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Daniel Cormier on changing fan perceptions: ‘I don’t know what I did’

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Daniel Cormier fights Stipe Miocic at UFC 226.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

BURBANK, Calif. — Over the years, Daniel Cormier has gone from lovable Strikeforce teddy bear to fighter who gets booed out of the building to respected elder statesman.

The UFC light heavyweight champion is feeling the love of the crowd these days, from the “Let’s go DC!” chants that reverberated around Boston’s TD Garden during his UFC 220 title defense against Volkan Oezdemir, to the ovation he received at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center during the recent UFC 25th anniversary press conference.

And at this stage of the game, Cormier has given up on trying to figure out why fan opinion can change as fast as it does.

“I don’t know what I did,” Cormier said during a media tour promoting The Ultimate Fighter 27 on Tuesday. “I didn’t really do anything. I did the exact same thing. They decide when they like you and when they don’t.”

When the fans began to turn on Cormier, which happened gradually during his beef with rival Jon Jones, he decided to take the ball and run with it.

“When I went out there that first time and they booed me with Jon [Jones], I just played the bad guy,” Cormier said. “I will say all the stuff you hate me saying. You hate that I make fun of [Jon Jones] for his addictions? I will say every one of those addictions and I’ll list them all out. Before it was like, I don’t think they’ll boo me for it. Okay, you’ll boo me for it? You don’t like that? I’d kind of feel out what people liked and didn’t like. And the things I got the most hate, on Twitter, I would start to say it in public. If you want me to be your bad guy, I’ll be your bad guy. I just kind of gauge it.”

But he also understands that playing the hype game while retaining your authenticity is a fine line. Running with fan backlash during his pair of fights with Jones helped Cormier earn big paydays. But he also knows that if he tried to pretend that he hated likable heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, whom he meets at UFC 226 and coaches against on TUF 27, the fans aren’t going to buy in.

“If it’s not genuine, people can see through that,” Cormier said. “If I start putting on that I hate Stipe Miocic, after going to Cleveland and doing a show on him and being around him and being friends with him, all of a sudden I hate him, people will be like ‘what, that makes no sense.’ That might actually turn people off from watching the fight, ‘this is too fake I can’t deal with it.’ I want to give a true accounting of what I am and what Stipe and I’s relationship truly is.”

And besides, the fans seem to have decided they like DC again. So rather than tie himself up in knots trying to figure out the reaction, he’s just going to go with the flow.

“People just decide what they want to do,” Cormier said. “Going into the Jones fight, it was all boos. And then going into Boston, it was all cheers. Then when I went to that press conference in Brooklyn, cheers. They put me on the camera and for the first time, people yelled positive stuff. Usually they just boo me. I didn’t care. I just get used to it.”

In the end, all that matters to Cormier is that people react. Getting booed might not feel as good as being cheered, but being ignored would be worse than either.

“You’re never going to tell people how to feel,” Cormier said. “I used to try to do that. If you told me there’s something you don’t like, I’m going to harp on that thing. I want a reaction. Whether it is positive or negative, I just want you to not be indifferent. As long as you care, that’s good.”