While dropping from heavyweight down to light heavyweight for his UFC 170 fight next week is the focus of most onlookers, Daniel Cormier has dismissed such talk. Instead he’s focusing on turning one of his longtime friends into an enemy… at least temporarily.
When Cormier fought in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix – which he won – he stepped on the scale at 238 pounds. In his most recent UFC fight last October, he was down to 224 pounds, but that was still a ways off of the 205-pound mark.
Not a problem, Cormier said on Wednesday.
“I just had to manage my weight. Because I've done that, it hasn't been as difficult as I anticipated,” he told a conference call loaded with reporters. “It's no more difficult than getting prepared to wrestle in front of 20,000 people in NCAA finals or wrestle for an Olympic gold medal. I've had to compete on a large stage before and had difficult circumstances, so this isn't very different.”
The most difficult aspect of the situation for Cormier has been trying to put his longtime friendship with his opponent, Rashad Evans, on hold.
“It's difficult because I met Rashad a long time ago, back in college. I have pictures of Rashad cornering me in Strikeforce,” he recounted. “It's a little different than if I had to fight someone else, but as a professional, you have to kind of put it to the side and just train.
“I think one thing that Rashad and I have done to allow for us to prepare for each other in the best way that we could is we kind of distanced ourselves. [Today] is the first time I've heard his voice in a long time. Generally we don't go that long without talking to each other.”
And from Cormier’s side of the equation, it’s been about more than creating space.
He’s working on his own Frankenstein’s monster, trying to cast a virtual veil of evil over his friend.
“I've done some things to make Rashad my enemy for Feb. 22; that's what is hard to do,” he said. “I step on the treadmill to run and I listen to the music that he comes to the cage to. I watch his fights different than I did before because I have to make him something that he's never been to me and that's my opponent and my enemy on Feb. 22.”
The need to make Rashad Evans his enemy for their UFC 170 co-main event showdown in Las Vegas stems not solely from fighting a friend, it also has a lot to do with the respect Cormier has for Evans as a fighter.
Evans won the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, went on to win the UFC light heavyweight championship, and has remained at or near the top of the light heavyweight division for several years, while other fighters have come and gone.
He also has the seasoning that only years of experience bring coupled with athletic talents that few other athletes in the Octagon possess, and Cormier is keenly aware of the threat Evans poses to his plans to eventually challenge for the UFC light heavyweight championship.
“[Rashad Evans is] 100-percent the most difficult fight for me in this division. There isn’t a guy in this division that presents the problems that Rashad Evans will present to me because of his ability to wrestle, his speed, and his explosive power,” said Cormier.
“When Rashad really does explode into a punch and he really does put everything behind it, I mean, he's knocking them unconscious; and then his ability to wrestle. People forget that in college Rashad beat one of the best wrestlers of all time in Greg Jones. The guy only lost two or three times in his entire career and one of those was to Rashad Evans.”
Jones finished his collegiate career at West Virginia University with a 126-4 record and three national championships to his credit.
“Rashad is a very difficult guy to wrestle with, which makes him very dangerous to me,” said Cormier. “The rest of the guys [at light heavyweight], I can probably just run across the cage and take them down.”
Cormier has worked on the nuts and bolts. He’s sculpted his training camp to prepare for the physical attributes and the skills of his opponent, but all of that will have been for naught if he doesn’t succeed at what he deems the most challenging aspect of the fight: he’s got to make Evans his enemy so that he's not beating up his friend.
To that end, he’s surely hoping that he’s been able to put more than a mean mug on Rashad Evans, at least for one night.