In this second and conclusive volume of “Conversing With Daniel Cormier“, FiveOuncesOfPain.com speaks with the newly signed Strikeforce heavyweight on a variety of topics including the importance of never losing track of his wrestling base, his decision to debut with Strikeforce, the strength he has derived from countless tragedies that have followed him throughout his life, and much, much more.
A two-time United States Olympian, six-time U.S. National Champion that put together a record of 117-10 while competing out of Oklahoma State University, Cormier is poised to make an immediate and profound impact on the Strikeforce heavyweight division.
Daniel will make his professional fighting debut as part of the Strikeforce Challengers card scheduled for September 25 from Tulsa, Oklahoma against fellow debuting Oklahoman Gary Frazier.
Training alongside top tier fighters such as Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, Mike Swick and Josh Koscheck at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, Cormier is widely regarded as one of the top prospects in the business without ever having stepped in the cage.
Do your homework on Cormier right now, you can thank me later. To read volume one click here.
FiveOuncesOfPain: What are your thoughts on the impact top level wrestlers such as Brock Lesnar, Cain Veasquez and Josh Koscheck have been able to make on the sport? Why do you think wrestlers continue to have so much success in the cage?
Daniel Cormier: Well, I’m not really positive because I’m still really green at this, but this is how I feel about it: If you’re a Jiu-Jitsu guy, like when Jeremy Horn fought Chuck Liddell, he kept falling on his back trying to submit him; he had to be down there. If you’re a kickboxing guy, you have to be on your feet to be successful, because that’s where you can punch and kick. Now if you’re a wrestler, you can pretty much be wherever you want, and I think that’s what has allowed a lot of these guys to be so good, so fast. If Brock gets uncomfortable, he takes them down. If Koscheck wants to stand with somebody, he stands with them. Cain got uncomfortable against Cheick Kongo, and what did he do? He took him down. Then he rolled him, just like you would in a college wrestling match. When Cheick would turn his back to him, Cain would have his hand around his waist, just controlling him.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Oh yeah, it was textbook. That was some of the best wrestling I’ve seen in MMA.
Daniel Cormier: It was ridiculous. It was absolutely ridiculous. I was so happy watching him because I was thinking, ‘You know what man? Old fashioned text book wrestling will still allow you to control the pace of a match’. Look at Mark Coleman against Stephan Bonnar. But then when you look at a lot of those guys, and no disrespect to anything any of these guys have done, but Koscheck is an NCAA Champion, Cain is an NCAA All-American, Brock’s an NCAA Champion; It’s different. It’s a different level of wrestling in the Olympics. I think you mature as you wrestle internationally. I think it really turns you into a man, because you have to go into Chechnya and wrestle. You go into these mountains with nothing but your team, seven guys and three coaches…. and ten thousand angry Russians sitting in the bleachers, cheering against you. I think it helps you mature as a person, and I think that has a great deal to do with why Muhammed Lawal’s transition has been so smooth. Nothing really bothers him, because he’s been in the big show. When I look back at my wrestling career I feel like all of those battles I’ve had in all of those arenas around the world are going to help me, in terms of getting into really hardcore battles during my career in MMA. I think it’s really prepared me for this jump I’m getting ready to make, and I hope it translates into success in mixed martial arts. Of course I’m not taking anything away from anyone that’s been involved in an NCAA tournament, but when you look at Olympic caliber wrestlers in MMA like Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, Dan Henderson, and Muhammed Lawal was on the World Team, which is the exact same as the Olympic team, it’s just an off year, I think the battles they have had in the past have really prepared them for the sport. When you watch a guy like Cain Velasquez take down a top heavyweight like he did, and just ride him like that, you start thinking, ‘You know what man? You might be okay at this’ [laughs].
FiveOuncesOfPain: The most impressive thing about Cain’s performance against Kongo, to me at least, was that he was scoring all of those takedowns on wobbly legs. He was executing picture perfect takedowns while he was obviously in pretty bad shape.
