Daniel Cormier still feels like an underdog ahead of his light heavyweight debut at UFC 170

credit: Heidi Fang/MMA Fight Corner

credit: Heidi Fang/MMA Fight Corner

With a career which includes being a NCAA division I All-American wrestler, two-time Olympian and undefeated professional MMA fighter, UFC Light Heavyweight Daniel Cormier (13-0) still feels like an underdog as he heads into do battle with Rashad Evans (19-3-1) at UFC 170.

However, the strong wrestler mentality which is ingrained in the San Jose, CA, based fighter has taught him over time that he’s more than capable of breaking the will of any adversary he faces. It’s that focus and indominable will that has helped Cormier excel throughout his career.

At a UFC media day ahead of the Feb. 22 fight card emanating out of the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Cormier told a group of reporters how prepared he is to take on Evans.

“Rashad was a college wrestler, NCAA division I qualifier and a UFC champion. It’s a difficult fight for me,” admitted Cormier. “I think he’s probably going to be the toughest guy I’ve fought so far. But, I feel fine. I’m really confident in what I’ve learned in this sport. I’m confident in my team, my coaches, and my ability to fight. When I go in the cage, I fight smart and I fight to win. So, I’m confident I can win against Rashad Evans.”

At UFC 170, Cormier is making his debut at 205-pounds. Many have worried about “DC” making the cut being that he suffered a kidney failure prior to the 2008 Olympics. He was unable to compete in those games as a result. To avoid issue this time around, the 34-year-old athlete has devised a plan along with his trainer, Bob Cook at AKA, that will help him cut down properly.

“I haven’t actually had to cut weight, but I’ve actually just kind of made myself smaller by dieting and doing things the right way,” Cormier said. “Instead of being 240-245 pounds trying to get to 211, I’m weighing 230 or 229 when I’m not even really trying to diet. I’m drinking so much water, I’m eating multiple times a day and as we get closer to the fight I hit these numbers – like 225 I was at the end of last week. At the end of this week I want to be 223…and then just continue to get to about 215 and that’s going to be the lightest I’m going to get until I make the weight cut.”

Dropping to light heavyweight also means Cormier loses some of the advantages he had over bigger heavyweights.

“I do lose a speed advantage,” said Cormier. “But you got to understand, it’s like when you lose weight, you get faster. It’s not like I’m going to get slower because I’m going down. I’m actually going to move better. I wrestled 185-pounds in college and when I was down at 185, I moved just as fast as the guys I was wrestling.”

To adjust, Cormier has been working with smaller, faster sparring partners and chasing them around the gym in training. With all of the physical adjustments Cormier is making ahead of this bout, it’s easy for people to see him at a disadvantage.

“I mean I don’t know why I wouldn’t be [the underdog]. He’s a guy that’s going to be in the Hall of Fame at some point when he’s done. He’s fought the really best guys for a really long time and he’s won. I guess that I would be considered the underdog.”

However, the odds have Cormier currently listed as a 3 to 1 favorite. Still, Cormier didn’t go into his scraps with Frank Mir or Roy Nelson with the mentality that he’s the top dog. That rings true as he prepares to square off with Rashad.

Upon finding out that he’s favored over Evans, Cormier’s reaction was “that’s ridiculous.”

Also, the two often co-host on television as analysts for the UFC which has made the dynamic of the match-up even more intriguing. Evans told MMA Junkie in an interview that Cormier hasn’t texted him in some time. Cormier responded to that explaining that the tactic is something he learned from a friend he once fought, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.

“I just want to make it clear that we have to be in the right mind frame. I know that me personally, I care about Rashad a lot. I think he’s a great guy,” Cormier explained. “But for me personally, I need a little bit of space. Because otherwise, I wrestled Muhammed Lawal one time and I beat him in the finals of the US national tournament and I left. I left the arena because I knew he was not getting money that he probably could have used because he lost to me. It bugged me.

“But then for six weeks after that, he didn’t talk to me. I wanted to. I would call him, he wouldn’t respond. But he didn’t talk to me and six weeks later we wrestled. And I beat him again and I was fine. So Mo taught me in that moment that space can help both of us, especially when going into a competitive event like that.”

While Cormier is aware of what a difficult challenge the Blackzilians-trained athlete poses, he sees it as an opportunity to grow. For some time, Cormier has had his eye on challenging UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones inside the Octagon. He believes a win over Rashad could project him towards that goal.

“I would’ve preferred for this fight to come a little bit later if possible, but stuff happens man. This is the one that’s going to prepare me for a championship fight.”

UFC 170 goes down at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV on Feb. 22. The main event features two undefeated Olympic medalists as Sara McMann challenges Ronda Rousey for the women’s bantamweight title. Evans vs. Cormier will be the co-main event.

Tickets are on sale at all Las Vegas Ticketmaster locations (select Smith’s Food and Drug Centers and Ritmo Latino) or call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. Tickets also are available for purchase at www.mandalaybay.com or www.ticketmaster.com. Ticket prices do not include applicable service charges.

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