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Conversing With Daniel Cormier Vol. 1: Oklahoma State Fight Club

Daniel Cormier“Break it up! Break it up!”, shouted John Smith, head coach of the Oklahoma Sate University wrestling program, as he raced across the mats.

A fight had broken out between star wrestlers Daniel Cormier and Mark Munoz as the two had been jockeying for position during anther heated grappling session on the sweat drenched mats of OSU. A real fight, punches and curse words included. Perhaps surprising to some, but for Cormier it was just another day in the life of the Oklahoma State Fight Club.

You don’t get to the point that Cormier (pronounced corm-yae) did during his athletic career by rolling around with a bunch of under-achievers. A former United States Olympian and six-time National Champion, Cormier has surrounded himself incredible athletes with a penchant for violence since the growing age of ten years old. Cormier has been fighting his entire life.

That’s why a whole lot of people stopped and paid attention when Zinkin Entertainment and Sports Management recently announced that they had signed the world class athlete to an exclusive contract to compete in mixed martial arts. It’s not often people get excited about a man that has yet to prove himself inside of a steel cage, but in Daniel’s case it seems absolutely justified.

Having packed up many of his belongings, Cormier recently made the move to San Jose, California where he has been spending the majority of his time learning the A-B-C’s of the fight game with the American Kickboxing Academy. While no stranger to combat, the former international wrestling star will be the first to admit that he has plenty to room to develop as far as mixed martial arts goes, and he’s at the right place at AKA. The gym currently houses fighters such as Paul Buentello, Mike Swick, Josh Koscheck, Cain Velasquez and Jon Fitch to name just a few. recently had the opportunity to sit down and have an extended conversation with Daniel Cormier that would be best served by splitting the dialogue up in sections. Make sure to come back in coming days to gather Daniel’s thoughts on how soon he would like to compete in a major promotion, the value of being able to mix his game up and keep his future opponents guessing, the constant motivation he receives from the loss of his daughter, and so much more.

FiveOuncesOfPain: How long have you been contemplating a transition to mixed martial arts? You know, what was the first point where you really thought this was something you could do and be successful at?

Daniel Cormier: I’ve thought about it for a while now, even back when I was still competing in wrestling, but when I really decided to do it was probably two and a half, three months ago. I started doing some boxing with a trainer by the name of Pepe Johnson. He’s based in Tulsa, Oklahoma and he trains Alan Green (Boxer, 28-1, 20 KO’s) and Gerald Harris (TUF 7 Vet, 11-2 MMA). I started sparring with those guys and it felt good. I really enjoyed it. So I ended up calling Josh Koscheck, because I’ve known Josh from wrestling in college, and I told him I needed to get in touch with Dewayne Zinkin from Zinkin Entertainment & Sports Management. So Josh told Dewayne and he called me. He had been after me for eight years, and when he called me, we set up a trip for me to go out and train at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. I went out there and trained for a week, then I went down to Lava Boxing in Southern California and trained with Mel Manor and King Mo, and I just fell in love with it.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Now this is kind of a new thing for you being that you’ve just recently decided to jump into the sport, but I’m sure you’ve seen MMA in the past being a wrestler; What were your thoughts when you saw your first event?

Daniel Cormier: Well I’ve seen it for a while because you know my coach was Kevin Jackson and he fought. So every event, we’d watch it at KJ’s house. KJ would always say stuff like,”You and Mo could beat so and so right now”, or,”You guys would be good at it”, over and over. The plan was for us to all go into it together with Kevin as or manager/promoter because he had a good idea of how the business worked. Well this dude just got his dream job with the Dallas Cowboys so he’s kind of out of the business right now. We ended up going our separate ways, but for a while back then I was thinking, ‘I might be able to do this’. Then Mo ended up doing so well,  so fast, that I kind of didn’t think it would be that difficult for me to do the same thing.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Yeah, Mo did really good really quick. After training for a month or so he just comes out and TKO’s Travis Wiuff in the first round. I mean, Wiuff had well over sixty fights at the time and was riding a big win streak. Who does that?

Daniel Cormier: Oh yeah man. He’s doing amazing. He actually said to say what’s up too.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Oh cool, yeah, Mo’s my boy. He’s got that fight coming up on Friday with Mark Kerr at “M-1 Global: Breakthrough”. I’m looking forward to him getting back in there. I know he’s been frustrated sitting on the sidelines after starting out as quick as he did.

Daniel Cormier: Hey, I’m going to that. I’m cornering him. That’s my brother. We’ve trained together for the last eight years, and for six years we wrestled together. He came to Oklahoma State after his junior year, and I had already graduated so I was coaching him. Then right after he was done with college he went right into freestyle wrestling. He trained with me for the 2003 World Championships in New York City, and he came with me to Athens for the Olympic Games. He also came with me to Budapest, Hungary as my teammate. It was his only world team. The guy should have been a champion and they cheated him against a Russian. Then in 2006 he was my training partner again.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Yeah, Mo really blew me away when he beat Wiuff in his first fight. I know Wiuff has never been a UFC champion, but the guy is dangerous, and to take a fight with a guy like that in your debut just takes a certain type of mindset you rarely see in MMA anymore.

Daniel Cormier: That’s the wrestling mindset! That’s the thing some people don’t realize. It’s a gift and a curse though, because they’ll say we want you to fight him, and as a wrestler you’ll say,’Okay’. Some other guys will say,”I don’t want to fight Mo Lawal. He’s too good of a wrestler”, but as a wrestler you’re just like,’Put him out in front of me and we’ll go at it’. It’s just a different mindset, and I think Mo’s going to end up being a champion for a long time.

FiveOuncesOfPain: I know he’s hopped around from gym to gym in the past; Is there any possibility of him coming down to AKA and training with you guys sometime in the future?

