"There's no substitute for experience," Cormier (4-0) told MMA Fighting. "I don't have the time that some of these other guys have. I'm 31. I need to progress a little bit quicker than them."
This is why Cormier, who fought for and won the King of the Cage heavyweight title just last week, signed on to face Jason Riley (9-3) on the undercard of Strikeforce: Houston this weekend. He needs the experience, he said, and if his management thinks it's a good idea, he's not about to disagree.
Take the situation with his Strikeforce contract, for instance.
A decorated amateur wrestler and captain of the 2008 Olympic team, Cormier had zero MMA bouts to his credit when Strikeforce signed him to a lengthy eight-fight deal.
"Hey, Bob [Cook] is my manager. He thought it was a good idea, and I'm not the type of guy who goes against the grain," said Cormier. "He said it was a good move and I was like, let's do it. You want to believe that people care about you and wouldn't put you in a bad situation. I figured they know what moving over to this career meant for me, and I've got a really good contract with Strikeforce for good money."
But the money is only part of the reason Cormier finally made the move to MMA after a decorated wrestling career. Most of the credit, according to him, belongs to fellow wrestler and current Strikeforce light heavyweight champ "King" Mo Lawal.
"Really, it was Mo, man. Mo was just on me all the time, saying, 'You got to try this. You could be good at it.' And once I started doing it I was like, I really like this. It's fun. But honestly, I think Mo played the biggest part in it. He was always on me telling me how good it was."
At first Cormier was reluctant to give up his dreams of an Olympic medal. You spend the bulk of your life wrestling, hearing stories of the heroes in singlets who came before you, it can be a little difficult to give up the dream just to get punched in the face for a living.
But after being forced out of the 2008 Olympics due to kidney failure, Cormier began to reconsider trying out MMA. A trip to the American Kickboxing Academy helped cement the decision, but then Cormier faced a new issue. After being one of the top dogs in wrestling, now he was nothing more than a rookie in MMA.
"That's been difficult, to go from the top of your sport to being on undercards after you used to be the featured guy," Cormier said. "But I've done that before. I went from being the baddest man in my high school, to bottom of the totem pole in college. Then I was the best guy on the team at Colby [Community College], back to the bottom at Oklahoma State. Then the top guy on the Olympic team, to back of the pack at AKA. We've all done that. [Josh] Koscheck and [Jon] Fitch and Cain [Velasquez], they all went through that too. I believe that in wrestling, you learn how to deal with that adversity."
That desire to climb up the ladder also helps to explain Cormier's rush to get some fights under his belt. On Saturday he faces Riley, who's coming off a fourteen-second TKO loss to Devin Cole in March, and who Cormier admits he hasn't had much time to study.
Not that oddsmakers expect it to matter. Cormier is an overwhelming 15-1 favorite according to some online bookmakers. That's part of the problem with being a hot prospect from another sport. Maybe you get a contract without having even a single pro fight, but you also face high expectations right from the start.
"I don't think people have decided what they think of me yet, because they haven't seen enough. I think the general consensus after I fought Gary Frazier was that I suck. But that was all relative to how much training I had, which was three or four weeks. People decide what they think of you and what they expect of you, and they run with it."
If the jury's still out on Cormier, he'll get another chance to make his case on Saturday. He'd better make it count. He likely doesn't have time to start over again.
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