VIDEO: Former UFC ‘Champ-Champ’ Daniel Cormier Recalls Hall of Fame Career
Daniel Cormier was so successful in mixed martial arts, he made you forget that he wrestled for the U.S. in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Even though Cormier didn’t start his mixed martial arts training until he was 30 years old, he went on to become one of the greatest fighters in UFC history, competing and capturing titles in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.
He became only the second fighter to hold two UFC titles simultaneously, earning the coveted title of ‘Champ-Champ.’
Finishing his career with a 22-3 record, Cormier may have retired from the Octagon, but still serves as a play-by-play commentator and ambassador for the sport. “DC” is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer and widely considered one of the greatest fighters to ever set foot inside the Octagon. Not bad for a kid from Lafayette, Louisiana.
Percy Crawford interviewed Daniel Cormier for Zenger News.
Zenger: I was the first person to interview you when you entered MMA 11 years ago. And although this isn’t my last interview with you, it is in terms of you being an active fighter. Are you comfortable with your decision to retire?
Daniel Cormier: I’m comfortable, P. I feel good, man. Obviously, you would’ve wanted the last fight to go my way. It is what it is. You can’t change it now. I fought for the heavyweight championship of the world in my retirement fight. Not many people get to say that. We fought a competitive five rounds. One switch here, one switch there, and you’re staring at a different decision, so it was a tough pill to swallow for me, but the reality is, you can tell when it’s about time. I think honestly, P, there was a time inside the Octagon where looking back, you realize where, “Okay, I’m making the right choice.” It was an action inside the fight that really does kind of hammer home that it’s time.
Zenger: So, you didn’t have a moment during training camp where you thought it was time but an actual moment during the fight?
Cormier: See, not in that spot. Not in that moment, but when I look back on it. So, camp was hard. It was difficult. P, when I’m at my house, right, and I don’t even know how I did this before, but at 41 years old, you’re very aware of your body and what needs to happen in order for you to even get to the fight. So, when you’re 41 years old, and you’re getting ready for a fight, and obviously you’re under the circumstances with Covid and everything is so different. The camp was not at AKA [American Kickboxing Academy]. A lot of the camp is at my house, it’s in my garage. P, when you’re at home, and you got a sauna in your backyard to ensure that you can stretch and recover. When you have a hyperbaric chamber in your garage to make sure that you recover. When you get massages twice a week, you’re really aware of the body. The reality is, I should have been doing these things earlier in my career. So, by doing them, I didn’t get that feeling in camp because I was doing so much to prevent injuries and everything.
But it was in the fight looking back where I was like, ‘You know what, that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago’ I always say … you and I talk constantly off the record, P; there are decisions you make in a fight, right, and actions that make you great or they make you average. They’re just little things, man that can make you a great fighter or an average fighter. One of those things is mistakes. I didn’t really make that many mistakes and when I did, they cost me. The head kick with [Jon] Jones. Not adjusting to the body shots against [Stipe] Miocic cost me. In this fight, there was one action that completely changed the fight. In the first round, I hit him with the big right hand, and that gave me the round. Second round, I’m cruising in that round. I felt like it was one of my best rounds. They have 15 seconds left, I get caught alongside the Octagon, instead of circling off to my right and his left.
Zenger: You circled off to the left and right into his power.
Cormier: Into his power, right. And maybe, Percy, in years past if I would do that – I would kind of dip and the punch would go over my head. And that’s why when that punch landed … and it was so telegraphed. He kind of cocked his right hand back and just punched me. Normally, I would make them whiff. I’ve done it time and time again. I did it with Roy Nelson where he just kind of looked foolish trying to hit me like that. I done it against ‘Rumble.’ [Anthony Johnson] I’ve done it with a lot of guys where they are trying to hit me and I’m circling to their power and I just get out of the way. Well … I didn’t get out of the way. That last 15 seconds cost me that round, and then the fact that I was hurt so badly I had to give him the next round to try and recover and it just completely changed the fight. So, I went from being 15 seconds from being up two rounds to zero to now down 2-1. Because I had to give him round three.
Zenger: I’ll be honest with you, after the eye poke, and you sat on the stool, for a split second I thought you were about to quit. You were saying you couldn’t see, you were rubbing at your eye, and then in an instant, you told your corner to put the ice on your neck. I always knew you were cut from a different cloth, but that showed me that there is no quit in you. How difficult was it to bounce back from that poke because you fought your way back into the fight?
