Mixed martial arts fans haven’t always been kind to Daniel Cormier.
Despite his nearly flawless UFC record, Olympic wrestling bona fides and charitable works outside of the Octagon, the reigning light-heavyweight champion has been forced to endure boo birds and the ire of internet meme makers, especially since his controversial rematch with former champ Jon Jones. Although Cormier used to put a lot of stock into winning over fans, going into UFC 220, it’s clear that he’s done trying to court their affections.
“I’ve actually let that go. I don’t care, not anymore,” Cormier tells Metro. “Initially, it kind of hurt when I started hearing that, boos and stuff, because I didn’t quite understand that.”
“For me, it just matters that you care,” he adds. “I just don’t want indifference.”
Cormier’s change of heart was likely influenced by all the drama that surrounded his last bout in July. While Jones’ legacy has been mired by failed drug tests and a plethora of legal battles, fans still showered him with praise, leaving Cormier with nothing but choruses of boos. Adding insult to injury, images of Cormier’s tear-filled reaction following his knockout loss to Jones became fodder for online trolls who filled his social media feeds with insults and memes.
The 38-year-old MMA veteran would get the last laugh, as Jones was suspended and forced to give up his belt yet again after another drug test failure. Despite being crowned the champ once more and having his second loss to Jones overturned, Cormier’s previous Octagon appearance still doesn’t sit well with him.
As he prepares to defend his belt against rising star Volkan Oezdemir at the TD Garden in Boston on Jan. 20, Cormier is as motivated as ever to show why he’s deserving of the light-heavyweight title.
“I won’t feel better until I get my hand raised again,” Cormier says. “Everything motivates me: losing in the NCAA finals, losing in the Olympics semi-finals, the Olympics bronze medal match. I still live with all those losses. They don’t go anywhere. They motivate. I just have another source of motivation now.”
Keeping the championship crown won’t be an easy task against Oezdemir, as the hungry 28-year-old has amassed a slew of impressive wins since joining the UFC.
“He’s a very legitimate challenge,” Cormier says. “He’s legit.”
But should the Lousiana native emerge victorious this weekend, he’ll have cemented his legacy as one of the best light-heavyweight fighters to ever grace the Octagon. Unless Jones makes some sort of miraculous return to the promotion in the near future, Cormier will have effectively cleared out the division with a win over Oezdemir.
Cormier, however, believes a new challenger will emerge at some point, and shoots down any notion of returning to the heavyweight division, where he made a name for himself early on in his MMA career. He’d prefer not to throw down against the likes of UFC champ Stipe Miocic or heavy hitter Francis Ngannou, who’ll serve as the main event at UFC 220.
“Look at these f—king guys now,” Cormier says. “Before, when I fought heavyweight back in 2013, I was a bigger guy too. I’m a lot smaller than I used to be.”
“I don’t want to fight heavyweight,” he adds. “My desire to not cut weight is not big enough that it would make me want to fight guys like Francis and Stipe Miocic and Cain Velasquez.”
Looking back at his storied career in combat sports and his ability to stay clear of controversies outside of the cage, Cormier hopes his legacy as a fighter will serve as an inspiration to the next generation of UFC stars.
“I just hope when they choose, they choose the way that I did it because it’s safe,” Cormier says. “It may not be as exciting, but you won’t get yourself into any trouble. Life’s going to be good for you.”