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With a collection of seasoned fight veterans and well-versed hosts at the helm, the people working the pre- and post-fight shows for the UFC have consistently raised the bar.
In this installment of "Dropping Knowledge," UFC heavyweight contender turned light heavyweight-in-the-making Daniel Cormier swung by the hallowed grounds of the column to offer his insight on the action set to go down this weekend at UFC 167 in Las Vegas.
The former Olympian is one of the fastest-rising stars in MMA. Over the past four years, the 34-year-old Louisiana native has gone from prospect to title contender, amassing an impressive 13-0 record. During this run, "D.C." has built a solid resume, winning the highly touted Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and beating former champion Frank Mir in his organizational debut at UFC on Fox 7 in April.
The AKA staple followed up a successful showing in San Jose by scoring a clean sweep over knockout artist Roy Nelson at UFC 166 in October. Despite "Big Country" being one of the most dangerous fighters when he is standing, Cormier flexed his ever-improving striking skills to pick up the victory via unanimous decision.
Cormier has now set his sights on the 205-pound division. While no opponent has been named for his official light heavyweight debut, the former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout will officially touch down in his new weight class in early 2014.
In addition to his success inside the cage, he has established himself as one of the top analysts in mixed martial arts as well. He uses a cerebral approach when breaking down the action, and his years of experience in combat sports make the information he shares easily digested with the MMA fanbase.
He made his official debut in this series back in August. This time around, Cormier came in lean and mean to share his thoughts on Saturday night's card.
Bleacher Report: Great to have you back riding shotgun, Mr. Cormier, and let's get down to business. Much like any time Georges St-Pierre fights, we are given the hard sell how the person who will be standing across from him inside the Octagon has the perfect style to beat him. It has been a rinse, wash and repeat process for the past four years, and now Johny Hendricks is being billed in the exact same role. Do you believe the hype surrounding this weekend's car is more of the same promotional work, or does Hendricks actually have the perfect style to dethrone the king?
Daniel Cormier: On paper, Johny Hendricks is the perfect storm. He has power, and we've seen that affect Georges in the past. Condit put him down with a big shot in their fight, and it put Georges in trouble. On paper, Hendricks is the perfect storm being that he has the wrestling pedigree and he has the power. If it seems like we've heard this story, it's because we have because Georges has fought Josh Koscheck twice. Koscheck has the power, and he has the wrestling pedigree. Out of everyone GSP has fought, Hendricks and Koscheck seem to have the right style. So if anyone is going to beat St-Pierre, I believe Hendricks is the guy with the right style to get it done.
B/R: A big element of the stylistic matchup that is being debated leading up to this fight is who will have the strength in the wrestling department. Hendricks is a former two-time national champion at your alma mater, and "GSP" has developed to become one of the game's best wrestlers when the cage door closes. With your highly decorated background in the discipline, whom do you believe will have the edge in this particular category?
DC: I'm going to look at this objectively, which is very hard to do because I wear orange-colored goggles all the time. People go as far as to say Georges St-Pierre is the best wrestler in MMA, and I don't believe that for a second because when you start wrestling in MMA—yes, it's MMA takedowns, but it's still wrestling. I won't say he's the best wrestler, but Georges' timing is pretty good.
He does a great job of mixing in his strikes with his takedowns. In a wrestling match, Johny Hendricks wins all day. In an MMA fight, I think it is kind of a toss-up. Georges got taken down by Koscheck as did Hendricks, so looking at how they fared against a common opponent, I think it's a toss-up in that department.
Koscheck did much better in the second fight with St-Pierre because he was prepared for his takedowns, and since Johny Hendricks has been training back home in Stillwater, he's going to be well-prepared for the wrestling of Georges St-Pierre. I think wrestling in this fight is going to be a wash, but if anybody is going to have the edge in this fight with takedowns, it's going to be Johny because he's been working with more high-level guys leading into this fight.
B/R: St-Pierre is one of the most dominant champions in UFC history and has accomplished this feat by being one of the most methodical fighters to ever step into the Octagon. No matter what happens in the fight, St-Pierre doesn't break game plan, and based on the strength of said game plan, he is rarely ever in a position where he would have to consider doing so. How does Hendricks get St-Pierre to fight his fight on Saturday night?
DC: You have to make him uncomfortable. Georges won't stray from his game plan, so you have to force him to. This is why I enjoy watching Georges St-Pierre. People talk about my fights and how I do things, but I like to follow my game plans just like Georges does. And I will not veer away from it until someone makes me. Georges does the same thing. The only way to make him break game plan is to force him out of it and into a dogfight. Carlos Condit put him in a dogfight, and Georges was forced to do some things he wouldn't normally do. Condit knocked him down, and Georges survived, and from there on he fought Condit because he had to.
When Georges was able to control Nick Diaz any which way he wanted to, he fought his game plan all the way through. Johny needs to hurt Georges early or go out there, take him down and keep him down. That will take him out of his game plan. He has to force Georges to fight a different way. Did Dan Hardy make him fight? No. Did Josh Koscheck make him fight? No. Condit has been the only guy in years to make him stray from his game plan, and Hendricks has to find a way to make that happen. Georges will not do it for him.
On another note, I enjoy watching Georges St-Pierre fight. I think his fights are beautiful because he never lets his opponents fight where they are comfortable. I think it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in MMA.
B/R: The co-main event features two personal friends of yours in Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen. With both coming from wrestling backgrounds, the stylistic matchup seems to be one of those "similar but different" situations. What is your take on how things will play out between these two light heavyweights at UFC 167?
