In his own anonymous way, Patrick Cummins is sort of like the Khabib Nurmagomedov of the MMA slums just to the south of the UFC. He’s 4-0 heading into his promotional debut, but we’re told that’s not his fault -- his inactivity had less to do with a willingness to fight than it did in finding somebody willing to fight him. "Nobody wanted to fight this kid," Dana White said at the UFC 170 press conference. "Nobody wanted to fight me," Cummins has said this week in his newfound spotlight.
This, of course, is a sledgehammer way of saying Cummins was a badass from the salt mines before taking Saturday night’s fight against Daniel Cormier on ten day’s notice. (Or, you know, the coffee shop he was working at). Cummins is undefeated, he had a successful collegiate wrestling career as a walk-on at Penn State, and he once made Cormier cry in training ahead of the Olympics. These are very specific and ordinary facts. But when every other light heavyweight in the UFC is booked into a fight, these credentials hit the room like orchestral swells.
Yet it’s weird. The whole thing. It’s weird that there is such a thing as Patrick Cummins when as of a week ago there wasn’t. Weird that Daniel Cormier, who was slated to fight Rashad Evans in a bout with title implications, was the one who ended up willing to fight Cummins when "nobody else would." Weird when you really look at it: Cormier has everything to lose in this fight, and Cummins everything to gain. Should Cormier even have a subpar showing -- and with Vegas odds makers placing him as a -1800 favorite, anything less than punching his head into the fourth row might seem subpar -- it could hurt his cause to fight Jon Jones.
Cormier’s reasoning for taking it? He lost all that weight to fight on Saturday night and, by god, that’s just what he was going to do. He just needed a warm body now that Evans was down. And besides, he even began eating leafy greens for the first time in his life to arrive at this moment.
"I grew up in Louisiana," Cormier said. "There’s red beans and rice and Popeye’s on every corner. I didn’t have salad for my entire life before this training camp. I’m 34 years old and I’ve never touched a salad in my entire life…I was home for Thanksgiving and my girlfriend actually made a big huge salad, and all this food was on the table, fatty food, and at the end of the day that salad had not been touched. That’s the house I grew up in."
As kismet would have it, from those table habits sprung Cummins, and now we’re suspended between wondering if he’s worthy of the chance or if this thing is destined to end with a thud. Dana White is rolling out the most tired comparison in the fight game (the old "we have ourselves a real life Rocky" thing), and the media is wondering if a Cummins victory would be the greatest upset in company history (which then activates the "no, that still belongs to Matt Serra over Georges St-Pierre" cliché).
Then again, maybe we should look at the bigger picture here, and remember that we are dealing in unknowns and the shaping of perception.
Wasn’t Cormier the third alternate for an eight-man tournament, back when the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix was erected? His rise was all about making the most of unforeseen chances. All it took was for Alistair Overeem to back out of the tournament for him to springboard past Antonio Silva, past Josh Barnett, and ultimately into a position where we regard him as the invincible in a match-up.
If anybody knows what it’s like to be hungry to prove something, it’s Cormier. And he also knows what it’s like to be hungry in general. He has gone hungry for the last couple of months to make 205 pounds his new home. And for that, with no Evans to take it out on, Cummins left his post as a barista in a coffee shop and I’m writing crazy ass words like "kismet" for lack of better nouns.
Your UFC 170 co-main event, ladies and gentlemen. As real as it gets.