LAS VEGAS — When Daniel Cormier received a call from the UFC letting him know Rashad Evans had injured his knee and was out of its UFC 170 bout, he was overcome with sadness. So much so that he cried; he'd been through a lot in this training camp, and the idea of it all being for nothing was too much to handle.
He immediately masked his sadness by heading to Popeye's Chicken.
We from the South are quite familiar with Popeye's Chicken, and so I nod knowingly as Cormier tells his story during a media session on Wednesday afternoon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. It is the best readily available fried chicken in the world, after all, and Cormier is a longtime fan.
Cormier arrived at Popeye's and walked through the doors. An employee who doubles as a mixed martial arts fan had already heard the news about Cormier's fight falling through and asked him about it.
"Gimme my chicken and leave me alone," Cormier said. He ordered four pieces of chicken and red beans and rice. He ate everything.
The next morning, Cormier predictably felt terrible. Stomach hurting, he got the call letting him know Pat Cummins had agreed to replace Evans, and so he called his nutritionist to let him know he'd slipped and gone to Popeye's. The nutritionist was angry, but he told Cormier he'd get him back on track. Three gallons of water later, the chicken was flushed from his system and he was ready to go.
Cormier was grateful that Cummins decided to take the fight. He remembered him from their wrestling days, and he was excited to see Cummins was finally getting the opportunity he'd long been seeking with the UFC.
"And then he started talking, and you guys continued to put microphones in front of him. And he hasn't stopped talking since," Cormier said. "So not it's not 'Well, good for little Patrick.' Now, it's 'I'm going to beat Patrick's ass.'"
Cormier told Bleacher Report he is glad Cummins is willing to sell the fight, but he wasn't happy about the way he elected to do so.
"Back then, there were a lot of things going on in my life, and he knew that. So that's why I think that, more than anything, those things should have stayed in the wrestling room, even though they always do," Cormier said. "But you know what? He's doing what he has to do to...I really don't know what he's doing. I'm ready to fight Rashad Evans. He's a boxer-wrestler. Pat is a boxer-wrestler. Rashad has been the standard for that style of fighting in the UFC for a long time. Nothing had to change for me. He's going into a fight on 10 days' notice against a guy who is prepared. A guy who has peaked. And he's still talking."
Cummins made no apologies for the way he's chosen to promote the fight.
"That's the business," Cummins said. "We are getting in a fight. That's about as raw as it gets. Whatever it is leading up to that, I feel it's pretty fair game."
Cormier reiterated that he is prepared for whatever Cummins brings to the table because he is prepared for Evans, but he also concedes that Cummins is a lot more dangerous than many give him credit for. Cummins didn't place in his high school state wrestling tournament, and yet he made his way to All-American status at Penn State. This, combined with Cummins' natural athletic gifts, means that Cormier is taking him seriously.
"He's got some real ability, and he's a very dangerous guy because he's hungry," Cormier said. "But I was very thorough in my preparation, and I think that's going to carry me in this fight. I admire him for taking the fight. I appreciate that. But it's an uphill battle."
This is Cummins' first time in the spotlight, and it was evident on his face when he made his way to the mat for his open workout session. Loose and wearing a t-shirt with his leering face, Cummins talked to the fans while hitting mits. He's taking it all in: the media, the obligations and the constant requests for autographs from the fans.
Cummins wasn't sure what to expect from the fight-week hoopla, which can be a little overwhelming for fighters making their first appearance in the UFC, much less in a high-profile fight. But after his first appearance with Cormier on Fox Sports 1, Cummins said his concerns were allayed.
"This is easy," Cummins said. "You just have to be yourself. I've had fun with it. I'm enjoying the ride."
Many view Cummins as a patsy of sorts, and the odds agree. Cormier is a 13-1 favorite at many sports books, making him one of the biggest favorites in UFC history. With seemingly everything against him, does Cummins feel like he has nothing to lose?
"That's not my mindset at all. There's definitely a losing situation," he said. "I come in here expecting to get the win. No matter how it comes, that is my ultimate goal. Coming in here and getting the win. I never would have called out Daniel and said, 'Hey, let's have a fight' if I truly didn't believe I could win."
Given the odds, will Cummins bet on himself to win on Saturday night?
"I would love to. I just don't have any money," he said. "I'm an underdog kind of guy. I'm always the underdog, and I'm always surprising people."