Five years ago, Daniel Cormier was sitting behind a desk in Storrs, Okla., hawking ad space for a local TV station.
His athletic career, once so promising, was a distant memory.
He was fourth in his weight class in freestyle wrestling in Athens in 2004, and hung around to go for a medal in Beijing in 2008.
A man with a magnetic personality and natural leadership abilities, it was no surprise that Cormier was chosen as the wrestling team's captain in Beijing.
But Cormier struggled so badly to make the 211-pound weight limit that his body shut down and he was physically unable to compete. Team USA doctors pulled him from the competition and he was, it seemed, done forever with athletics.
A little more than five years since those fateful days much has changed for Cormier.
He's still involved with television, but instead of selling commercials, he's talking in front of the camera. Cormier is one of a group of UFC fighters Fox has hired to work as expert analysts.
He's been brilliant in his short time at it. He's worked in the studio, where his insights have been consistently on the money. He delivers his analysis quickly and smoothly, a real pro's pro.
Cormier's work with Fox has been as first-rate as his fighting, and he's a guy who clearly will have a job long after his fighting career ends.
Fox executive Steve Becker raved about Cormier's work in front of the camera.
"Daniel has an ability to break down fights in a comfortable and easy-to-understand style," Becker said. "He's a natural in front of the camera and could easily transition to full-time analyst work after he's done with his fighting career."
For the short term, though, it's his fighting that will pay the bills and keep him in the limelight. The affable ex-Oklahoma State star is regarded as one of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world. He's also unusual in that he's a legitimate title contender at both heavyweight and light heavyweight.
"It's unreal," Cormier said after he finished a workout session in preparation for his Oct. 19 bout in Houston against Roy Nelson at the Toyota Center at UFC 166. "All of this has happened so fast. I was at the end of my athletic career with wrestling and it didn't end the way I wanted. I'm blessed and I'm lucky to be in the situation I'm in."
Cormier plans to make his title run at light heavyweight and plans to drop after the bout with Nelson. Given that, the bout with Nelson seems to make little sense. If Cormier has no business at heavyweight, and with Nelson coming off a loss, it's hard to see how the bout advances Cormier's career.
But for whatever reason, Cormier and Nelson have it in for each other and have exchanged barbs in the media, leading to the fight being made. And that, Cormier says, makes the bout with Nelson meaningful.
Nelson has become a favorite whipping boy of UFC president Dana White, who has constantly chided Nelson for his beer belly, overgrown beard and general appearance.
Nelson is coming off a stunningly one-sided loss to Stipe Miocic, but had been on a good run and making progress toward a heavyweight title shot before that.
And Cormier said he's preparing for the version of Nelson who had captured Knockout of the Night in two of his previous three bouts.
"In my opinion, whenever you get two guys who want to fight each and two guys who want to be in a good fight, you let them fight," Cormier said. "It's not like [Nelson] has lost every fight he's taken. He's just lost one fight, and it was [taken] on short notice. Before that, he had three or four knockouts in a row and was really making his way up the ladder, so I think this is a good fight for me and people want to see this fight.
"A lot of people make a mistake of [underestimating] the guy. They do the eye test on Roy and they think, 'How can this guy be any good?' But they get in there and they find that Roy moves very fast and he has good, fast hands and good power. But not only does he have power, but he's got good, efficient wrestling and he is really good on the ground."
The problem with the fight from Cormier's standpoint is size. Nelson generally is in the 250-pound range when he fights, and Cormier is planning to go down. But he can't think of making the drop in weight yet, because he needs a certain amount of bulk to deal with Nelson.
He suspects he'll come in around 225, a weight which will give him the size and strength to fend off Nelson while allowing him to be quick enough to move well in the cage.
But 225 is still a long way from 205, and for Cormier to do what he wants to do and make a run at Jon Jones' title, he's going to have to make it.
"Win or lose in this fight, it will be my last heavyweight fight, and after this for sure I'm going to 205," Cormier said. "I've already started to monitor my weight a bit and get a little healthier. I can't do one of those [massive weight cuts] any more.
"It's well documented my weight loss for wrestling and how it affected me. I wasn't able to compete in the Olympic Games because of it. I can't do that. I have to get light enough to where the weight cut won't be hard on my body."
If Cormier can make it, he'll become one of the leading contenders in a division suddenly full of tough fights for Jones. Alexander Gustafsson pushed Jones to the limit at UFC 165, and Glover Teixeira, on a 20-fight winning streak, might be his toughest match.
Cormier will be waiting, an instant title contender the moment he joins the division. He's a guy with plenty of options, both in and out of the ring, but he's not one to take anything for granted.
"I appreciate what is happening, but it's not like I can look at things and say, 'Wow, I've made it,' and just sit back and relax," he said. "This is when I really have to work hard to prove myself."
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