LAS VEGAS – The tears that Daniel Cormier once shed following a training session are perhaps the best example of what it is that makes the one-time captain of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team great.
Those tears define him in a way that neither Patrick Cummins, nor any person, could ever hope to do.
In order to save the co-main event of UFC 170 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, it's been necessary in the last week for Cormier to become a punch line of sorts.
After Rashad Evans was injured and forced to pull out of Saturday's match with Cormier, the UFC, racing against time, tabbed Cummins, a two-time All-American wrestler, to replace Evans.
It didn't make sense from a competitive standpoint – Cummins is 4-0, but his opponents entered their fights with him with a combined 9-14 record – but the two had a brief history together and, given the late notice, it was the best that could be done.
The ultimate underdog, Cummins got fired from his job working the drive-through window at a coffee shop in Dana Point, Calif., in order to chat with UFC president Dana White and accept the fight against Cormier.
Once he got the fight, Cummins, the 2004 NCAA Division I heavyweight runner-up, gleefully repeated the story of the time he made Cormier cry to anyone who would listen.
The gist of it is this: Cormier was preparing to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Team USA's coaches were cycling other wrestlers in and out on him, making his practice as difficult as possible in an effort to best prepare him for the rigors of Olympic competition.
Cummins was one of those men. The two had met in an official match once previously, and Cormier won by shutout, but Cummins was big, talented and willing to battle. During one of the training sessions, he dumped Cormier on his head.
Six years later, after stunningly getting the nod to replace Evans against Cormier, Cummins said after he dumped Cormier that the aspiring Olympian got up and was crying. Ultimately, Cormier didn't compete in Beijing when his kidneys shut down and he couldn't make weight for his first match.
Cormier didn't deny it when Cummins first told the story to Charissa Thompson during a joint appearance with Cummins and White on Fox Sports Live, and he hasn't denied it once since.
Those tears did not represent cries of pain, or angst, or anything physical. The tears rolled down his cheeks because when Cormier got up and went to go back at Cummins, a coach told him he was done.
"The Olympics are over for you; you just lost," the coach said.
Much of Cormier's life was devoted not just to making the Olympic wrestling team, but to winning a gold medal. Cormier finished fourth in his class in the 2004 Games in Athens and believed he could win gold in 2008.
He'd been through unspeakable tragedies in his life. His father was murdered in 1986. His daughter died in a traffic accident in 2003.
He grieved deeply, he endured the never-ending pain, but never did he quit chasing his dream.
And so, even though it was practice and even though he'd be back to compete again the next day, when Cormier heard those words from his coach, he cried.
He's so invested in success, and in being the best, that his emotions overcame him.
He admits to a fear of Cummins, but again, it's not the kind of fear one might suspect.
Cormier opened as a massive minus-1450 favorite, and Cummins is plus-750, and all logic suggests Cormier should win easily. Cormier has beaten the likes of Josh Barnett, Big Foot Silva, Frank Mir and Roy Nelson in one-sided manner.
Cummins is 4-0 and has beaten 2-0 Terrell Brown, 2-0 Tasi Edwards, 0-1 Ricky Pulu and 5-13 Willie Smalls.
There is literally no comparison between the men Cormier beat and the men Cummins has defeated.
Cormier is so good, though, precisely because he understands that none of that matters. Cummins, he knows, is a big, strong man with high-level wrestling skills.
And Cormier is wary because he hasn't seen Cummins fight. Great athletes take nothing for granted, and Cormier scoffs at the massive odds in his favor.
He'll get up for Cummins the same way he got up for Evans because that is what he does. It's not only why he is 13-0 but also why there are many who believe that it will be Cormier, and not Glover Teixeira and not Alexander Gustafsson, who will be the one to eventually defeat UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
"It's the unknown that scares me," Cormier said. "I don't know how good he is. I've never gone with him; I've never trained with him. The unknown is what scares me and what keeps me on edge. I know what I would lose if I lost this fight. I know what type of athlete this kid is. This guy, he's athletic, man, and I know him as a 250-pound guy who was athletic. I can only imagine how athletic he is at 220.
"I'm motivated by the unknown. I don't know what Patrick Cummins brings to the cage. I don't know how he fights. I didn't watch his fights. I don't want to watch his fights or see who he's been fighting. I want in my own mind to make him bigger and better than he could ever possibly be."
It's the attitude that led to a lifetime of athletic success. He grew up in Louisiana, hardly a hotbed of wrestling in the U.S.
As a 15-year-old, he was a state champion as a high school sophomore and went to the Cadet World Championships, competing in the 15-16-year-old division.
No one, not even his teammates, expected anything from him.
"People made fun of me," he said. "They said, 'Oh, you're a state champion as a sophomore, but you're from Louisiana.' These were the kids on my team. But I was the only one on that team who got a medal."
He lost to a Russian who eventually made the 2012 Russian Olympic team. He came back and won his next match, but sustained a massive cut on his chin. He was stitched up and went back out and won his bronze medal match.
He learned something about himself in that tournament. He was away from home, in adverse conditions, against the best wrestlers in the world. The odds were stacked against him, but he persevered.
"That's when I knew I was different," he said. "I wasn't going to quit, ever, for any reason. This is what I've been made to do. It doesn't matter the circumstance."
And so, for the next several days, Daniel Cormier will be afraid. If he loses, it won't be because he's unprepared or because he took Cummins lightly. It will be simply because Cummins was the better man on that night.
Those tears that flowed following that long ago training session with Cummins are a glimpse of what makes Cormier such a great fighter.
They are a tangible indication of how badly he wants to succeed and how much competition means to him.
He's fighting a guy the vast majority of fans have never heard of before, but to Cormier, it's the fight of his life.
It hardly makes him less of a man that he admits he cried and concedes he's afraid. Rather, it's proof of how difficult he will be for Cummins, or any UFC light heavyweight, to ever beat.
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