Daniel Cormier: I would love to, but he’s got a really great coach right now, Ryan Parsons. I’ll go down with there and train with those guys, and Mo will come up and train at AKA. I think we have to continue our relationship as we move forward in the sport. Even though we’re under different management firms, and we train at different gyms, I don’t think that we have to lose track of one another, because we’re just so comfortable training together, and we’ve been training together for so long. On the other hand, at the American Kickboxing Academy, I have some really talented fighters to train with here. It’s an absolute gold mine for me right now.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Right. You have a bunch of fresh faces to train with right now. You’re at one of the best gyms in the world. You should just soak it all up for the moment.

Daniel Cormier: Well the thing with Muhammed is we would only train wrestling. We wouldn’t train striking and we wouldn’t train Jiu-Jitsu, so it’s like a whole new world. And he’s better than me right now. I was always the guy that was ahead in wrestling because I started before him. Mo only started wrestling in high school. That’s unheard of for a guy that’s had as much success as he has. I mean we all started when we were ten years old. I just think that with the partners I have at AKA it would be a big benefit to both of us for him to come down here.

FiveOuncesOfPain: I know you competed at right around 209-210 in the past. Are you anticipating a career at light-heavyweight, or will you stay at heavyweight and just bulk up a bit?

Daniel Cormier: You know I cut a lot of weight during wrestling. So I’m going to stay up for right now. Hey, for the right opportunity you go down and lose the weight. For the right opportunity you lose the weight and you fight at 205, but right now I just need to enjoy this transition. I don’t need to be worrying about weight management at this point in my career. What I need to be doing is worrying about getting better. By doing that, by staying up and not worrying about weight control, it’s going to allow me to focus on my training and just improving my skills. Learning how to…. to fight, you know.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Oh yeah, I don’t think cutting down to 205 for the first time in your life should be something you even think about right now. I know wrestlers really cut down pretty dry to compete at the level you did. What are you walking around at right now?

Daniel Cormier: I probably weigh about 250. You know, I’m big, but I was going from 245 to 211 during wrestling. But realistically that was from doing it incorrectly. I was cutting that weight in maybe two and a half, or three and a half weeks. I think that in the fight game the resources you have available to you, in terms of nutritionists and being in a camp full time; it’s not like we didn’t have that here, it’s just that I didn’t take advantage of it then. But with the scare at the Olympics there’s no way I’m ever going to cut weight incorrectly again. So I think that if Bob Cook decides that he thinks that it would be in my best interest to fight at 205, then I’d tell him to set up a diet, and I’d follow it. I would also use the entire eight week training camp to get down to the weight class.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Right, but you’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.

Daniel Cormier: Exactly, when I get there, but that’s in the future. I think right now I just have to get better, and I think without having to cut weight it will allow me to get better without that extra burden of having to monitor everything I’m doing. It kind of consumed me during wrestling; always having to worry about the weight at the end. It wasn’t as much about training and getting better that it should have been because I was so worried about the weight control. It became too big of an issue. I’m not going to deal with that at this point in my career. Randy weighs 220 and he fights at heavyweight.

FiveOuncesOfPain: I’m telling you man, the heavyweight division isn’t dominated by guys that are exactly ripped. I mean even Brock Lesnar, sure, he’s massive, but he’s not ripped.

Daniel Cormier: Yeah, they’re big guys. Lesnar’s a big old guy, Shane Carwin’s a big guy, but when you start to go down from there, guys aren’t as big as that. You look at Fedor Emelianenko; he’s 230 pounds!

FiveOuncesOfPain: Exactly, and that’s the thing, Fedor may be able to get down to 205 but he doesn’t have to.

Daniel Cormier: Doesn’t have to, doesn’t need to, and he doesn’t want to. And why would he? I mean, he’s 30-1…

FiveOuncesOfPain: It works for him and you’ll figure out what works for you in due time.

Daniel Cormier: Exactly. So right now I think the best idea for me is to just stay up and enjoy my transition into mixed martial arts.

FiveOuncesOfPain: I know Cain Velasquez has told me in the past that while he was wrestling there were times he just wanted to hit his opponent; Did you ever get the same feeling at any point while wrestling?

Daniel Cormier: I think at some points when I was younger that happened. I think that once I got to college that all stopped though. I mean, I went to Oklahoma State, and that’s like a whole different animal in wrestling. There were tons of fights. I fought so many times in that wrestling room, wrestling Mark Munoz every day. The guy was a National Champion, he’s so good. Now Mark’s the nicest guy in the world, but I would fight Mark because some days he’d get the better of me, and I hated it. It was just so competetive that you would fight all the time. I had some of the best training partners in the world during college and I would fight them. Guys like Tyrone Lewis, he was an Olympic alternate last year. These are the guys that I would train with every day, and we’d actually fight. Cain was probably getting on top of those guys and he was so dominant that he would just want to pound them. Steve Mocco had the same problem here at Oklahoma State. He was so dominant over the rest of his training partners that it just didn’t seem like they were trying hard enough to him. So it would make him mad and he would want to punch them. With me, I didn’t have that because Mark was good, Tyrone was good, Chris was good. All the guys I trained with were good enough to push me and beat me. The only time we fought is when I got mad because I was losing.

FiveOuncesOfPain: Yeah, I could see that. There was no time to think about hitting them because you were so concentrated on your positioning, etc.

Daniel Cormier: Eventually I would just hit them! I wouldn’t think about hitting them, I just hit them. They would hit me back too, and then all of a sudden coach is running across the room stopping it. But then, you know, we’d wipe it off. We’d wipe off the blood, the tears, the madness and the anger, and then we’d go right back to wrestling. It’s a physical sport, wrestling is.


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