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Daniel Cormier: Volkan Oezdemir is the ‘JV guy’ trying to do what ‘varsity’ Anthony Johnson couldn’t

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The dynamic heading into UFC 220’s co-main event is an unusual one, to say the least.

While Daniel Cormier is slated to defend his UFC light heavyweight title against Volkan Oezdemir on Jan. 20, it is Oezdemir — not Cormier — who rides into the match having tasted victory in his last fight. The Swiss knockout artist has won five consecutive contests, including back-to-back stoppages in under a minute. Cormier, on the other hand, suffered a grisly knockout loss to Jon Jones in his most recent Octagon outing at UFC 214.

That loss has since been overturned into a no-contest due to Jones’ failed drug test, but the strangeness of Saturday’s situation hasn’t been lost on Cormier.

“I’m the guy coming off of a loss. He’s got the win streak,” Cormier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I have to rely on just my experiences from before. I mean, when I fought (Anthony) ‘Rumble’ (Johnson) the first time, he was on a win streak and I had just lost against Jones, and now it’s the same situation. I’ve done it in wrestling where I’ve been in the same type of situation. I have to just believe in myself, right? Believe in my skills and the things that I do well — and I believe that, as a mixed martial artist, I’m better than him. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Can he win the fight? Yeah, but he has to knock me out. He cannot beat me over 25 minutes. He cannot submit me.

“I can submit him, I can win by decision, I can knock him out. I can beat him in every single area of the fight, I can get to a ‘W.’ Really, he has one way to win the fight and that’s to knock me out. That’s not as easy as he thinks it’s going to be.”

Cormier may be the betting favorite to defeat Oezdemir, but the difference in momentum between the two fighters could not be more vast.

While Cormier had a campaign he’d like to forget in 2017, Oezdemir emerged as one of the year’s most surprising underdog stories, bursting from out of nowhere to upset Ovince Saint Preux via split decision, then score thunderous knockouts over top-10 light heavyweights Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in a combined 70 seconds, earning Oezdemir the nickname “No Time.”

Oezdemir has vowed to finish Cormier in the same way at UFC 220. But while “DC” respects Oezdemir’s punching power, Cormier is refusing to get caught up in the hype surrounding his 28-year-old foe.

“[Oezdemir is] a guy that’s very, very dangerous and coming hard-charging,” Cormier said. “He’s won some fights in ways that just seem odd and freakish. That punch against Misha Cirkunov was crazy. And then Jimi Manuwa, he got him from the clinch. I love the clinch. That’s where I like to fight. So there’s some danger in the fight, but I’m very aware of it, but I refuse to make him something he’s not.

“I’m not going to make him King Kong. I’m not going to make him into some Mike Tyson of the UFC. I’m not doing that. He’s a guy that can punch hard, but most of us can at 205 pounds or heavyweight.”

Cormier acknowledged that the stakes feel different for him leading into UFC 220.

Whereas, in past fights, he’s been proud to walk into the Octagon as the UFC light heavyweight champion, this time around the belt is serves more a financial purpose than anything else — an accessory the Olympian accepted simply to help boost his fight purse. The loss to Jones still stings Cormier, even if it vanished from the official record-books. And that’s why Cormier has not been eager to brandish his title in the lead-up to Saturday night.

“It’s not like I’m as proud of it, because of the loss,” Cormier admitted. “I mean, I’m not carrying it with me right now. It’s not on the desk. Most champions come in here and they put it on the desk on display. I lost a fight. I almost feel like I’m in the same situation as the ‘Rumble’ fight, fighting for a vacant championship. I get it. Trust me, I do want to walk in there as the champion because I get pay-per-view points, and as a financial incentive, it’s very important for me to be the champ. But mentally, I almost feel like I’m fighting for a vacant title again, and I can deal with that, because I will feel better once I win and I get the belt strapped around me again. It’s just me, I can’t change who I am. I am who I am because of that, because of that mentality.”

For that reason, Cormier believes it has been easy for him to focus on a lesser-known opponent like Oezdemir, even though the notoriety of the Switzerland native far pales in comparison to past opponents Cormier has faced.

It also doesn’t hurt that Oezdemir’s coaches in Florida are the same coaches who twice tried — and failed — to guide Johnson to victory over Cormier in past years.

“There’s a bit of a sense of urgency right now,” Cormier said. “I’m kinda like, man, July 29th sucked so bad, I feel like I lost my entire world, you know? Because I had built so long to that fight. And then I think to myself, but if I don’t get prepared, I would feel a lot worse going through what I went through in July, and then going through that again on Jan. 20 — because it’s easy to look at a guy like Volkan Oezdemir and go, ‘I’m going to smash this dude.’ But you’ve got to prepare yourself.

“I’ve got to prepare myself for all of the things that he brings to the table, all of the confidence that he has in his hands, all of the preparation, because this is their fourth fight. This is their fourth time, Henri Hooft, Greg Jones, all those guys. Their fourth chance: ‘Rumble’ one, ‘Rumble’ two when I got hurt, and then the actual time that ‘Rumble’ and I fought in Buffalo. This is time No. 4 for them to try to beat me, so they’ve got a lot of insight into what I do.”

Cormier finished off his in-studio interview by sending a message to Oezdemir, Johnson, and the coaching staff that “DC” has dominated thus far in his MMA career.

“There’s varsity and there’s JV. Have you ever heard of that?” Cormier said. “Henri Hooft is a great guy. Greg Jones is a fantastic guy. I don’t know who the jiu-jitsu coach is down there, they’re all fantastic guys. They had a wrestle-off, Anthony (Johnson) whipped Volkan, so Volkan became a training partner. He went to get beat up. They sent the A-Guy in there, he got whipped. They built him back up, he came back in there again and he got whipped. Now he’s gone. So now they’re going to bring the JV guy. What are you going to do, Volkan? What are you going to do different when you weren’t even the first choice?

“Volkan, you weren’t even the first choice to come out here and try to beat me. That’s like me telling (my training partner) Frank Munoz, ‘Hey bud, I can’t beat Jon Jones, I need you to go do this for me.’ Come on. Come on, Blackzilians. Come on.

“He may go on to have a fantastic career,” Cormier finished. “This weekend’s not his.”