Cormier makes a living off beating the odds

Logic would dictate that Antonio "Big Foot" Silva will blow out Daniel Cormier when they meet Sept. 10 in Cincinnati in the semifinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament.

Silva is far bigger, far more experienced and has beaten a much higher caliber of opposition.

Anyone, though, who looks past Cormier doesn't know the man and what he's overcome to become one of the top mixed martial arts prospects in the world. There may not be a lot of believers outside his family and his teammates at the American Kickboxing Academy, but that's fine with Cormier.

Given his background, being a significant underdog is the least of Cormier's worries.

The 2004 U.S. Olympic wrestler has faced unspeakable tragedies in his life – the death of a young daughter, the murder of his father – and rebounded to reach greater heights each time.

"I've had a lot of opportunities that I haven't cashed in, man," said Cormier, a former Oklahoma State wrestling standout. "The Olympic Games, I felt that could have made a lot of the things I've been through better, but I wasn't able to cash in on that opportunity. I have had chances and I've used them to propel me to places I didn't think I could go."

His father was murdered in 1986, one of several deaths of people close to Cormier. But as bad as each of the tragic and unexpected deaths of a friend or a loved one hit him, nothing prepared him for the events of June 14, 2003.

Cormier's three-month old daughter, Kaedyn, was properly secured in a car seat of a vehicle on the freeway driven by a family friend when it was rear ended by a tractor trailer. The other inhabitants survived, but the infant girl died.

The worst day in the life of any parent is to learn a child had died. Life's not supposed to work that way. Parents aren't supposed to bury their children.

"When you hear that news," he said, softly, in a voice barely above a whisper, "it's like everything else stops."

He wanted to lock himself away and avoid the world, not see anyone, hear from anyone, talk to anyone. He was wrought with emotion: anger, sadness, bitterness. He couldn't contemplate life without this child he'd loved so much.

As harsh it is, though, life goes on. The pain never leaves, but time allows the hurt to recede and so, after a telephone call from John Smith, his former wrestling coach, Cormier reemerged three months later.

He threw himself into his wrestling and, even though he didn't win the NCAA championship the year before, he wrestled his way onto the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that competed in Athens, Greece.

He went to Greece full of high hopes, but came home without a medal. He was again confused and befuddled. He believed he was the best in his class, but failed to have anything to show for it.

Cormier, though, is one of the most intelligent and insightful athletes you'll find. And when he got home and mulled over what happened in Greece, he was suddenly at peace with what had occurred.

"It was so depressing," he said of failing to win a medal. "When I lost in the 2004 Olympic Games, and in [2008], when I didn't get to compete, it's like a death. It's like dealing with a death. Like I tell everybody, I really like MMA. I like the sport. I enjoy the sport.

"But man, you have to understand, wrestling is something I've done since I was nine years old in little gyms around Louisiana. Winning the Olympics was my world championship. That was my UFC heavyweight title. To not accomplish it was like dealing with a death. I would not leave my house. I locked myself in my house for three months until I was able to comprehend what happened."

The reason he didn't win, he realized, was simple. The answer had been staring him in the face for each of those three months, but he didn't see it.

"Initially, after the Olympic Games, I didn't think the guys [who beat me] were better," he said. "But as I went through my career, I realized that I'd never beaten those guys. The two guys who beat me at the Olympic Games? Never beat them. Always really hard-fought, tough matches, but I never beat them. I lost to the gold medalist three times over the course of my career.

"I lost to the Iranian [Saeid Abrahimi] who beat me in the bronze-medal match four times over the course of my career. You can't argue with results. Obviously, those guys were just better wrestlers than I was. Once I realized that, then I could deal with what happened and I could go out and work at making myself better."

That pattern followed Cormier throughout his athletic career. He won far more than he lost – He was a six-time national champion and a two-time Olympian, captaining the 2008 team – but he had a knack for making himself better when results weren't the way he wanted them to be.

He's young in his MMA career and is just 9-0 with few recognizable names on his resume, but his coach, Bob Cook, is unfazed. When Zuffa, the company that owns Strikeforce, removed Alistair Overeem from the tournament in a contract dispute, it put Cormier into his place as an alternate.

"We would have liked to have had more time to work with Daniel and have him develop," Cook said. "He hasn't beaten a lot of top-level competition, but anyone who knows me knows I wouldn't take a fight for one of my guys if I didn't think he could do it. Facing ‘Big Foot,’ who in my opinion is one of the top three heavyweights in the world, is a huge step.

"But I don't sell Daniel short. He's one of the top heavyweight prospects in the world. He's got great wrestling. He's a tremendous, committed athlete. We know Big Foot is going to have a difficult time stopping Daniel Cormier with his plan and his wrestling. It how the rest plays out. Our one big advantage is the wrestling, obviously. It's out the striking plays out and how the jiu-jitsu plays out that we have to see."

Silva is coming off a dominating win over Fedor Emelianenko and is a heavy favorite to defeat Cormier and advance to the finals.

That's fine with Cormier, who gets that he doesn't have Silva's resume.


"People won't believe it until they see it," Cormier said. "I get it. But I've been working incredibly hard to get ready for this moment. I have a lot to overcome to win this fight, but knowing what I know, I believe I can and I will win it."

This is a guy who has overcome unspeakable tragedy and unbearable disappointment to rise to the top.

If he says he's ready to spring another surprise, I'm not going to argue with him.

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