Olympian Cormier Talks Move to MMA

By Jake Rossen Aug 20, 2009
2007 World Team Trials Champion. Five-time US Nationals Champion. Fourth Place in the 2004 Olympic Games. 2003 Pan-American Gold Medalist. Second-place in the 2001 NCAA Championships.

It’s very possible Daniel Cormier could melt down the contents of his trophy room and put a dent in the national debt. A freestyle wrestler formerly with Oklahoma State University, the multi-decorated Olympian missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to dehydration and has elected not to train for the 2012 Games.

Instead, Cormier now spends his days bouncing between the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., and dodging the mitts of noted boxing trainer Pepe Johnson in Tulsa, Okla. The idea is to become as proficient a mixed martial artist as friend and training partner Josh Koscheck, along with the dozens of other accredited wrestlers who have made careers, names, and small fortunes in a high-profile sport custom-made for their skills.

Still months away from his debut -- he’d like to get a fight in by year’s end -- Cormier spoke to Sherdog.com about dodging a quarter-million dollar bonus, getting into a rumble backed by Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and refusing to leave wrestling completely behind.

Sherdog.com: You’re electing not to prepare for the 2012 Olympics, but USA Wrestling has made an aggressive push to keep wrestlers in their fold: they’re offering $250,000 to any athlete who wins a Gold Medal there. Wasn’t that tempting?

Cormier: Oh, yeah, it was. People get upset about the pay you get in wrestling. But when you win, you get paid. In my career, I think I’ve been compensated pretty fairly by USA Wrestling. They took care of me. Without USA Wrestling, none of these opportunities would be available to me. Some people get upset about the pay, and obviously there were times I felt like we could’ve gotten more. But I think I was treated fairly over the course of my career.

Sherdog.com: It’s really playing the odds. In the next two years, you could make a lot more than $250,000 if your fight career goes well. That money in wrestling is all-or-nothing proposition, no?

Cormier: I think it is. There are a lot of incentives to do it [fighting]. It’s possible for us wrestlers to do well and make quite a bit of money, but you gotta win. It all depends on how well I do in the cage.

I want to stress that, even though I’m moving to MMA, it doesn’t mean I won’t get in any wrestling competitions in the future. I still want to compete. I love wrestling. I think the biggest mistake a lot of wrestlers make is that they don’t go back and compete. You see guys going into jiu-jitsu tournaments and grappling tournaments to get better. Why is it any different than going to a wrestling competition and wrestling really good wrestlers and keeping yourself sharp?

Sherdog.com: Koscheck started out not knowing anything but wrestling. Now he’s good with his hands and has kept some of his fights standing. How do you think you’ll adapt? Will you always be a wrestler first?

Cormier: I want to put on entertaining fights. I’ve been a fan long enough to know that I don’t want to sit there and watch a guy lay on top of another guy. I’ve done that my entire life with wrestling. I really don’t want to put on any more wrestling matches. I will, if I’m not comfortable or I’m put in a situation where I need to, but I want to put on an exciting fight. And in order to do that, I’ve got to have high-impact wrestling moves in terms of throws, really hard double legs, slams, and mix that in with some striking.

Sherdog.com: Your last Olympic weight was 211 lbs. Where do you think you’ll come in for a fight?

Cormier: I see myself long-term fighting at 205. But in the beginning, I see myself fighting up at heavyweight because right now I want to enjoy this. I don’t want to cut all the weight I did throughout my whole career.

Sherdog.com: What do you weigh right now?

Cormier: Right now, probably 245 or 250. I’m a big guy. But with the correct diet, I’ll be able to knock that weight off pretty quickly. These guys train so hard at AKA that the weight just peels off of you.

Sherdog.com: Another wrestler with notoriety, Cael Sanderson, gets asked about MMA constantly, but he says he doesn’t have the appetite for it. Do you mind punching people? Do you mind taking punches?

Cormier: I don’t mind it. I’m really not a guy that likes to hurt people. But it’s a sport now, and most times guys don’t get seriously hurt. That’s how I’ve allowed myself to deal with it: the idea of hitting people. It’s a sport. Guys got hurt training in wrestling and it just killed me.

Sherdog.com: Have you been in many street fights?

Cormier: [Laughs]. Growing up in Louisiana, man, you had to, to survive. Otherwise, you’d just get punked everyday. That’s one thing I’ll never be, a punk. I’ve been in quite a few, actually.

Sherdog.com: Have you been in any since you matured physically and had these wrestling credentials?

Cormier: I got into a pretty big brawl in Colorado Springs when I was 22 or 23. It was me and Mo Lawal and a lot of other guys. A big old brawl. We were with the whole US volleyball team and we were all hanging out and having a good time. Then one guy hit one of the girls on the volleyball team. We had to defend them. Obviously, the guy regretted the decision that he made.

Sherdog.com: I don’t doubt it. Do you think your list of credentials precedes you in the ring? Gives you a psychological advantage?

Cormier: S---t, I would hope so. But ultimately, I’ll have to back it up.
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