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Daniel Cormier admits injured hand ‘not 100 percent’ heading into UFC 230 title defense

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Daniel Cormier will be at less than full strength when he meets Derrick Lewis next month in the short-notice main event of UFC 230.

Cormier, the reigning UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion, has been sidelined with a hand injury since becoming only the second-ever double-champion in UFC history with a first-round knockout of Stipe Miocic at UFC 226. Between his injured hand and his fast-approaching self-imposed retirement date of March 2019, “DC” was expected to sit out the rest of 2018 in anticipation of a big-money meeting with Brock Lesnar early next year. But those plans changed once the promotion called with a desperation offer to headline Madison Square Garden on Nov. 3 at UFC 230, and Cormier — ever the company man — agreed to do the UFC one more favor before he rides off into the sunset.

“Man, I always wanted to compete, but I was hurt and I kinda set my sights on just waiting for Brock,” Cormier explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “Then the UFC called me and asked me. That’s generally how it goes, but this time they said, ‘Can you fight in a few weeks?’ And I was like, ‘Well, honestly, I’m not ready to fight right now, but I could see where I stand. I could see if there’s any chance that I could get in a fight.’ They said Derrick Lewis. I said, ‘Okay, let me go see if my hand will hold up when I punch something. If it does, then yeah, I’ll go fight.’

“It’s good enough to fight,” Cormier continued. “It’s not 100 percent, I’m going to be honest. My fist is closing but not all the way. It feels like now I have like a badly jammed finger. Like, it feels like my finger’s just jammed really badly right now.

“You ever had like a jammed finger and you just can’t really pop it? It kinda like sticks up a little bit more than the other finger? That’s where my hand is right now, so my pointer finger doesn’t close completely. Like, I can’t make a closed, tight fist, but it just feels like if I could pop it, I would be okay. The problem is I’m just too afraid to pop it. It hurts. Like, I’m not popping it. I’m just kinda hoping that if I’m sparring and I punch someone, that it pops and goes back to normal.”

With so little time to prepare, Cormier said he’s “just really managing” his injured hand in the lead-up to UFC 230. He’s able to train at a level of intensity he feels comfortable with, and he vowed that he’s not taking the power-punching Lewis lightly.

“I can do a lot of things,” Cormier said. “Some sparring. I’m just not hitting as hard with my right hand. I can wrestle, but I’m just trying to be very careful. I’m kinda working around it, because if something’s going to happen, I prefer it to happen in the fight than in the training room. Because how horrible would be it be if I take this fight, three weeks until the fight, and then have to pull out a week later?

“I’m telling you, I’m going hard though. I’m hitting dudes. I’m punching dudes and trying to get ready to fight. I’m not going to cheat myself and go into this fight with Derrick — I have to be very prepared. The guy is a big, strong, tough guy who’s there to win the fight, so I have to be prepared to do everything in there.”

Cormier vs. Lewis is a relatively unexpected affair to headline UFC 230, but it was nonetheless agreed upon quickly following Lewis’ scintillating come-from-behind win over Alexander Volkov at UFC 229.

Both men are heavy hitters and fan favorites, and there is even a bit of history behind the matchup, albeit a very silly history, which brings some much-needed levity into Nov. 3 following the dark lead-up to Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor.

The Popeye’s chicken rivalry between “DC” and “The Black Beast” is all in good fun, but after nearly partnering with the Louisiana fried chicken chain for a sponsorship deal back in 2014, Cormier joked on Monday that all of the pro bono references to Popeye’s that have been flying around on social media for UFC 230 need to slow down until he and Lewis — two Louisiana natives — can grab themselves a piece of the sponsorship pie.

“I think it’s fine, but I think they need to stop doing it and making these free posts until Popeye’s gives me my money,” Cormier said, laughing. “We’ve been talking to them. It’s like, what are you guys doing? You guys are really messing with my finances here, because I’ve been in talks with Popeye’s about stuff and we really haven’t come to an agreement, because it’s like everybody’s giving them shit for free. It’s like, ‘What’s the point in ever making a deal with this guy?’

“Now we’re chatting with them a little bit more, since you know that whole thing, Derrick’s from Louisiana too, so it just kinda makes sense. But everybody making those dang posters and shit, man — it’s like, guys, calm down, don’t give it away free.”

As for the fight itself, Cormier is well aware that Lewis is no pushover.

“The Black Beast” has put together one of the sport’s most impressive heavyweight runs over the last several years, winning nine of his last 10 fights behind his ferocious punching power. His latest Hail Mary knockout of Volkov proved that Lewis is never truly out of a fight, and Cormier knows the gameplan will be a simple one for Lewis once UFC 230 kicks off.

“I expect him to come hard, very fast, to try to knock me out,” Cormier said. “I think Derrick understands that he has to win this fight quickly, and his best course to victory is to come out there and try to get this fight finished quick, because over 25 minutes, no one’s shown the ability to go with me that long except for Jones. So, I don’t think that Derrick would see himself in that light, but he needs to go this done quick if he’s going to win this fight.”