Cormier: You know, P, it was tough because it was getting hard to pick up on the right hand. I had been getting hit with some right hands prior. But sometimes I felt like, ‘How is this landing’’ when I was in there. And it wasn’t even like I couldn’t see him out of that side, but it was more just a reaction. It seemed like the punches were just a little bit further away than they were, and it would land. So, it was difficult, right. Because it was hard to see them. But on the judge’s scorecard, I actually won the fourth round. I fought my way back into that fight like you said, but it was tough. It made … it did something to my body. In that third round, when he poked me and I went to run away from him, it’s like my body got … it’s almost like I got hurt. My legs were all wobbly and shit. I was like, ‘What is going on’’ He hit me with a right hand, but I didn’t feel like the right hand was that bad, but then when he poked me, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s almost like it messed up my equilibrium a little bit.
It was tough, but it’s a fight. I don’t think for a second he poked me on purpose. If he did, he would have reacted more aggressively. He would’ve jumped on me. If you noticed when I started running away like, ‘Yo, he poked me in the eye,’ he kind of stayed back. And I think that’s because he felt his hand go into my eye. If he was trying to poke me, he would have acted more aggressively towards me under those circumstances. But he didn’t; he kind of stayed back. And there was like five seconds left, and I’m falling all along the side of the Octagon. So, I think he felt it. He reacted in a way that a sportsman would. He didn’t react like he had hurt me and he was going to try to put me down and finish me.
Zenger: You covered a lot of ground in 11years, you have won multiple world titles. You held both the UFC lightweight and heavyweight titles simultaneously. You won an ESPY. You had George Foreman wrapping your hands. You attended WrestleMania. You have fulfilled childhood dreams that we talk about all the time. What has that been like for you?
Cormier: It’s been crazy. Look bruh, we from Louisiana. We talk about wrestling and boxing. That’s what we grew up on. You had an uncle as did I watching Wide World of Sports on Saturdays when it was free boxing on there. We didn’t watch WWF back then; we watched WCW [World Championship Wrestling]. That was wrasslin’. They wrassled back in the South. To be able to experience all of these things has been a dream come true for me. As you said, when we did that first interview 11 years ago, I had no idea what this thing was going to be. I had no idea what this was going to be. And it turned into something so much bigger than I ever could have dreamt of. There was no thoughts of an ESPY. I won an ESPY. I actually made reference to that yesterday at home with my wife. Me and her are sitting at home, and I’m walking around the living room and I go, ‘We have an ESPY in our house. We have a full ESPY in our house.’ That’s crazy. Who does that? We didn’t even see those things as imaginable before. Now, it’s great to be able to have lived this dream and still be involved with the sport that I love and be able to try to bring something back to it. It’s been fantastic, man. I never could have imagined.
It’s been an amazing ride for me, but also [for] the people involved. I got to show people a lot of shit that they would have never seen. I got to take my parents all around the world. They went all around the country. My dad had never flown in an airplane before I started fighting mixed martial arts. With the wrestling competitions, the Olympics, my mom would travel overseas. My dad was definitely afraid of flying. I guilted him into flying one time to come and watch me fight Josh Barnett. That was the first time. I guilted my father into coming to watch me fight Josh Barnett in San Jose. I’m like, “Dad, this is my first world championship fight. Please come. You have to come.”
And so, he tried it. And he had the worst experience. His ears popped worse than anything he had ever felt. He was so mad. He could not believe that that’s what flying was. But once he experienced it, he did it every time. He never missed another fight until he passed away. So, my dad got to see so many things.
My mom—I was talking about this the other day. My mom got to go to Vegas. You know them women down south, man, they love those little slot machines. They never think of going to Vegas and sitting on those machines for hours. But she did and she had so much fun. And they did so many things. They got to watch their son headline Madison Square Garden. They got to watch their son headline the MGM Grand, T-Mobile Arena. They got to watch their son headline and be on events in Texas, New York City, Las Vegas, Nevada, California. They just got to do a lot of things, man. And none of that is possible without MMA.
Zenger: I’m glad you mentioned the cities you headline. You were scheduled to finally headline in New Orleans, and then the fight with Ryan Bader is canceled because Jon Jones got in a situation, and you had the opportunity to fight for a world title. Unfortunately, you headlining in Louisiana never happened, and I know that was a big deal to you.
Cormier: It was a big deal to me, and it was a big deal to our state, too. I remember when the tickets went on sale. They went nuts at the Smoothie King Center, right. They went nuts. And I remember getting pulled off of that card about six to seven weeks before. Generally, you get a rush of tickets right at the end. The Smoothie King Center seats 15,000 or something like that. When they first went on sale, they sold like 9,000 tickets.
And then I got moved off, and it just kind of stopped. And it stayed there. That’s essentially where the tickets stayed at. So, yeah—it kind of sucks that I didn’t get to headline in our home state. Because the reality is, there are great fighters from Louisiana. I’m so proud of all those guys and what they do, but especially at the time, I was the guy from Louisiana. And if the guy from there goes and competes there, you will see it in the crowd.