Daniel Cormier: Exactly. Cain Velasquez could have been a really good international wrestler. I wrestled the kid when I first went down to AKA, and I was thinking, ‘This guy could have wrestled internationally and may have been on an Olympic team. I’m not going to say he could have beaten Steve Mocco for sure, but he had a chance, the guy is good. I mean Cain’s a really good wrestler. I was really impressed with him. I knew he was an All-American, but it’s a little different when you’re coming from the Olympic games and you hear “All-American”. He and I just straight wrestled and I was just really impressed. I think he could have been on our World Team, or possibly may have been an Olympian for us.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Well it seems like you’re in good company down at the American Kickboxing Academy training alongside Cain. He’s already been there and done that as far as breaking into the sport from wrestling is concerned, and he’s a heavyweight, which has got to be a huge benefit to the both of you guys during training camps.
Daniel Cormier: I think that the biggest thing that Cain provides for me is that we can just wrestle. We can actually go through wrestling practice. I can go to Bob Cook with wrestling routines I would normally do, and he can put Cain and I through those exact workouts. I think it’s key that we don’t lose that wrestling base. I’m going to make Cain a better wrestler, and he’s going to make me a better striker, so everyone wins in the end.
FiveOuncesOfPain: I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said it’s key not to lose track of your wrestling base. You see it all the time; You’ll have these high caliber wrestlers start to get a little better with their stand-up, and it’s like they just throw their wrestling to the wayside. It’s almost like they’ve learned a new trick, and they’re just dying to use it, but that’s where the mistake is made. There has to be a good balance of both to truly derail your opponents timing.
Daniel Cormier: Oh yeah…. Hey, can you hold on just a second for me.
FiveOuncesOfPain:Yeah, no worries…..
Daniel Cormier: Hey, I’m back, that was DeWayne Zinkin on the other line [laughs]. I talk to this dude every day. We talk every single day, DeWayne and I, he’s awesome man.
FiveOuncesOfPain: That’s the way to be though. I talk to so many of these guys and it seems like if they don’t have a decent relationship with their manager, it just doesn’t end up working out.
Daniel Cormier: I talk to him every day. He told me to call him back as soon as this interview is over. He’s a wrestler. He can’t go into the gym without trying to wrestle. Now he’s a business man, so he doesn’t really have the cardio to wrestle much, but shoot man, when I was out there he was out on the mat wrestling Bob Cook. It was really cool to see.
FiveOuncesOfPain: That’s really cool man….. but yeah, we were talking about how it’s important to keep your base in wrestling.
Daniel Cormier: I talked to Kevin Jackson yesterday. He’s like my advisor. He’s the guy that has really watched over me for my entire career. He was my coach the whole eight years that I wrestled freestyle. He said to me, “D.C., don’t ever lose track of your wrestling training. That’s what you have to be able to do. You’ll never be an expert at striking or Jiu-Jitsu. You can get good at it, but you’ll never be an expert like you know you are in wrestling’. That was one of the smartest pieces of advice I’ve heard since I decided I wanted to fight. That’s the bottom line. Hearing it from a guy that I respect so much, I was like, ‘Okay, he’s been through it, he’s done it, and he knows what it’s going to take’. I have a firm belief that I will never lose track of my wrestling base. I think the reason a lot of wrestlers make that mistake is because they want to put on exciting fights, which is what I also want to do, but not at the risk of losing.
FiveOuncesOfPain: But of course the pressure is always there. Nobody wants to be seen as that one-dimensional lay and pray fighter, so what does it come down to? Is the bottom line winning or entertaining? I think there has to be a fine medium.
