Daniel Cormier believes he has plenty of room for growth. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Back in May, when Daniel Cormier was preparing for his light heavyweight showdown with Dan Henderson, the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix tournament winner made it perfectly clear that he had no qualms with waiting on the winner of the Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson rematch.
At the time, Cormier was just settling into his new weight class and felt that he still had a lot to learn after getting by for so many years primarily on his wrestling ability. Even at the age of 35, Cormier believed that the longer it took to get his title shot, the more dangerous he would be.
“You have got to remember that I haven’t been doing mixed martial arts that long,” Cormier said before facing Henderson at UFC 173.
The American Kickboxing Academy standout, who made his pro debut in 2009, explained that it was difficult to acquire MMA skills while learning how to properly cut weight -- which is why he remained an undersized-yet-successful heavyweight for so long.
But now that he’s gotten a grasp on how to handle his weight, he believes that he’s just now opening his toolbox of potential.
“This is still an unfinished product that is getting comfortable in a new weight class,” he said then. “I don’t know when it all will come together, but the longer that that Jon Jones – or whoever the champ is -- takes to fight me, the better I’ll get.”
Fast forward several months and now Cormier finds himself in position to face Jones for the coveted light heavyweight championship at UFC 178. Does Cormier still feel that Jones has caught him at just the right time -- rather than seeing him at his peak sometime in 2015?
“If I would have fought Jon Jones next January or February I would have been better than the version of myself that will be fighting him in September,” Cormier said when asked about his earlier statement. “But I believe the version of Daniel Cormier that will be there in September is still good enough to beat Jon Jones.”
Cormier’s confidence comes from training alongside Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold and the rest of the crew over at American Kickboxing Academy. Not to mention that he’s fought opponents who he believes are far bigger and stronger than Jones will be when the two step inside the cage on Sept. 27. And if Gustafsson could get Jones down, the former Olympic wrestler has no doubt that he’ll put the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world on his back repeatedly.
“I’ve had to overcome obstacles way bigger than Jon Jones to get where I am at today,” Cormier said. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t imagine that four years after we first met that we’d be here, I’d be undefeated and I would have attained the skills to stand across the cage from him.”
So, yes, Cormier does believe that Jones might have caught a break, considering that he’s still evolving as a fighter. None of that will matter when the cage door slams and one of MMA’s most heated rivalries in recent memory culminates in a five-round championship fight.
“Let’s be honest. I feel that I am better today than I was against Dan Henderson, and I’ll be even better when I’m defending my title,” Cormier said. “I believe that I’m the best fighter in the world at this weight class right now, and I’m only going to get better.”