take care of my family needs to be put on hold to take care of the greater good.’ Not many people are willing to do that, and that’s sadly just the truth of the world.

You’re asking the 1% to fight for everybody else. A lot of times, that 1% is getting much better taken care of than the other 99%. That 1% is usually not willing to risk themselves for the greater good.

Stephie Haynes: Zuffa Boxing is reportedly ready to plunk down half a billion dollars to sign Anthony Joshua. Do you think that’s a smart and/or ethical move, considering those 99% are undervalued and underpaid?

Daniel Cormier: They would not do that if they didn’t think they could recoup that money in no time. Not many fighters are going to make $500 million for the company. We want people to get paid, but you also have to have value. It’s almost a sure thing they’d make that money back quickly, and if they don’t, Anthony Joshua would just make out like a bandit.

Stephie Haynes: Regrets - do you have any? Do you regret making the “All About That Cake” video?

Daniel Cormier: I didn’t think it was a mistake to make that video, but I do have some friends that think it was. My kids think it’s funny, and ultimately, that’s really what matters. I remember when I was making the video, my friend Sean was like, ‘Okay, I don’t like this.’ He just did not like it, but when he saw the finish, he didn’t think it was as bad as when we were making it, when he thought we were out of our minds. My kids like it, I mean they really enjoyed it, and that’s what counts.

Regrets… probably that whole Buffalo situation when I fought Rumble (Anthony Johnson) the second time. That’s probably my biggest regret—not being committed enough to my nutrition, not training as hard as I needed to, not having everything in order and putting myself in a situation where I will be judged for an action that can be perceived as cheating. That was probably my biggest regret, not covering all my bases.

Stephie Haynes: Your teammate, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is fighting Tony Ferguson in the main event of UFC 223. Will you be in his corner or just there for moral support and how do you think the fight plays out?

Daniel Cormier: I’m not going to be cornering him, I’m just going to watch and support him as a teammate. Me and my family are going. My son loves Khabib and can’t wait to watch him.

In terms of the breakdown, I think this is a great fight and a very winnable one for Khabib. He just has to understand that this will be one of those ugly fights where Tony may cut him, and he’s got to be okay dealing with the blood. He’s got to be okay with just being in a really nasty fight, because as weird as Tony Ferguson is, he’s as tough as they come—one of the toughest son-of-a-guns I’ve ever seen. I mean, I watched Edson Barboza beat the shit out of him for a while, and what did he do? He came back and submitted him. He’s just a tough-ass dude. He will never quit on himself.

The most telling thing when I think about this fight is that Kevin Lee is an ultra-talented guy. I like Kevin Lee and think he’s a very good fighter. But, when you talk about top pressure and top control, he does not have the reputation for being a smothering top fighter like Khabib. He was able to take Tony down and get to the full mount — with staph — Kevin Lee had staph and he was able to get in that dominant position. I think that would be the most worrisome thing for me if I am Team Ferguson. You cannot do that with Khabib, you won’t get up. You’re stuck there forever. Good fight, though. I can’t wait to go watch.