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While “DC” is a fine and alphabetically consistent nickname, Daniel Cormier should really consider changing it. I’m sure Lucas Bourdon, who to my knowledge originated Cormier’s rightful soubriquet, would not mind.
The fatherliness of “DC” is self-evident beyond his audacious dad-bod. He has the confidence of a man who publicly wears socks with his sandals and tucks his shirt into his sweat pants. He has the swagger of knowing that he can make anything uncool just by liking it. He has the aura of someone who can’t cook but knows his way around the grill and, if all else fails, isn’t afraid to order a pizza. He’s the type who doesn’t blush when he admits to knowing all the songs in “Coco” or “Moana” by heart, the type who has mastered the appropriate tough-love tone when he says “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you,” the type who doesn’t get angry, just disappointed. You know, a dad.
It’s deeper than that, though. Being a father is central to who Cormier is as a person. The story of his life has been marked with tragedies and triumphs, the most devastating and instructive of which have centered around family and fatherhood. When Cormier was 8 years old, his father was murdered on Thanksgiving Day. When the Lafayette, Louisiana, native was 24, his 3-month-old daughter died in a car accident. These are the random, sinister lapses in life’s judgment that leave talking points about theodicy empty and hollow-out lesser men into husks of their former selves. Not Cormier, though.
In a 2017 interview with ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” he explained how both losses made him the man he is now. His stepfather, who Cormier calls “dad,” became a strong father figure for a young “DC,” and that has had lasting effects: “My dad got up at 7:30 every morning and went to work for the city of Lafayette. He cleaned bathrooms; he put chalk down on baseball fields; he did all that. When he would get off at 5, he would come home, he would take a bath, get dressed and go back to wash dishes at a pizza parlor for 15 bucks; or he would take us with him to mow the grass at a cemetery to make money. I understood hard work at a very, very young age because I saw it day in and day out.”
When Cormier lost his daughter, “… I asked myself the question, ‘Is this going to cost you, or is this going to propel you and be a force of inspiration for you?’ That’s what it became … Some people don’t recover from a loss like that, and I’m just lucky that I was able to take that energy and use it to actually encourage me to train harder, work harder, work smarter [and] make sure that I can be a good father to my children that are here on this earth with me today.”
Notice the repetition of the word “work.” It’s clear that a strong work ethic is central to Cormier’s identity as a man, because it’s also the defining trait of who he is as a fighter. For all but two of his professional fights, the hard work has paid off. It certainly did in the most important bout of his life against Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 on Saturday in Las Vegas. The win put him in elite company as a two-division champion and solidified his resume as one of the best in the sport’s history, but more importantly, it was his first major Ultimate Fighting Championship accomplishment that is not overshadowed by Jon Jones. For all his success in the sport, this win was an act of becoming for Cormier, a vindication.
Good fathers set examples for us, give us cause to reflect and reconsider and act upon our discoveries. One of Mark Twain’s best quotes is apt here: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
This, of course, is a way of admitting how our fathers tend to be right all along; it just takes us time to catch up to that knowledge. Cormier has similarly held up a mirror to the sport. I see my own maturity through him. Against Jones, both times I found it hard to cheer for “DC.” He was like the kid who reminded the teacher that she forgot to collect homework, the guy who says “thank you” to the police officer who ticketed him and means it. He cared too much, while Jones’ nonchalant expectation that he would win was the epitome of cool for those of us whose center of gravity was primarily composed of residual anti-authority angst.
In the intervening years, however, I’ve quickly gone from rooting against him to appreciating just how great he is and understanding that his greatness is not in being a freakishly gifted athlete so much as a person who truly, genuinely believes that success only matters when it’s achieved the Right Way. He’s a model of taking inspired risks, and he does so with the awkward sincerity of someone who doesn’t know where he’s going or how he’ll get there but is damn determined to keep moving anyway. It took a few years, but I’ve caught up to the fatherly wisdom that Cormier has always exhibited through his actions.
Indeed, when Cormier first got to the UFC, he was so obnoxious I could hardly stand to listen to him. Now, I’m astonished at how much he’s grown in four years.
In the quietly masterful novel “Stoner” by John Williams, a professor realizes on his deathbed that “he was himself, and he knew what he had been.” The novel poses that question: How many of us truly know ourselves, free from the external tragedies that life and others thrust upon us, free from the interior conflicts between ambition and happiness? Not many. Whether you call him “DC” or “The Daddest Man on the Planet,” there is no question that Cormier -- Olympian, MMA champion, coach, husband, father -- knows who he is and who he has always been.
“I always want to make her proud,” he said, returning to the infant daughter who tragically passed away 15 years ago. “Every day in my actions, would she be proud? I think so far the answer is yes.”
Eric Stinton is a writer and a teacher from Kailua, Hawaii. He has been writing for Sherdog since 2014 and has published fiction, nonfiction and journalism in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Eastlit, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat and Vice, among others. He currently lives with his fiancée and dachshund in Seoul. You can find his work at ericstinton.com.