When Ultimate Fighting Championship parent company Zuffa LLC acquired rival promotion Strikeforce on March 12, 2011, few assets were considered more valuable than undefeated heavyweight Daniel Cormier.
More than two years after the purchase forever changed the professional mixed martial arts landscape, Cormier will climb into the Octagon for the first time on Saturday, when he meets former heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the UFC on Fox 7 “Henderson vs. Melendez” co-main event at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Though the 34-year-old reflects on his Strikeforce tenure with an understandable fondness, he has turned the page on that chapter of his career.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Cormier said during a pre-fight media call for UFC on Fox 7. “I’m going to go out and fight like I normally do. We’re all UFC fighters now. There’s no weight on my shoulders to carry for the Strikeforce organization or anything. I’m just going to go out and fight my fight and let everything fall into place. I think if there’s pressure, it’s being in the co-main event of a Fox card, and I’ve dealt with that, so I don’t feel any pressure at all.”
In Mir, Cormier confronts a seasoned Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with recent victories over 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix winner Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, onetime Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner Roy Nelson. The 33-year-old Las Vegas native has remained on the sidelines since May, when he succumbed to second-round punches from Junior dos Santos at UFC 146.
Long revered as one of the sport’s most gifted heavyweights, Mir suffered a career-threatening leg injury in a September 2004 motorcycle accident. Plagued early in his career by an admitted lack of commitment, he has proven vulnerable to strikers and wrestlers -- all six of his losses have come by knockout or technical knockout -- throughout his time in the UFC, leading to one-sided thrashings from dos Santos, former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Brock Lesnar, Grudge Training Center brute Shane Carwin and the enigmatic Brandon Vera.
Those setbacks have done nothing to curb Mir’s confidence or his willingness to share it in the form of pre-fight rhetoric and hyperbolic threats of bodily harm. Cormier shrugs at such tactics.
“I’m not going to fight with any emotion,” he said. “There’s not anything Frank could ever say about me that’s going to make me fight a fight that’s more dangerous. I’ve stated time and time again that I think there’s only a select few individuals who can take the beatings Frank has taken and still continue to be the way he is.
“I’m going to go out there and fight my fight,” Cormier added. “I’m hoping it’s [his attempt at] promotion because if that’s the way his mind works, it’s very disturbing.”
A three-time collegiate All-American wrestler and two-time Olympian, Cormier has made a seamless transition to mixed martial arts, winning his first 11 fights, eight of them finishes, and capturing titles inside the King of the Cage and Xtreme MMA promotions. Cormier already owns wins over a pair of world-ranked heavyweights -- Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva -- and two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Jeff Monson. He burst on the global scene in 2012, when, as an alternate, he won the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix.
With American Kickboxing Academy stablemate and longtime training partner Cain Velasquez perched atop the UFC’s heavyweight division, Cormier has hinted at a possible move to 205 pounds. In January, after he stopped overmatched Dutchman Dion Staring on second-round punches in his final appearance under the Strikeforce banner, he took aim at UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Cormier has since focused his full attention on Mir, a man who has never lost back-to-back bouts.
“I’ve got such an important fight on my hands in this next one that I’ve kind of stayed away from that thought process,” he said. “I’m not really thinking about the 205-pound division right now. I’ve said it time and time again that I want to be a UFC champion, and if that means going down a weight below, then I will do that. I have the toughest fight of my career in front of me, and I can’t focus on that right now.”
Some question whether Cormier can meet the 205-pound threshold for light heavyweights. The Lafayette, La., suffered kidney failure during a weight cut in 2008, which led to his withdrawal from the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Even so, Cormier insists he can remake himself without much difficulty -- once he finishes his business with Mir.
“For me to have stated that I would consider it means I am confident I can make the weight, but right now, my sole focus is on Frank,” he said. “Once we get past Frank, then we can talk about that other stuff.”