LAS VEGAS -- Daniel Cormier says he'll know what will run through Patrick Cummins' mind when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday night for their UFC 170 co-main event.
It was less than three years ago, after all, that Cormier, fresh off the Strikeforce Challengers series, entered the cage first for a Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament bout with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, who was coming off his career-making win over Fedor Emelianenko.
"When I got in there, I was like, man, is this really where I belong?" Cormier said of their Sept. 10, 2011 matchup. "I was in there first, I had never been in there first before, they had made me go in second. I'm standing there first and out walks a giant. I'm like is this really where I belong?"
Eventually, Cormier realized that yes, he belonged in competition with Silva. Before the first round was out, he knocked Silva cold.
So when Cormier steps into the cage against a major underdog and a short-notice replacement, the plan is to get the job done before Cummins even realizes he has a chance to compete.
"[Silva] didn't put me away fast enough, so I start going ‘maybe this is where I belong,' Cormier said. "So if I do that with Pat, he'll start to gain confidence the longer I'm in there. I'm not giving him that chance. I'm going right at him and I'm going to beat him up from the start to the finish."
Just a week ago, Cormier could have scarcely imagined he'd be on the floor of the Mandalay Bay Events Center talking about Cummins, a long-ago wrestling training partner.
Cormier, who was expecting to face former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans in Cormier's first MMA fight at 205 pounds. Evans, who was on a conference call with Cormier just last Wednesday, soon thereafter pulled out with a knee injury which will keep him away for six months.
The news sent Cormier on a roller coaster of emotions, which led to a big detour from his weight cut.
"I hear I'm not fighting on Wednesday and I'm all sad," Cormier said. "The only thing that can make a Louisiana boy feel better is Popeyes. It was bad, it was horrible. I had four pieces of chicken and cajun rice, it was so good. I was laying on the ground I felt so bad because I hadn't eaten anything like that in so long, how could it taste so good and be so bad. I was like oh, my stomach's killing me, but I feel so good."
Then UFC president Dana White called the next day, telling him about the Cummins fight. Despite the fact Cummins takes a 4-0 record against subpar competition into the bout, Cormier says he didn't hesitate to accept the fight when offered.
"I didn't want to waste that training camp," said Cormier, who added his nutritionist made him drink three gallons of water to flush the fried chicken out of his system. "I spent a lot of time away from my family when I'm training to, so I really didn't want to waste that, but then the question of, what next? Do I take two weeks off and then prepare for another eight-week camp? Can my body hold up to another eight week camp? There were a lot of questions I didn't have the answer to, so I said, you know what, I want to just compete now."
No sooner was the bout signed, though, then the next drama hit, as Cummins went on FOX Sports 1 and got into it with Cormier, telling the world he made Cormier cry in his Olympic training. That caused an uproar as, among others, Sara McMann came to Cormier's defense, saying such matter need to be kept in the wrestling room.
"She's gone through it, she's been through it," Cormier said. "She's done, they call it shark tank when they rotate [opponents]. She went through the whole grind that I did, so she understood. To see her come to my defense was awesome. But with Patrick, when I first heard we were going to fight I was excited for him. I was like, 'OK this is a guy from back then, he's getting his chance in the UFC, we're going to compete against each other.' Then he started talking ... Now it's not good for little Patrick, now I'm going to beat Patrick's ass."
Some have noted that other fighters have gotten an early chance in the UFC, from Cain Velasquez (3-0 entering his UFC debut) and Chris Weidman (5-0). The difference, in Cormier's eyes, is that such fighters didn't have an opponent the caliber of Cormier in their first UFC fights.
"Cain came into the UFC with three fights," Cormie said. "But he didn't fight Frank Mir in his first fight in the UFC. Weidman was 5-0, but he didn't fight Anderson Silva -- I'm not calling myself Anderson Silva, just someone in the top of the division -- in his first fight in the UFC. There's a difference."
Still, though, Cormier understands he needs to take Cummins seriously, simply because this is mixed martial arts and there are ample examples of worst-case scenarios coming to pass. In his head, Cormier is building up Cummins as a monster.
"I want to make him the biggest, meanest, toughest guy I've ever faced," Cormier said. "My idea of Patrick going in is Cain, Jones, Silva, Weidman and all them put together. They're all Patrick Cummings. I want to make him the biggest, most savage animal you've ever seen. So no, I didn't watch his fight."
There's one comparison, though, that Cormier won't make.
"People think this is Rocky," Cormier said. "This is not Rocky, boys. I am not underestimating him. I know I have a fight on my hands, I'm well-prepared. I'm going to really just kind of run him out of the cage."