Daniel Cormier On Upcoming Strikeforce Heavyweight Tourney Showdown With Josh Barnett: “We Control What Happens In That Cage”
Heavyweight expects to migrate to the UFC after next two fights; Talks possibility of having to fight teammate Cain Velasquez
By Tom Taylor
The road to the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix finals has been an interesting one, riddled with upsets, delays, and the shuffling of several matchups. Fifteen months after it kicked off, however, the tournament will finally come to a conclusion on May 19, when Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier do battle for the winning spot.
Cormier, a decorated Olympic wrestler who placed fourth in the 2004 Games and has since become a potent force in MMA’s heavyweight division, sporting a perfect 9-0 record, took time to speak with Full Contact Fighter between training sessions.
The test that lies ahead of Cormier that is Barnett will be an extremely challenging one, and he has been training accordingly. So far, he says his training camp has been very successful.
“Training has been exceptional. I think it’s probably been my best training camp to date. I’m starting to feel like I’m in pretty good shape,” he said. “And I’ve still got a lot of time to improve. I’m working on the areas that I think will be very important in this fight, and I’m getting my cardio levels really high. To this point, it’s been amazing, actually.”
Despite his accolades as a high school and college wrestler, his perfect pro MMA record, and his status as an Olympian, Cormier will enter the fight as an underdog, which he believes is fair.
“I believe it’s justified. There’s no reason for me to be favored over Josh Barnett, who’s what I believe to be one of the top four heavyweights in the world, behind Cain [Velasquez], Alistair [Overeem] and Junior Dos Santos.”
While he understands his status as an underdog, Cormier will obviously be gunning for an upset.
“We control what happens in that cage. It’s my job to go in there and get my hand raised.” In order to do so, Cormier plans to sharpen every weapon in his arsenal.
“I need to be prepared to fight him in every situation for a whole 25 minutes. I know that may sound kind of cliché, and the answer everybody gives, but that’s what we’re training for,” he said. “I don’t want to have to fight in a position where I’m not comfortable.”
He is aware of the many dangers that a versatile opponent like Barnett brings to the cage.
“As you saw in the Pedro Rizzo fight, he was able to knock him out with his hands,” he said. “I’ve got to be prepared to fight everywhere. He has a lot of advantages. He’s got countless submissions. You’ve got to be prepared for everything. I think Josh has shown a tendency to want to fight on the ground a little more than he does on the feet, so I think I need to focus a lot of time on my ground fighting.”
Barnett’s submission skills will not be the only advantage he holds over Cormier. Barnett also holds a significant experience advantage as a 15
Cormier is complimentary of his opponent’s mileage as a fighter, and cites game planning as an answer to Barnett’s experience.
“He’s going to have a lot of tricks, and he’s going to do a lot of things I’ve never seen before. You’re right, he is a savvy veteran, but I’m just going to try to stick to my game plan, listen to my coaches and do what I’m supposed to do.”
He says that his coaches have not fully developed a game plan yet, and will do so closer to the date of the fight so that he is not overwhelmed. He can however, promise a nonstop assault on Barnett for as long as the fight lasts.
“You’ll see me pressing forward, trying to make him work for 25 hard minutes. Just setting a high pace, getting my hands on him, punching him, and taking him down,”Cormier explained, “making him work harder than he ever anticipated working in a fight.”
Victory in this fight is especially important to Cormier given the fact that he was not one of the original entrants in the eight-man tournament, rather a possible replacement in the event that one of the original eight become injured.
He entered the tournament in the second round, replacing Overeem, who was plucked from Strikeforce and added to the UFC’s heavyweight roster. Fate has dealt Cormier an exceptional hand, and he does not plan to waste it.
“It’s amazing man. It’s a dream come true. When I started fighting, I went to see Fedor [Emilianenko] vs Brett Rogers in Chicago and I was in awe of the atmosphere and how big these fights had actually become. I had no idea that, in less than three years, I would actually be fighting at that level, he said.
“To fight someone like Josh— it’s amazing—and to be part of the biggest thing that Strikeforce has ever done, it’s an honor. I’ve represented Strikeforce since the very beginning and I’d be happy to win this tournament. I’d be more than happy, actually.”
After the Barnett fight, Cormier will have one fight left on his contract with Strikeforce. Should he win these next two fights, he expects a transition to the UFC is inevitable.
“It’s a positive that, if I beat Josh, I’ll have one more fight in Strikeforce before heading over to the UFC where everyone else is at. I mean, they [Strikeforce] are dissolving the heavyweight division, so after that plus one fight, yeah we’ll be heading over to the UFC. I can imagine by the end of the year I’ll be fighting in the UFC.”
Should Cormier move to the UFC, he’ll be one of the last Strikeforce heavyweights to do so, following in the footsteps of Fabricio Werdum, Overeem, Shane Del Rosario, Chad Griggs, and Antonio “Big Foot” Silva. Given the exodus of Strikeforce talent to the UFC, he is unsure who his final opponent in Strikeforce will be after Barnett.
“I have no idea who this person could be. I think your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “I was like, man, who’s this fight going to be against? Especially when all the other guys were getting name UFC fights.”
He says that the migration of Strikeforce heavyweights has not frustrated him, though.
“I’m not envious. I’m not sad to be in Strikeforce. Like I said, this is where I’ve been since the beginning of my career, I’m happy there. They treat me great – Strikeforce and Showtime, and you know I fight high-level competition. All those guys that have left have won their fights. The heavyweights in Strikeforce that have left are 4-0 in the UFC, so obviously we’ve been fighting high-level competition.”
Cormier is excited to join the UFC’s roster, however.
“Obviously you always look forward to that. Just competing in the UFC you look forward to. It’s the biggest show.”
Entry into the UFC would provide Cormier with a breadth of new opponents and challenges. One of the UFC’s top heavyweights, Velasquez, is a teammate and friend of Cormier. Despite this, Cormier says a fight with Velasquez is not something he would rule out if it came down to it.
“That’s one of the things we’ve kind of avoided talking about,” he said. “The only thing we have said is that both of us want to be champions. I would not want to fight Cain for the number one contender spot, and I wouldn’t want to fight Cain if it was just a regular fight.
“I don’t want to fight Cain, but if you’re a high-level athlete like Cain is, and I am, and have been a champion before in your sport, your desire is to be the best in the world. So if we’re ever faced with that situation we would have to sit down and discuss that with our manager and our training partners.”
Regardless of the opponent or the arena, however, Cormier simply loves fighting. His urge to compete keeps him happy no matter whom he’s fighting and where he fights them.
“I love competition, man. I tell people that if you and I are playing a video game, I’m going to try to beat you every single time. If we’re fighting, I’ve got to beat you, wrestling; I’ve got to beat you, jiu jitsu; I’ve got to beat you. If you and I have two magazines, and we’re reading them, I’ve got to read it faster than you. I’m a competitive person.”
Photo credit: Esther Lin/Strikeforce