Daniel Cormier: First off, you have to win. However, you don’t want to catch a reputation as being a boring guy, because people aren’t going to want to see you. People just aren’t going to want to see you. You have to be exciting, because if you’re not, why are people going to want to pay money to watch you? They know you’re just going to be laying on top of a guy for three or five rounds. You can be exciting on the ground. Like Georges St. Pierre wrestles people, but his fights are exciting because he’s constantly working when he’s on top. I think you just have to find a medium between being safe and being beneficial to what you’re trying to do.
FiveOuncesOfPain: I feel like the key at the upper levels of mixed martial arts is to have the ability to keep your opponent guessing at all times. To be a legitimate threat in as many areas as possible.
Daniel Cormier: The very first time I walk into the cage, of course the guy is going to think that I’m going to go out there and take him down in the first ten seconds. That’s exactly what he’s expecting.
FiveOuncesOfPain: So you punch him in the face.
Daniel Cormier: So I have to try to hit him, exactly. I can’t be exactly what they expect me to be. I deal with that a lot during boxing practice. Like when they tell me that there’s no takedowns during boxing practice. In the back of my mind I’m thinking that I want to take him down, because it’s just instinct. It’s natural. It’s like breaking an old dog out of doing a trick it has done forever. It’s not instant that you want to do all the right things at the right time. I think it’s just like you said; the secret is finding that fine medium, and balance.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Was fighting in an organization as large as Strikeforce in your debut something you were looking for.
Daniel Cormier: You know, I’m thirty years old [laughs]. I don’t have a bunch of years to be messing around on the underground circuit.
FiveOuncesOfPain: You’re not exactly Kimbo Slice coming into MMA with a bunch of YouTube fights on your resume either. You’re an Olympic caliber athlete. It’s a different standard in my estimation. You’ve seen it with Cain Velasquez when he signed with the UFC after just a few fights.
Daniel Cormier: Yeah, and I’m happy to be with Strikeforce. I think they’re doing major things right now. I talked to Ben Askren recently about his move to MMA, and he’s just loving it, but he was like, “Man, the first couple of guys I beat, I just killed them. I trained for six weeks and ended up fighting for like forty-five seconds”. I may go out there and get beat, you never know. It was just a situation where I didn’t want to toy around in the underground for very long.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Now I know you’ve had to overcome a tremendous amount of tragedy throughout your life. I know you’re father was shot and killed by your step-grandfather when you were seven, you’ve lost several close friends over the years and recently lost your three moth old daughter in a car wreck; Do you feel like some of those losses and hardships you’ve had to endure in the past have given you a new level of strength to some extent?
Daniel Cormier: I’ve always hated losing in wrestling, but when I’d lose and start to feel like crap, and just start thinking like it was the end of the world, I’d think back to six years ago, or eight years ago, or to 1986 when my pops died, or when my grandmother died….. I mean, how… how does that even compare. It’s a sport, you know. It was a release. I was able to lose myself in wrestling. It allowed me to continue on. I was so messed up after my daughter passed, I didn’t think I could take any more. I thought that was it. Every time we get down on ourselves, like, “Oh, this sucks so bad. I don’t have the money I want, my relationship isn’t as good as I want it to be, it can always be a lot worse man. Losing my kid was THE WORST. Man….. I mean I’ve had broken arms, I’ve had…. One time I broke my arm in Russia, and I flew back here to the United States with no pain pills or anything, and I was thinking, ‘This is the worst pain that I’ve ever felt in my life’, but you know what, nothing compares to losing someone that is so dear to you. I always look at it as motivation. Everything I do in life is for my daughter. I have her picture in my locker every day when I practice. I like to look at her and see her all the time. I want to represent her in a positive way. That’s my whole motto: It’s never that bad. It’s really not that bad.
FiveOuncesOfPain: Thanks for taking this time with me Daniel. Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Daniel Cormier: I’d like to thank DeWayne Zinkin, Zinkin Sports Management and Entertainment, everyone down at American Kickboxing Academy, and also I want to give a shout out to the GDP brothers, King Mo. I also want to say whats up to all of the Team Thirsty members around the world.