Daniel Cormier's Olympic Teammate Sara McMann Defends Him Against Cummins

Jeremy BotterMMA Senior WriterFebruary 17, 2014

Daniel Cormier speaks at a news conference after beating Frank Mir in a UFC heavyweight mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Thomas Mendoza)
Thomas Mendoza/Associated Press

I have racked my brain, but I cannot remember a mixed martial arts rivalry that became heated more quickly than the UFC 170 bout between Daniel Cormier and Pat Cummins.

Most of this is due to the circumstances surrounding the fight, of course. One day, Cormier was scheduled to face Rashad Evans. The next morning, Cummins replaced the injured Evans after agreeing to face Cormier on just one week's notice.

One of the reasons Cummins got the bout in the first place was his claim to UFC president Dana White that he had "broken" Cormier in wrestling practice when Cormier was training for the Olympics. He also told White he made Cormier cry, and that was enough for White to grant him the opportunity of a lifetime.

Cummins was famously fired from his barista job at a Dana Point, California coffee house for talking to White on the phone during his shift. But it didn't matter: He was finally getting the UFC opportunity that he'd sought for the last few years.

That night, he told his story to a national TV audience on Fox Sports Live. Cormier appeared on the show via satellite with Cummins, and the usually gregarious former Olympian was visibly perturbed. He said that if Cummins' story was true, it happened because Cormier was in training for the Olympics and was facing a rotating cast of fellow wrestlers, with a fresh body cycling in every few minutes.

Cormier also said Cummins had broken the first rule of the wrestling room: What happens in the wrestling room stays in the wrestling room.

Over the weekend, Cormier's Olympic teammate Sara McMann called MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani to give her point of view:

During these practices, we are always down on points. We have people rotating in on us. They are people in our weight class that are eating whatever they want, they’re fresh because they get breaks and we don’t. They have no pressure on them. It’s a little bit ridiculous because these practices are designed to break us. These coaches won’t stop until you are flaking out, until you are at your absolute lowest point. That’s the way it’s been in wrestling forever.

To say that he made [Cormier] cry, that’s just crazy to me.

Here's a story for you: In the summer of 2012, I attended a media event that was designed to give journalists the experience of going through various aspects of mixed martial arts training.

One of those sessions was a brief wrestling class that was led by Cormier. It lasted roughly eight minutes, but those eight minutes felt like an eternity. After it was over, Cormier told us that we'd just experienced a wrestling room warm-up.

It wasn't even a real training session; it was just the appetizer.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

I was tired and in pain. But the real hurt came the next day, when I rolled out of my Mandalay Bay hotel room bed and quickly realized that walking was going to be a difficult proposition. I spent the majority of that day working from my bed. It was one of the more painful experiences of my life.

I tell you this story to say this: If what Cummins says is true, then I totally understand Cormier and McMann's response. Wrestling is a grueling activity, and the idea of hitting the mat for an extended session while fresh guys rotate in every few minutes is not pleasant.

Of course, there is a chance that none of this is true—that Cummins made something up on the spot and Cormier decided to go with it for the sake of promoting a fight.

If so, kudos to both of them. After all the talk, I'm a lot more interested in seeing one of the world's best fighters face off against a virtual unknown than I thought I'd be.

And make no mistake about it: Cummins is outmatched and outgunned by Cormier in just about every area of mixed martial arts. But he's not as much of a pushover as the general public is making him out to be. He has only four professional fights, but that's partially because several opponents have backed out of scheduled fights once they found out who he was.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Cormier's teammate Cain Velasquez faced the same predicament before signing with the UFC. He was so fearsome that it was impossible to find opponents who were willing to face him. And when Bob Cook and the American Kickboxing Academy folks were able to find opponents for Velasquez, most of them backed out once they did a little research on the future UFC heavyweight champion.

I'm not saying Cummins is Velasquez. Not by a long shot. But I am saying he's a lot better than the 8-1 odds he's currently trading for at the sportsbooks here in Vegas.

It's very likely he'll lose to Cormier, but I suspect we'll see him put up a fight, and that's just about all we can ask of someone who volunteers to fight one of the best in the world on just seven days' notice.