Why Daniel Cormier is a swell guy even though he doesn't like Jon Jones
LAS VEGAS – It's hard to make Daniel Cormier angry. The UFC's light heavyweight champion has an infectious laugh and a playful personality, and anyone who has known him for more than 10 minutes swears by him.
His peers love him. Reporters swear by him. His colleagues at Fox Sports, where he's become one of the leading analysts in mixed martial arts, adore him.
It's as if he walks on water.
They rave about his work ethic and they point toward his humility.
"What really stands out about D.C. to me is that, for all of his athletic accomplishments and the stature he has, he's a normal, humble guy, and believe me when I tell you, that's not normal," said his friend and occasional broadcast partner, Brian Stann, an ex-UFC fighter himself.
"It's why D.C. was captain of the [U.S.] Olympic [wrestling] team [in 2008]. People gravitate toward him. He has no ego and he's so easy to deal with."
He's easy and friendly and accommodating and gracious in just above every situation but one.
Cormier dislikes Jon Jones so intensely, so fully, that he has a difficult time controlling his rage.
In August 2014, Jones and Cormier brawled in the lobby of the MGM Grand as they were posing for a photo together following a news conference. The week of their fight at UFC 182, which Jones won in a rout, security had to get between them several times as they passed each other in the hotel.
At a taping for a preview show on March 4 in anticipation of a rematch, they nearly brawled in the parking lot. And then a few hours later, they were backstage at the MGM Grand awaiting the start of another news conference when they nearly went at it again.
George Greenberg is the executive vice president of content integration and presentation at Fox Sports and is the man who hired Cormier to Fox Sports 1's "UFC Tonight."
"He's a genuine, down-to-earth guy and I believe he'd give you the shirt off his back," Greenberg said. "Jon Jones flips a kind of switch inside of him. Daniel is a lovable bear. He's got this body like a keg and this incredible physique, but he's just a nice guy.
"The guy we see is one who goes out of his way to help everyone. He's always ready to do something for you. He's just a guy you'd like to have as a friend. Jon Jones just somehow gets under his skin. He doesn't like him because he thinks Jon is fake and a phony and Daniel is one of the most genuine guys you'll ever meet."
This was to be the week that Cormier would exorcise the demons that have tormented him. Saturday was to be the night he would make right the one thing in his athletic career, the shortcoming that has left a knot in the pit of his stomach.
He was to defend the UFC light heavyweight title – his light heavyweight title – against Jones.
Cormier was in tears following UFC 182, when he was routed by Jones in a light heavyweight title fight.
The rematch was scheduled for Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in the main event of UFC 197, and then Cormier injured a leg and had to pull out.
He checked a kick in practice and soon found himself unable to walk. He'd ruptured the interosseous membrane from his fibula, and though surgery wasn't required, it would take at least a month, perhaps two, to fully heal.
Ovince Saint Preux replaced Jones and the two will fight on Saturday for the interim belt. Cormier will be in Las Vegas as part of the Fox Sports 1 crew working the fight.
His producer, Steve Becker, called Cormier "a total professional." And Cormier said that despite his feelings for Jones, he'll be able to control himself.
"One hundred percent," Cormier said. "No doubt."
Jones hasn't fought since he beat Cormier. He's since been involved in a hit-and-run traffic accident, was stripped of his title and was put on supervised probation.
Jones claims he's over his problems and says he's been sober for seven months. And while he said he didn't like Cormier, he proceeded to heap praise upon him and said he found himself in an odd way happy when Cormier submitted Anthony "Rumble" Johnson to UFC 187 to win the belt that had been stripped from him.
"Outside of the fact I don't like him, he's really not a bad guy and he makes a great champion," Jones said. "He has a clean image. He seems like a family guy and he works really hard. Me not being in there, you'd want to see a guy like D.C. have the belt."
Cormier looks at Jones as "a guy who has the world at his fingertips and all the ability in the world and that God-given something special to transcend this sport."
Instead, Cormier is frustrated by Jones' inability to avoid trouble and, he says, do the right thing.
It gnaws at him, maybe more than it should, he admits.
"My emotions sometimes guide me," he said. "When I look at Jon, I see a guy who is trying to do everything in his power to throw it away. And you could tell me, 'Hey, D.C., it's his life, let him alone and let him live it,' and I'd get that, but it's dangerous. The issues he's had are dangerous.
"The issues he's had are with vehicle stuff. And the things I've experienced in my lifetime, I know as well as anyone that people, innocent people, get hurt. And so that just does something in me."
Cormier's 3-month-old daughter, Kaedyn, was killed in an auto accident on June 14, 2003.
Losing a child haunts a parent forever, and perhaps that tragic event is what is at the core of Cormier's hatred of his long-time rival.
Cormier came up the hard way. His father was murdered in 1986 and he was raised by his mother and her new husband, his stepfather, in a poor area of Lafayette, La.
It was a heavily French-influenced area and everyone had a nickname, often odd ones. Cormier's nickname was Boone, as in Daniel Boone.
His great grandmother, Mom Ya, held him when he was an infant and always had a message for everyone.
"She'd say, 'This one is going to be special. I just know it. He's going to be special,' " Cormier said.
And Mom Ya was right. Her great grandson made two U.S. Olympic teams and was the captain of the second of them, in 2008. He won the Strikeforce Grand Prix heavyweight championship. And he captured the UFC light heavyweight belt.
In addition, he's become a fabulous broadcaster.
"The Fox guys absolutely love him," Stann said. "He's so good and so knowledgeable and all of the fighters respect him."
Stann said a lot of the fighters who work as analysts at Fox are picky about who they work with and often request not to be paired with certain guys.
"But everybody loves to work with D.C.," Stann said.
Cormier has immersed himself in broadcasting and is already a star. But he could soon be the measure by which all others are measured against.
He puts in the time because of the way he grew up. Percy worked 8-to-5 for the city, came home to eat and then worked 6:30-to-11 washing dishes at a pizza joint.
On weekends, he'd take young Daniel with him to mow the lawn and pull weeds at the local cemetery. Daniel made $35 every two weeks and learned the importance of working for money and then saving it.
He jokes that when he goes to dinner with his Fox Sports colleagues that it always seems he's forgotten his wallet.
"I put my money away, because I know there's a rainy day coming," he said. "I've been to the bottom. When I got back from the Olympics, I didn't have much. I had to learn to make do."
And so he saves his money, putting two full checks into the bank and living off the other two. He owns a popular barber shop on Vanowen Street in Reseda, Calif. It gets good reviews online, but what Cormier likes most is the cash flow.
"We have a pretty good rent situation and I can make four, five times the rent amount," he said. "That's money I can put aside."
Life is good, no matter what topic you broach, unless it's Jones. And even though he admits he is sometimes embarrassed by what he's said or done, he finds it hard to pull back.
His biggest fear is that when his two children are old enough and start researching their father, they're going to find a lot of the old ugliness that went on with Jones.
"I live in fear of our children, his and mine, looking at the things we did and seeing us arguing, screaming and cussing, and saying, 'Why, Dad? Why?' " he said. "That's not going to be a good day when that happens."
But in his world, most days are good. And when others are down, it only takes crossing paths with Cormier in the hallway to make a difference.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone [at Fox Sports] who has anything but great things to say about him," Greenberg said. "He's the guy everyone loves."
It sounds like even Jon Jones is coming around now.
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