By FIGHT! contributor Jon Lane
For a year after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, Daniel Cormier sat, pouted and licked his wounds. Four years after finishing one spot short of a medal in Athens, Cormier was captain of the 2008 U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team. It was his best shot at gold, a shot that was stuffed by dehydration brought on by weight cutting, dehydration so severe that he had to withdraw from the competition.
But after a year of self pity the wrestler suddenly he felt a change. “Something weird happened, man,” Cormier said. “I started to feel that burn and that itch to compete again.” He reconnected with Dewayne Zinkin, CEO & president of Zinkin Entertainment & Sports Management, who had pitched him an MMA career in 2001, an offer he turned down in favor of chasing an Olympic medal. After two Olympic Games he returned to San Jose, Calif. to train with American Kickboxing Academy for a week and later received daily beatings from training partner and close friend Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.
That week was all it took for the wrestler to set a new athletic course. On Aug. 10, Zinkin Entertainment & Sports Management announced that it had signed Cormier. Many MMA newcomers toil in anonymity for at least a year but all eyes will fixate on Cormier immediately. That is what happens when you compile a 117-6 collegiate record, three All-American honors and six U.S. senior national championships.
“If you’re expected to do something and people see big things from you in the future, you have to embrace that,” Cormier said. “That means you have the opportunity to do something special. And then you have to be prepared for the success, because with that success becomes responsibility.”
Cormier has proven it since age 10, training in his native Louisiana summers where the temperature climbed to 120 degrees. Three high school championships led him to Colby Community College and two junior college national titles before he was NCAA Division I runner-up at Oklahoma State his senior year.
“I know what lies at the end of the rainbow, man,” Cormier said. “In order to be a champion – I want to be a champion in everything I do, I can’t even play video games without getting super heated – you have to work. It’s a wrestler’s mentality. I’m going to work as hard as anybody in the world. And with the right mental state, anything’s possible.”
Cormier’s biography reads like a testimony the power of perseverance. When he was seven, his father was shot and killed by his step-grandfather. His junior year in high school, a close friend died in a car accident, and another wreck took a cousin a year later. A friend at Oklahoma State, Daniel Lawson, perished in a plane crash. But the most devastating was losing his three-month-old daughter, Kaedyn Imri, in a 2003 car crash.
“Since my daughter passed, nothing has ever been so bad,” Cormier said. “That sums it all up, because I can always think back six years ago how I felt on that day. Through athletics I was able to move on with my life. Through wrestling I was able to lose myself in that sport for a little bit.”
Now Cormier will lose himself in MMA. But it won’t all be drudgery for the longtime pro wrestling fan. Taking a cue from his friend Lawal, Cormier hopes to conjure an elaborate entrance to unveil in front of a U.S. audience before the end of the year.
“You have to be careful not to take yourself too seriously,” Cormier said.