Daniel Cormier: The Champion of Role Models
How Jon Jones turned me into a die-hard DC fan
Article courtesy of Paul Miller of MMA Freaks.
The debut episode of “The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated” seems to have stirred up a lot of buzz about Daniel Cormier on social media. I see lots of questioning like, “Why do people like Daniel Cormier?” or “How can people not like Daniel Cormier?” The ensuing discussion threads all sound about the same. Die-hard Jones fans who dismiss PED usage don’t like DC. Pretty much everybody else is starting to get on the DC bandwagon, and I think that’s a good thing for fans; for Cormier; for the UFC; and for MMA.
I didn’t use to like Daniel Cormier. Not one bit. Everything about him bothered me: his wrestling-heavy fighting style; his voice; his appearance; his physique; the look on his face. I just didn’t like the guy. Now he’s among my favorite fighters of all time. It was Daniel Cormier who ultimately changed my mind. But it was Jon Jones who opened my eyes.
See, I didn’t like DC, because I was a die-hard Jones fan. When Jon Jones began dispatching the greatest Light-Heavyweights one-by-one in spectacular, dominant, and dynamic fashion, I could see that he was special. Like everyone else, I understood we were witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime talent. I was a mega-fan. I’d even say I idolized the guy. Before his storied path of lies, violations, and crimes began, I believed the squeaky-clean boy-next-door image projected by the phenom athlete with “Philippians 4:13” tattooed boldly across his chest – the scripture that reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I wanted to believe that Jon Jones was going to be the mega-star that was going to bust MMA wide-open onto the mainstream sports scene; that he would be the Michael Jordan/Joe Montana/Wayne Gretzky/Hank Aaron of MMA. I envisioned him as a good and healthy role-model for boys and men alike. To put it another way, I was emotionally invested in Jon Jones and his success. That’s what it means to be an avid fan: you care. I wanted him to be the greatest fighter the world had ever seen, thus every opponent was “less-than” in my eyes.
So along comes Daniel Cormier; this short, tubby man from Strike Force with a frame more suited for Middleweight, who had somehow been rag-dolling elite Heavyweights in and out of the UFC, until it became apparent that his path was leading him to a collision with his best friend and training partner Cain Velasquez. DC’s move down to Light-Heavyweight was not welcomed by me.
When Jones and DC brawled at the press conference in advance of their UFC 182 fight, I blamed it all on DC. I thought he had it coming. When Jones won the unanimous decision at UFC 182, I was elated. Cormier having been dispatched like all the others, my champ could now move on to continue his dominance of the division without this pesky troll nipping at his heels.
Then came the positive test for cocaine. Uh-oh. But hey, rehab! OK, that was easy for me. A guy gets a little out of control, checks into rehab, and he’ll get fixed right up! But just a few months later, Jones was charged with hit-and-run. “Wow,” I thought. “Jones is really messing up. I sure hope he gets his shit together.” When the UFC stripped him of the title and suspended him, I was bummed out, but I understood. But even then, I was pulling for him. I wanted the greatest of all time to be the greatest of all time, and he was showing signs of squandering it away.
Reinstatement; probation violation; Interim title win… and then pulled from his rematch with DC for a doping violation. “Dick pills”. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Then USADA suspension, Interim title stripped…
After all, this, even though all the evidence was there to draw a conclusion about Jon Jones, I was still pulling for him to get it together and realize his full potential. I was a sucker for a redemption story. So when he told that story in his lead-up to his UFC 214 rematch with Cormier to reclaim “his” title, I’m now ashamed to say, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. And when he kicked Cormier’s head into oblivion, I was elated once more. My champ had overcome his mistakes, fought through adversity, and defeated our mutual nemesis.
Now we see Jon Jones brought low in his latest bout with steroids. Perhaps a career-ending low, although much rests on the decisions made by USADA. But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: One man has remained above it all, throughout all of Jon Jones’s self-destruction: Daniel Cormier.
We now have the benefit of hindsight. We can look back and see who was the man, and who was the unhinged man-child. We can see who cheated, and who didn’t. We can see who put their head down and their nose to the grindstone and did everything they were supposed to do to be the best that they could be, and we can see who tried repeatedly – both in sport and in life – to take the easy path; the less honorable path.
And at those moments when Jon Jones has been laid lowest, Daniel Cormier refused to pile on. He set an example for everyone about how kicking a man when he is down is not how a decent man behaves. With good humor, caution, seriousness, and humility, Daniel Cormier has fielded questions about Jon Jones cheating and how it has negatively impacted his entire career in the UFC without being cruel, vindictive, or overly judgmental.
The thing I came to realize about Daniel Cormier over time is that he knew who Jon Jones was all along. He knew, and yet he suffered the brunt of fan hatred, watching as adoration was heaped upon a man that he knew was unworthy of it, while he himself did everything the right way, and was hated. Yet he pressed on. He just continued to be decent, hardworking, and determined. Not to mention that he dominates everyone who is not Jon Jones on PEDs. In other words, he let his actions, his character, and his fists, speak for themselves.
Now Daniel Cormier is beginning to see the rewards of just pressing forward being who he is, and letting the chips fall. His analyst work on Fox and cageside is very widely appreciated. His work in the cage is always dominant. He’s become a legit Pay-Per-View draw in his own right, and in the eyes of a growing number of fans, he is finally out from under the shadow of Jon Jones. Once almost universally ridiculed on social media, I see more and more DC love as time goes on, and I think it is richly deserved.
Now an even broader audience will be exposed to Cormier as he coaches “The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated” opposite Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic – another fighter of good character in his own right. In a sport where controlled violence is the spectacle, men of good character are welcome, and I would argue much needed. The occasional drama of fighters making bad decisions needs to be offset by those men and women who remind us that when the arena lights go out, character matters most of all.