It's probably symptomatic of how utterly dominant Jon Jones has been in his two-plus year reign as light heavyweight champion, but before Daniel Cormier has even made his UFC debut, before he's ever fought a bout in the 205-pound division, he's being hailed as the one man who may potentially be able to dethrone Jones.
Cormier comes from the same camp that has produced UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and he shares many of the same traits as his good friend: high-level wrestling skill, plenty of tenacity and heavy hands.
The easy-going Cormier is as grounded and realistic as they come, and he fully understands he's got a massive challenge on Saturday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., when he takes on ex-UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 7.
A win over Mir means something in the UFC, and it would set Cormier up for something big, be it at heavyweight, or at light heavyweight, where UFC president Dana White wants him to campaign.
Jones is one of the most high-profile fighters in the world, and with all the speculation, it's a question Cormier hears often. Cormier, though, is wise enough to know there's no Jones fight without a win in the Mir fight.
He's eager to hold a UFC belt and needs to rack up a few wins to move into consideration. He's extremely close with Velasquez, and it's unlikely the two would agree to fight each other, so Cormier concedes a drop is possible.
But he also knows that MMA is perhaps the most unpredictable of all sports. There's no guarantee Velasquez will have the UFC heavyweight belt when UFC officials deem Cormier worthy of a title shot.
If you don't have to make a decision, the smart move is to not make it and wait and see what develops.
"Well, I've got such an important fight on my hands in this next one that I really try and I've kind of strayed away from that thought process," Cormier said of a potential move to light heavyweight.
"I'm not really thinking about the 205-pound division right now. I've stated time and time again that I want to be the UFC champion, and if that means going down to the weight below, then I would do that, but I have the toughest fight of my career in front of me ... and I can't focus on [dropping in weight] right now.
"For me to have stated that I would consider it means that I am confident that I can make the weight, but right now my sole focus is on Frank Mir, and once we get past Frank, then we can talk about that other stuff."
It's no guarantee that Cormier, a two-time American Olympian wrestler, can even make 205, so all the talk may be moot despite his words. Cormier made the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, but didn't wrestle because his kidneys failed as he was trying to cut weight to get to 211 pounds.
It was, for a while, a touch-and-go situation and it's no stretch to say he nearly lost his life. It's now five years later and Cormier is 34, not 29, and will have to cut six more pounds to be able to do it.
He has a lot to prove in that regard, but he's been proving his talent every time out. He's 11-0 with five knockouts and three submissions and has wins over Antonio "Big Foot" Silva, who will meet Velasquez for the title next month at UFC 160, and ex-champion Josh Barnett.
For those who work with him at San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, those wins came as no surprise.
He turned pro a year after the Beijing Olympics knowing next-to-nothing about MMA. It wasn't long, though, before he was doing things in the cage that would amaze his teammates and coaches.
"He just picked this up so fast," Velasquez said on Fox's 'UFC Road to the Octagon.' "From the beginning to now, it's like night and day."
Cormier said it's because of the peer pressure he faced. AKA is renowned for the grueling pace that coaches Javier Mendez and Bob Cook insist upon.
There's little frivolity on a day-to-day basis, but for a guy who wants to learn how to fight, there are few better places on Earth.
"I like places where training is the focus, you know?" Cormier said. "Sometimes you've got to sacrifice the beach and you have to sacrifice some of the other stuff to get the best training. It's all training all the time here.
"I knew how to compete, but I didn't know how to fight, obviously, [when I arrived here]. I didn't know how to punch. I didn't know how to kick. I had no idea what jiu-jitsu was. I've learned it all. I've learned it all in this gym. I owe everything I do in that cage and in my fights to the people at the American Kickboxing Academy."
Nothing could be a stronger endorsement of AKA than Cormier's development as a fighter. Less than two years into his MMA career, he was facing the best fighters in the world.
And if he beats Mir, he could be facing Jones – one of the best who ever lived – in less than a year.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Cormier has the kind of talent to make a big impression upon those seeing him for the first time.
He hopes to make that impression upon Mir, most of all, but he wouldn't mind a bit if a lanky light heavyweight from Albuquerque, N.M., bothered to tune in and see what the fuss is all about.
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation
- Daniel Cormier
- Frank Mir