“My focus is 110 percent on Anthony Johnson,” the UFC light heavyweight champion said. “If it’s not, then everything that I’ve ever wanted will just be taken from me. Either pay attention, buck up and focus on the task at hand, or there is no ‘What’s next.’”
Mere words from some, but from the mouth of Cormier, they’re gospel. He’s seen too much in wrestling, fighting and life to be anything but truthful with the world and himself. That can scrape some people the wrong way, but the 38-year-old isn’t about to change his ways or speak in terms more “fitting” to the professional sporting landscape. That means he will clearly explain how confident he is of scoring a second win over Johnson, who he defeated for the vacant 205-pound title in May 2015, while also admitting that he will take some bumps and bruises along the way.
“I anticipate being beat up by Rumble Johnson, but him just beating me up ain’t gonna be enough.” –Daniel Cormier
“I’m getting married May 27th,” Cormier said. “I made sure my wedding was at least six weeks after the fight to make sure that if I’m beat up, I have time to recover. And I anticipate being beat up by Rumble Johnson, but him just beating me up ain’t gonna be enough. There’s just too many ways for me to win this fight and that’s what I’m gonna do. Honestly, I’m gonna dominate this guy. It’s gonna be worse than last time, and then we’ll just be onward and upward to the next thing.”
The last time he faced Johnson, Cormier was going though what he describes as a “championship hangover.” He was coming off the first loss of his career to Jones and was preparing for a June 2015 bout with Ryan Bader. But when Jones was stripped of his title, Cormier got the call to face Johnson for the vacant crown. He jumped at the chance, but then that hangover snuck in.
“Honestly, that last fight, I wasn’t prepared for him and I wasn’t ready to fight, initially,” he explains. “There’s something called championship hangover. If you fight for a belt, there could be a hangover after getting to these big fights. You saw it happen to Glover Teixeira with Phil Davis. After he lost to Jones, he got back in there thinking, ‘I’m gonna get it back on track,’ and he got beat. And you see a lot of guys, after they fight in those big fights, they lose the very next fight. Chad Mendes lost to Frankie Edgar right after he lost to Conor McGregor. So you’re in these big spots and you go back into a fight that’s not as big and you start to prepare yourself but it’s not as big as the last one.”
The Jones fight was the one Cormier had chased for years. When it didn’t pan out, it hit him in preparation for Johnson. And when Rumble hit Cormier in the first round, that hangover almost turned into a blackout. “DC” would rise from the early knockdown and submit Johnson in the third round, and knowing that he can take some thunder from his foe is another confidence booster. Not that he wants to get used to it.
“I wasn’t hurt (in the first fight), and I know that I can take his best shot,” Cormier said. “I know that. And I think this is where fighting at heavyweight for all those years comes into play. As hard as he hits, I’ve been hit that hard before, if not harder. I’ve been hit by some big, strong guys and I know I can take his best shot. With that being said, I don’t want to because I do believe that any of his punches can put you out. I know that. I’m honest with myself. I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that this guy can’t knock me out, because he really can.”
Yet conventional wisdom leading into this weekend’s bout is that Cormier has more tools at his disposal to win, if he doesn’t let his ego push him into a firefight. And that’s not a guarantee.
“I’m a competitor,” he laughs. “So when a guy cracks me, I want to crack him back. But at the end of the day, I can make adjustments. If you look at this fight objectively and don’t fall in love with the knockout ability of Anthony Johnson, you realize that I have more paths to victory than he does. So I feel confident, but I also have to be very careful.”
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“Careful” is not a word associated with Cormier, though, and for proof, just look at his decision to face Anderson Silva on two days’ notice last July when Jones was forced out of their UFC 200 rematch.
“I wanted to fight,” he said. “These training camps are not easy, and they’re very taxing, and if you put in an eight-week training camp and there’s an opportunity to fight, especially against someone like Anderson Silva, you take it. And honestly, a lot of people showed up to Vegas to watch a fight and I was one of the headliners of that card, so I felt an obligation to myself to fight, but it was also for the fans. I wanted to fight and I didn’t want to let people down. Just because one of us let people down in regards to the fight, both of us don’t have to.”
Cormier shut Silva out over three rounds in the non-title bout, making it 3-0 with a Performance of the Night (Johnson), Fight of the Night (Alexander Gustafsson) and win over an all-time great (Silva) since his first match with Jones.
On Saturday, he can close the chapter on Anthony Johnson and then move on to his wedding with Salina, and a fight with Jones no one wants more than he does. But it is all about Saturday.
“I’m prepared in all situations, and I’m making sure that I’m not taking any situations for granted like I did in the last fight,” he said. “This time, I have a full training camp specifically for him, so I anticipate my performance is gonna be a lot better than it was the first time.”