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Javier Mendez: Daniel Cormier ‘not performing like a 41-year-old,’ could keep fighting if he wanted

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Daniel Cormier has told the world that he’s sacrificed enough, and UFC 252 is his final walk to the octagon. And it might be, unless something else comes up.

“He may say, ‘Yes, I’m done after this,’” Cormier coach Javier Mendez told MMA Fighting. “But you’ve been around and I’ve been around, and [UFC President] Dana [White] throws a lot of money at you, sometimes it’s hard to say no.”

That cash could be for a fight with Brock Lesnar, if the former heavyweight champ ever fights again, or a third bout against avowed rival and current light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, who’s indicated a desire to move up to heavyweight.

Whatever it is, Mendez said, the work he’s seen from Cormier in camp for his trilogy against champ Stipe Miocic has led him to believe the former two-division champ could continue on if he so chose.

“He’s not performing like a 41-year-old,” Mendez said. “He’s in shape. His mind is sharp, his reflexes are sharp. He’s fighting like the best heavyweight there is.

“If you’re performing at that level, who’s to say you should retire? Only he can decide if he wants to retire. His abilities can say he can do it longer. I don’t know how many fights he could do, but he can definitely do it now.”

Mendez’s confidence isn’t out of place before a fight of such magnitude. Optimism always reigns supreme before the verdict in the cage, and it’s always been his job to help Cormier get ready for whatever comes next. Cormier has already pushed back retirement plans, so the coach isn’t holding fast to any particular outcome.

“If you’re asking me, would Jav want him to retire? Yes, I’d want him to retire after this,” Mendez said. “I wanted him to retire before this. So from my point of view, I want him to retire, but I don’t know what he wants.”

After stopping Miocic at UFC 226 to become the second two-division champion, Cormier targeted a defense of his light heavyweight title – returned to him after Jones’ post-fight drug failure at UFC 214 canceled a second win – and planned to hang up his gloves after a fight with Lesnar in March 2019. Then Lesnar re-signed with the WWE, he took the rematch with Miocic at UFC 241, and a series of nasty body shots tore up his retirement plans.

Before that fateful night, Mendez had opined that Cormier should go out on top. At the time, he was only reflecting Cormier’s wishes. He changed his mind when the ex-champ decided to press on.

Now, regardless of his personal opinion, Mendez agrees with UFC President Dana White, who believes Cormier could stick around a lot longer.

“It’s a matter of what he wants to do, and for me, I was against him fighting because he was against fighting,” he said. “As soon as he changes his mind, of course, I’m going to be on board with him because I know he can do it.

“For my taste, if he retired, I’d be very happy with that. I didn’t particularly care if he fought this one or not, but he wants it, so if you care about your fighter, you stand by him.”

After decades of coaching high-level athletes, Mendez has learned to be flexible. There’s a financial incentive to do so, of course, but as a former fighter who regularly ignored his coaches, he understands it’s often more productive to shape talent, not control it.

Mendez said he sometimes struggles to make Cormier and another once-in-a-lifetime talent, Khabib Nurmagomedov, listen to him during fights. But he’s accepted that they wouldn’t be who they were if they did.

“If you don’t, you’re going to be up for a lot of surprises,” he said. “If you want success with your guys, and you want your guys to be with you and be happy with you, you better leave them alone. You’ve gotta understand who they are. You can’t change them.”

Cormier didn’t follow the plan in the second fight with Miocic, Mendez said, and Miocic capitalized brilliantly. But the coach is reluctant to say the fix is to follow orders.

“In all fairness, Stipe caught him with a really great shot,” Mendez said. “He was getting a little tired. He got hit with one great shot after another, and some people commented, ‘Oh, he has a weak stomach.’ Man, if he had a weak stomach, he’d have been dropped by the first shot, because that was one hell of a shot that would have dropped just about anybody. But the amount of shots that he hit DC, there’s nobody out there that can take that kind of shot and not get affected by it over and over again. So the lesson learned was, I don’t know, he got caught by a great shot.

“It’s not like he always listens to myself and Bob’s instruction – he doesn’t. Maybe the lesson is listen to your coaches, maybe more so? He didn’t do as well. But he’s also been successful doing it his own way. I myself never listened to my coaches. Never. I did what I needed to do. He has a little bit of that.”

If Cormier shows up the way he did for the first fight, there’s a very strong foundation to build on. In every round of the rematch, he led Miocic in head strikes, total strikes and significant strikes. He landed more strikes at distance, in the clinch and on the ground. The one area he didn’t dominate - body shots – wound up being his undoing when Miocic landed 14 of them in the fourth round.

It was one of the greatest turnarounds in UFC heavyweight history, and an ending Cormier refused to accept in a decorated career. If he can pull off the trilogy win, Mendez believes “DC” will solidify his position as the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time. That’s just the storybook ending that could only be reversed by fistfuls of cash.

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