Daniel Cormier | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The transition from Olympic freestyle wrestler to professional mixed martial artist has been as smooth as silk for Daniel Cormier.
Since his MMA debut in September 2009, Cormier has posted six straight wins -- three by knockout, three by submission -- picked up a pair of regional championships in a span of eight days and competed at three Strikeforce events. He will look to take another step forward in his burgeoning MMA career when he takes on International Fight League veteran Devin Cole in a featured heavyweight fight at Strikeforce “Challengers 13” on Friday at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.
The Cormier-Cole fight will serve as the co-main event, underneath a welterweight bout pitting unbeaten prospect Tyron Woodley against Team Quest’s Tarec Saffiedine. The main card will air live on Showtime at 11 p.m. ET.
“My camp has been great,” said Cormier, who struck UFC veteran Soa Palelei into submission on Nov. 5 in Australia. “I’ve had a long camp. I got back in the gym the Monday after the [Palelei] fight and have been working on things ever since. I’ve known about this fight for a while and been working on a lot of different areas, but it’s gone well.”
With six fights in 15 months, including three in less than a month earlier this year, Cormier has stayed busy -- something he likes.
“I think it’s great to be fighting so much,” said Cormier, who finished fourth in the 2004 Olympic Games at 211 pounds and was U.S. team captain in 2008 before kidney failure kept him out of the Beijing Games. “[American Kickboxing Academy trainer] Bob Cook thought it was time for me to get some experience, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Fighting this much has helped with my visibility and just getting used to being in the cage. I have a lot of great training partners, but it’s nothing like being in the arena fighting in front of 8,000 or 10,000 people. Now, when I go get in the cage, it’s scary because I’m not even nervous.”
Along with his Olympic experience and five national freestyle championships, Cormier was a two-time junior college national champion and NCAA runner-up at Oklahoma State University. Despite all of that experience and his previous success in the cage, Cormier knows he will have his hands full with Cole, a seasoned veteran who owns a 6-1-1 mark in his last eight appearances.
“Devin Cole is a huge step up in competition for me.” Cormier said. “It’s a privilege for me to fight somebody who’s fought some of the best fighters in the world. He’s good everywhere. He’s got good stand-up, and he’s good on the ground. [Cole] is a guy I had to focus hard on to get ready for this fight.”
Cole -- who has 13 finishes, including 10 knockouts, among his 18 professional victories -- was a top-notch collegiate wrestler himself, earning All-American honors at Southern Oregon University and leading SOU to an NAIA national title. A pro since 2003, Cole’s resume includes fights with former UFC heavyweight title contender Jeff Monson, Mike Kyle, Travis Wiuff, Allan Goes, UFC veterans Ben Rothwell and Krzysztof Soszynski and current Strikeforce 205-pound champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.
Cormier sees a fight against Cole as the logical next step in his career progression.
“Fighting someone like Devin Cole is a perfect example of what I’ve been doing as my career has progressed,” said Cormier. “Each of my fights has come against someone tougher, and I want my career to be a constant progression until I’m fighting the best guys in the world. To win this fight, I’ve got to implement my game plan, push the wrestling and go at a high pace. Is it going to be easy? No, but I have to fight hard and hope he’s not going to be able to keep up with the pace I set.”
A win over Cole would probably put Cormier in line to fight on the main card of a more significant Strikeforce event, but Cormier is willing to fight whenever and wherever his management will have him get in the cage.
“If I get past [Cole], my career will be continuing its natural progression, and if I can beat someone like Devin Cole and look good doing it, my next fight will have to be against some really tough competition,” said Cormier. “I would imagine if I win and look good, I’ll be on a main card, but if I’m not, I’ll just play my part and go and do whatever Strikeforce and Showtime say. If that means I’m on an undercard, that’s OK. If I’m back in the Challengers series, that’s OK. If I’m on a main card, that will be OK, too.”