DC: This is a hard one for me and everybody else who are close to them. You would much rather them not be fighting, and you hate to pick when it's two friends. They are both wrestlers, and I've trained with them both. I trained with Rashad very early in my career, but after training with Chael just recently, you have to understand he is going to do certain things every time. He's going to put a lot of pressure on. He's going to attempt takedowns. And guess what? He's probably going to take Rashad down.
Rashad needs to understand that even if he gets taken down, he has to get up and put the fight back on the feet, where I think he holds a pretty clear advantage in the striking. I think it's going to be a tough fight and will come down to Rashad being able to take Chael down and keep him there. Chael has shown he isn't very effective on his back. Rashad needs to take him down and control him.
I love Chael Sonnen. I think he's a fantastic fighter. But I think if Rashad Evans fights like Rashad Evans can fight, it's a pretty straightforward fight for him.
B/R: While their fight is as high profile as they come at 205, the bout feels to have more pressure on Evans' side of the table. Sonnen also broke out of a recent rough patch, but with his road ahead already paved with The Ultimate Fighter coaching duties and a Wanderlei Silva fight, it seems he will be unaffected win or lose. That doesn't feel like the case with Evans, and do you believe there is more urgency on him to find victory in this fight?
DC: I think there is more urgency surrounding Rashad in this fight only because a win puts him right back in the conversation for another title shot. He lost to Jones...but everybody has lost to Jones. He lost to Nogueira—which was a huge disappointment—but he rebounded by defeating Henderson in his next fight. If he comes out and beats Chael Sonnen in this fight, he is going to be right back into title contention or maybe one fight away. I don't think Chael is as close to that as Rashad is, and that is why I think there is more urgency surrounding Rashad in this fight.
B/R: The fight between Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler has plenty of interesting storylines heading in, but the most prominent seems to be the veteran's resurgence and the young prospect's rise to contention intersecting in Las Vegas. How do you see this fight playing out?
DC: I think it's a great fight. Robbie has been nothing short of amazing since he got back to the UFC and dropped back down to 170. I think he shows that when guys fight at their normal weight class, how effective and successful you can really be. That being said, I think Rory MacDonald is the first one of that new breed of athlete coming into mixed martial arts. He's leading that wave of kids who aren't starting in one specific art form and then trying to hit all the other ones as they go.
We are lifetime wrestlers where guys like Rory MacDonald start at 15. And while he is a wrestler, he is also doing striking and jiu-jitsu. These guys start young, become well-rounded and reach the highest level of the sport when they are still just kids. I mean Rory was fighting in the UFC at 20 or 21 years old. I think he's the new breed of fighter that is going to be tough for anyone to beat, and I think that will be the case in the fight on Saturday night.
B/R: Staying in the welterweight ranks, another big divisional tilt on the card will come between Josh Koscheck and Tyron Woodley. Both have suffered setbacks during their recent runs, and do you believe this is a case where the winner stays but the loser is bounced from the upper tier at 170 pounds?
DC: I think that is the case...especially for Koscheck. He's been around the top of the division for so long, and now he has two losses in a row. But think about it for a second. The fight he lost before getting knocked out by Robbie Lawler was against Johny Hendricks, and that was a super-close split decision. It was very close, and a lot of people thought "Kos" won that fight. But the truth is, if he loses this fight, it will be three in a row. That has never happened before in his career, and I think he'll have to take a step back if that happens.
Woodley, on the other hand, had an impressive debut but then lost to Jake Shields. I think he has more time because he hasn't been around as long. I think it's very important for Koscheck to win this fight and he will take a further step back if he loses. If that happens, it will also make people start to question whether or not it's time for him to start looking toward the end of the road. He's getting older, and if he loses three fights in a row after being so successful for so long, people will start to question whether or not it's time for him to hang it up. This fight is a big deal for both, but I think it's a little more important for Josh to get this win.
B/R: Another big name on the bill is former WEC title challenger turned UFC contender Donald Cerrone. I have long held the belief that when there is nothing but a fight purse on the line, "Cowboy" is lights out on fight night. That said, when there is talk of title contention or a fight carries certain implications, something happens to him and Cerrone just doesn't show up to get after it. In his fight with Evan Dunham on Saturday, the only thing at stake is money, and do you believe we are going to see the fired-up version of Cerrone on fight night?
DC: You summed it up pretty good. I think with nothing to lose and nothing to look forward to title wise, I think it is going to be a great fight because I think Evan Dunham fights the same way. I'm looking forward to a fun and exciting fight. I think this is one of those fights where it could really turn into a dogfight. It's just one of those fun fights.
The crazy thing is that at the top of the card, all we are talking about is the title and title implications for those fights. As you move down, you start to talk about whether or not Koscheck is at the end of the line and how far Woodley falls in the division if he loses. Then you start to get to the fun fights like this matchup between Dunham and Cerrone. Cowboy fights great when there is nothing to lose, but when he starts getting to a point where there is title contention on the line, he doesn't perform his best for some reason. Where he is right now...I think he's going to put on a great fight. This is going to be a fun fight, and it's guaranteed to be a fun one.
B/R: I know you do your homework in the lead-up to the cards you work, and I'm curious how many times in your preparation have you practiced saying Ali Bagautinov?
DC: You just said it wrong. It's Bagu-a-tinov. Do you know the reason I know I'm pronouncing this correctly? It's because I train with Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is friends with the guy, and when he had his UFC debut, I actually had to do his pop up on the pre-fight show. I had to say his name over and over again until I got it right.
Johny Hendricks def. Georges St-Pierre (Cormier admits to wearing his orange OSU goggles while making this pick)
Rashad Evans def. Chael Sonnen
Rory MacDonald def. Robbie Lawler
Josh Koscheck def. Tyron Woodley
Ali Bagautinov def. Tim Elliot
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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