I feel like if me and [Ryan] Bader would have fought, we would have had like 10- or 11,000 people in there. I think it fell a little bit short. I know for a fact because none of my family went, and my entire family would have been there. It was unfortunate, but it’s OK. I’m glad that it happened and I’m excited about when it’s going to go back.
Zenger: Do you have a favorite UFC moment in terms of your career?
Cormier: You know, back to the last question about New Orleans, my biggest regret is that I never got to defend a championship there. Could you imagine me defending a championship in New Orleans? It would have been the most amazing feeling of love that I never felt before. It would have been an amazing feeling to fight and defend a championship there. I think I fought 10 or 11 straight title shots at the end of my career—in a row, Percy.
I fought 10 world-title fights in a row down the stretch, and then I had the Anderson Silva fight, but that was supposed to be Jon Jones, and that would have been 11. That would have been 11 straight title fights. I wish I would’ve had a chance to defend a championship in front of our people. I don’t know if we’re going to get that. Somebody would have to come through and really knock the world off its axis who has that title. So, that may be my greatest regret.
Greatest moment, it’s been a lot of them, but winning my first championship in the UFC was fantastic. ‘Rumble’ Johnson putting the belt on me was just amazing and a great show of respect afterwards. Even though I was kind of like, ‘Man’ because you always kind of have that vision of Dana White doing it. And I was like, ‘Man, I wish he would have done it.’ But when I look back, ‘Rumble’ showed so much respect, that meant a lot, and it made it different, right? It wasn’t just like anybody else getting the championship. It made it different, and I love that. Obviously, winning both belts was fantastic.
I got a video from one of my friends from the night where we went to the afterparty, and I showed my kids and I said, ‘You guys had no idea what mom and dad been doing after those fights’ And they said, ‘No’.’ My daughter goes, ‘I thought you guys were having fancy tea parties with your fingers up.’ And I told them that we have fun after these fights. Winning both belts … that image of me on top of the Octagon with one belt around my waist and one over my shoulder, that goes nowhere ever, so that kind of stands out above the rest.
Zenger: It has been weird in a sense seeing all of this support you have been getting from your rival, Jon Jones. Now that a fight between you guys will never happen again, and your career as a fighter is over, not to say you guys will ever be friends, but you’re starting to see the mutual respect appear. I like to see that.
Cormier: I just think that—like you said, there is a respect earned whenever you fight somebody, especially when that person brings out the best in you. I’ve had some fantastic performances in my life, and unfortunately two of the greatest training camps I’ve had [have resulted] in losses.
I’ve always respected Jon as a competitor. I think that’s where people get confused. I’ve never disliked him as a competitor. I’ve always respected him and thought that he was a fierce competitor. Dude wants to win above anything else. That’s to be applauded whenever you think the same way. Personally, we just never mixed, and we won’t, but that’s OK. People don’t have to be friends. We’re fighters. Fans think because we’re fighters we’re friends. It doesn’t work like that. But he’s a fierce competitor; he’s a great competitor, and I owe a lot of the success that I’ve had outside of mixed martial arts and outside of the Octagon to my rivalry with him. Because when you are now on ESPN, and they are voting for the “Fighter of the Year.”
And the general public sees Daniel Cormier, Israel Adesanya, at the time was just becoming the champ, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo. The general public, because this is not just an MMA award, this is a general award. They vote on every category. When they looked at those names, you know who was the most recognizable name? Daniel Cormier. And when you don’t know, sometimes you go with what’s familiar. And part of the reason why my name was familiar is because of my rivalry with Jones. For that, I appreciate that part of my career and I’m thankful for it.
Zenger: I look forward to what the future holds in and out of the sport of mixed martial arts, and I have appreciated every fight, every interview and just the person you are. Is there anything else you would like to add before I let you go?
Cormier: Thank you, Percy. You have been here since day one. People always talk about day ones, day ones. You interviewed me when there really wasn’t a reason to. I didn’t do anything in mixed martial arts, I didn’t do anything in combat sports, but your interviews made me feel real. Because you gave me the same platform that I saw, Terence Crawford on, that I saw, Floyd Mayweather on, and Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto and Canelo [Alvarez]. It made me feel real.
I think that sometimes people take for granted what these levels of media and these platforms provide. And I was very aware of it and appreciate it. To all my fans, I love the fact that you guys have loved me, you’ve hated me, but one thing you weren’t was uninterested. And even though you booed, you cared. And that’s all that matters to me. My family, who made the ultimate sacrifices, my team, my coaches and management, those guys have been truly, truly amazing.
It’s been a great journey, P. It really, really has, and it could not have gone any better. And I’m just grateful for it.
(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)