Daniel Cormier knows all the stories about fighters who call it a career, only to end retirement and return to action.
In fact, the 41-year-old former two division champion has heard all the ways that the UFC might make an attempt to keep him active with rumors abounding that Dana White will probably offer him a financial incentive so rich to stick around, he’d be crazy not to at least consider it.
But as much as Cormier loves to fight and the stacks of cash that come along with competing at the top level of the sport, he knows the sand in the hour glass runs out for every athlete in professional sports, and he’s no different.
“I’m going to miss the competition – I live for competition,” Cormier told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 252. “I might be the most competitive guy on the roster, but it has to stop for everyone. Nobody has the ability to train and fight forever, and I know it. I can feel it in my preparation now.
“Some people go, ‘But what if they give you all the money for this?’ And I’m like, if I have to prepare like I’m preparing right now to do that at my age for a sustained period of time would be very difficult. At 36, 37, they could call me five weeks before a fight and go, ‘Are you ready?’ I’m like not now, but I guarantee you I will be in three weeks, and I would go do it. I don’t have that luxury anymore. I need 12 weeks to get myself to where I can do what I need to do to win a fight.”
There are a myriad of reasons why fighters have such a difficult time staying retired once they hang up the gloves.
For some it simply comes down to monetary compensation, because very few athletes — even those who have held titles in the UFC — have a robust enough bank account where retirement at 40 is a viable option. For others, it’s truly about the thrill of competition, where a fight can offer the adrenaline-pumping highest of highs. That’s virtually impossible to duplicate outside the cage.
Cormier has witnessed it happen time and time again in the UFC and other organizations around the world. He’s even seen it hit close to home with a friend and long-time teammate who struggled when it came time to walk away.
“Mike Swick had [come] back from all those surgeries and he came back and knocked some guy out on FOX,” Cormier said. “It could have been it. It would have been it, but he kept going. I think that fight was supposed to be his last fight, and he came back and he’s like, ‘I just want to do it one more time,’ and he did it and he won and it was perfect. He came back again. He tried to do it again, and he fought again, and he lost twice, and he’s like ‘OK, I’m done,’ but that could have been it.
“It would have been it, and it would have been perfect. Dude f*cking pulled himself off the ground, all those stomach issues and everything and he had came back and he had won. But he decided to keep fighting, and that’s how most people think.”
Cormier winning his trilogy fight against Miocic would probably be the greatest fuel to add to his competitive fire, because it would prove yet again that he remains at the elite level as the best heavyweight in the sport.
As he explains it, that’s the hardest lure to resist, because feeling like you’re still on top of the world is a drug, and very few fighters are resistant to that addiction.
“You go out and you fight and you do some spectacular sh*t, and all of a sudden, you’re like ‘I can still do it like I used to,’ but the reality is that’s not the case,” Cormier said.
“I think every great champion can do something for one night, but can a great champion do it for a sustained period of time when they’re at an advanced age? I don’t believe that.”
If the draw of competition isn’t enough and money woes don’t necessitate a comeback, Cormier also knows that the sheer amount of time on someone’s hands after a career is finished could be enough to drive a person mad.
While athletes can absolutely continue training after retirement, it’s just not the same as preparing for an upcoming fight.
Some fighters have eventually turned to coaching to fill that void, but there are only so many of those positions available – not to mention, the salaries don’t typically break the bank.
In the end, that adds up to yet another reason to fight again, but Cormier is happy with the career he’s built outside the octagon, specifically so he doesn’t get trapped in those same pitfalls once he hangs up his gloves.
“When you start thinking about retirement as a whole, it’s like easy for me, especially with the job that I have to look to what’s next,” Cormier explained. “I just got an offer from ESPN to work full time, not from the UFC, but for ESPN the company. I haven’t signed it yet, but we got an offer. I’ve got a ton of interest from the WWE and a lot of other things outside of mixed martial arts in the broadcast field.
“So that makes it very easy to look for what’s next. I try to stay in the moment, focus on what I’m doing right now. Obviously, it’s there, but I want to try to not look forward to what comes next, because what comes next for me is not like most people. I’ve got a good job and a good future.”
Rather than thinking of his upcoming retirement as the end of something, Cormier prefers to look at his final fight as one chapter as he prepares to turn the page on a new one after Saturday night.
The desire to fight again will probably never fade away much like his passion for wrestling remained after leaving his shoes in the middle of a mat in Las Vegas following an exhibition match against Chris Pendleton back in 2014.
If anything, Cormier has to stop himself from thinking too much about what comes next, because he’s already set himself up for success after fighting is finished. But he’s still got business to handle with Miocic at UFC 252.
“Act one was me growing up in Louisiana,” he said. “Act two is wrestling. Act three is mixed martial arts and I think act four is going to be me spending time with my family and me having a TV career.
“I believe that after my life, it may exceed everything I’ve done in sport, and when you have that to look forward to, you don’t want it to be at the forefront. It becomes too comfortable and it becomes too appealing.”
The list of fighters who announced retirement and actually stayed retired is already rather short. The number of MMA fighters who called it a career while on top of the sport is even smaller.
Cormier hopes to defy those conventions by not only committing to retirement after his trilogy with Miocic is completed, but leaving on his own terms, and giving his friends, family and fans all around the world something to truly remember from his final fight.
“I just think the lasting image of me will be getting that belt wrapped around my waist one last time,” Cormier said. “I believe that will be the memory that you want to leave with everyone.
“There’s a lot of pictures with me getting belts wrapped around my waist. I just want it to happen one more time against a tough guy. A very tough guy.”