A lot can change in a year. Just ask Daniel Cormier. Half of the main event for Saturday’s Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Championship was just a blip on the radar at this time last year. Now, not only does he have the opportunity to win the tournament, but he is also enjoying more success at home and in the gym as a coach.
The former Olympic wrestler was set to face Shane del Rosario in June of last year. But a car accident forced del Rosario to withdraw from the bout, and Cormier went on to face off against Jeff Monson. It was there where Cormier displayed his vastly improved striking, earning a unanimous decision victory, and a spot as an alternate in the Heavyweight Grand Prix.
After Alistair Overeem pulled out of the tournament, Cormier was named his replacement, taking on Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in September. He famously knocked out the significantly larger Brazilian, breaking his hand in the process. Because of that injury, the tournament final was put on hold.
Now the tournament that began over a year ago finally comes to an end, as Cormier takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett.
“It’s crazy how much everything has changed,” Cormier admitted to MMAFrenzy.com. “This time last year, I had just had my son in February, and Shane and I were going to decide who was going to move forward in the division. Shane got hurt, and I just continued to move forward. Fast forward a year, and I beat Jeff and Antonio, and then I had another child, my daughter.
In one year, I went from a guy barely in the top 25 to a guy in the top 10. And now I have two kids. My mind is actually blown just how much my life has changed in such a short period of time.”
Unfortunately for Cormier, it has not been a short period of time between his last fight and his next one, as he has not fought since that win over Silva in September. The eight month layoff is the longest break of his career. Having fought for only two and a half years, Cormier has averaged four fights a year. In fact, he fought six times in 2010, including three times in a three week span during the summer.
As a man accustomed to remaining active even when not in competition, the layoff has been even tougher for Cormier, who grew up maintaining a busy schedule as he developed his wrestling career.
“I’m a guy that always likes to stay busy,” said Cormier. “It’s difficult to sit back and not fight. But not only that, I wasn’t able to do much in training. A lot of my improvements come between fights, so to not be able to train as hard as I want to, it was very hard.”
That inactivity in training came due to the broken hand that he suffered in his fight against Silva. What did not help matters was that Cormier suffered a setback just three months later, delaying his return to full-time training even longer.
“I actually broke my hand again in December,” said Cormier. “I was starting to heal, and I pushed it a little too much. I took a step back in training, and just did a lot of wrestling and jiu-jitsu through January. In February, I started to hit a little bit. Then two weeks before the Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey fight(which took place March 3rd), I got clearance from a doctor, and the matchup with Barnett was announced to the public. I’ve been hitting pretty good with my hand since then.”
Aside from the striking aspect of his training, Cormier has had to face the challenge of Barnett calling him out and stating that he will be able to take the former Olympic wrestler down. Cormier certainly is not shying away from that, embracing the friendly challenge from his opponent.
“I’m not a guy that turns away from a challenge,” Cormier said. “Honestly, I have prepared harder for this fight than I have in my entire life. Not only during my fighting career, but I have trained harder than for any of my high-level wrestling matches.”
For Cormier, he will not only be fighting for pride and the opportunity to win the tournament, but he will be fighting in front of his hometown crowd for the first time. Despite fighting for Strikeforce for nearly three years, this will be his first match in Strikeforce and American Kickboxing Academy’s hometown of San Jose, California.
“I am super excited to be fighting at home,” said Cormier. “HP Pavillion is only a ten minute drive from my house, so I can stay at my house during fight week. I get to be around my kids the entire time. So things can stay normal.
Plus, San Jose has great fight fans. They come out in numbers and show support for their local guys. They adopt fighters. Even though a lot of guys are not originally from here, they adopt us into their family.”
Another family that Cormier is a part of is American Kickboxing Academy, which will have the opportunity to earn not only the Grand Prix Championship, but also the Strikeforce lightweight title, as Josh Thomson will take on Gilbert Melendez in the co-main event. Despite Josh Koscheck leaving the team earlier this year, Cormier and the rest of the team still feel the entire group is continually improving every day.
“The atmosphere at AKA is stronger than ever,” admitted Cormier. “It is going to show in this next month with all of the big fights we have. You will notice the changes in our gym in these fights. Obviously we miss Josh, but it was time for him to move on. Any time that you have a guy that is that unhappy with a situation, you want him to get out of it.
It means a lot to our guys to be able to contend for titles. It would be great to be like Cesar Gracie and his camp when Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, and Nick Diaz were all champions. We could have a lot of hardware in our gym by the end of the year.”