Daniel Cormier has mixed emotions over UFC debut

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There are two ways to look at Daniel Cormier’s UFC debut, a fairly one-sided 30-27 decision win over Frank Mir on Saturday night’s UFC on FOX event from the HP Pavilion in San Jose,Calif. And when the fight was over, he was looking at it both ways.

"For some reason, I felt very tired," said Cormier (12-0), who was Strikeforce’s top heavyweight when the organization closed in January. "I was very nervous. But if you can beat a guy who is a two-time champion, there is a positive."

Cormier’s game plan was to avoid the ground and in doing so, he negated the strongest part of his game–his wrestling, where he was one of the best in the world, out of respect for Mir’s submission ability. The game plan of moving Mir (16-7) into the cage and tiring him out, was the safest way to win. He’d avoid the kicking range, and the distance, since Mir had a sizeable reach advantage.

He’d avoid the ground, which is the strongest part of Mir’s game. And when it came to the clinch and close range fighting, a wear down game, even though Cormier admitted being tired for the first time in his fighting career, perhaps due to nerves, it was a style that there was little chance he would lose at. But it wasn’t the most crowd-friendly fight. Some fighters wouldn’t care, figuring a win over a former champion who outweighed him by 22 pounds in his UFC debut would be far more important.

Cormier, fighting in his home city, was one of the biggest favorites of the night, but the fight was being booed as it went on based on his tactics, even though they were working when it came to winning him the fight.

"You can’t ignore it," he said about the booing. "But you’re going to continue to fight your fight."

Even so, he recognized just the win wasn’t enough, as he said he felt the kind of win wasn’t impressive enough to warrant a title shot.

"That’s something I really don’t like," he said, recognizing it wasn’t a crowd pleasing performance and that’s where his post-fight emotions were mixed. "I want to put on really good fights. I think I made a mistake in my training camp. I can’t not wrestle because a guy has a good ground game. By training the whole time to not wrestle, it limited me. Once I had Frank’s leg and I could have taken him down, but I let it go. I have to get better at jiu-jitsu, so I’m comfortable with the fight going anywhere."

For months, the talk surrounding Cormier was whether he would stay at heavyweight, or drop to 205 pounds. For most fighters who are Cormier’s size, it probably wouldn’t be a difficult decision. Added to his being a small heavyweight is that his training partner, Cain Velasquez, holds the heavyweight title. A fighter from a rival gym, who he has some bad blood with (Jon Jones), holds the light heavyweight title.

Cormier ate extra to get the 235 pounds he weighed in at, since he was down to 228 pounds in camp. These days, that’s normal size to cut from for a 205-pounder. But there’s a reason Cormier, who is listed at 5-foot-11, and is probably slightly shorter, came into the sport as a heavyweight and really didn’t even consider dropping until Velasquez won the heavyweight belt. At the 2008 Olympics, when he was a medal favorite in the 211.5 pound weight class, his kidneys shut down when he was making his weight cut.

After a lifetime of cutting weight in wrestling, he was understandably leery of ever doing so again. Cormier said he’s going to discuss it both with his team and with UFC officials and come to a decision. He had previously said that he wanted at least one fight at 205 first before he would get a title shot.

"It’s really going to be a team decision," he said. "We have to get together with the UFC and my management team and figure out what the next step is. Even if they said, `You’re going to fight Cain next,’ I don’t think that performance warranted a title shot. If they say, `Daniel, if you want to be a 205 pounder, you have to do it now,’ it’s a team decision."

UFC President Dana White didn’t really indicate strongly one way or the other what he thought was the right move.

"Well, again, I don’t tell guys where to go," said White. "I respect the fact he and the champ even discussed fighting each other. I like that. If he wants to go to 205, I wouldn’t have a problem. I think he’d be an exciting addition to the 205 pound weight class."

Unlike most small heavyweights, who eventually cut down due to concern of constantly going against much bigger guys, Cormier’s concern is the mental, and perhaps physical fear of weight cutting itself.

"It’s going to take time," Cormier said when the conversation came about dropping. "When I do sit down with Dana and Lorenzo (Fertitta), we’ll have to decide what are we going to do, and how soon do (they) want me to fight? I’m willing to fight right away at heavyweight. To drop, I’ll need more time. I want to do it healthy. I don’t want to die."

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