Daniel Cormier snuck again into the Olympic Village, hoping his coaches and teammates had been at Beijing’s Agricultural College Gymnasium just a few miles down the street. He was decided to keep away from them earlier than he needed to board the shuttle bus again to the airport. He didn’t need to speak in regards to the harrowing weight-cut, which induced his kidneys to fail and landed him in hospital for 4 days. He didn’t need to clarify to them why their group captain and America’s finest hope for a wrestling medal had weighed in efficiently, however didn’t report back to the middle mat the following day on the 2008 Olympic Video games.
“For lots of people, I turned a pariah,” stated Cormier, who positioned fourth on the 2004 Video games and clinched a bronze medal on the 2007 World Championships, cementing him as a medal favourite. “In wrestling, you don’t miss the Olympic Video games. I needed to face all of the individuals I’d let down. It was very tough. I used to be so embarrassed.”
Will probably be almost 12 years to that day when Cormier faces UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic on Saturday at UFC 252 in Las Vegas. Cormier, who’s anticipating his third baby in October along with his spouse, Salina, stated he’s “sure” it will likely be his final struggle, although UFC president Dana White has made overtures this week for the 41-year-old fighter to proceed on afterward.
From outcast to standout, Cormier has made probably the most of his second act. He’s 22-2 (with one no contest) in combined martial arts and among the many 2,000-plus athletes to the touch naked ft to UFC canvas since 1993, he’s considered one of solely three fighters to earn championship titles in two weight divisions concurrently. He has additionally been a commentator with the UFC for a decade and his ESPN analyst role will broaden into different sports activities within the fall.
Cormier has discovered a house with MMA, however a part of his coronary heart will all the time stay with wrestling. It’s wrestling that bought him out of Lafayette, Louisiana, the place sports activities was one of many few exit choices for a Black child. It’s wrestling that bought him a scholarship to Oklahoma State College, the mecca of faculty wrestling. And it was Cormier’s OSU roommate and MMA champion, Mohammed “King Mo” Lawal, who steered him towards the brand new sport.
Cormier nonetheless will get choked up speaking in regards to the 2008 Olympics. He blames himself and nobody else for his lack of self-discipline. Cormier’s lifelong love for meals put him in a continuing tug-of-war along with his personal physique, however he all the time discovered a method to lose the burden – even when it meant ravenous and dehydrating himself on the final minute to take action.
“The truth of it’s I might have accomplished issues so significantly better within the build-up to the Video games,” he stated. “I performed round with … my weight. I took issues as a right that I shouldn’t have. Finally, it price me on the largest time it might have price me.”
That morning in Beijing, Cormier awakened 6.5lb over the allowed weight, which was 2lb greater than what he normally reduce in a day. He was panicked, however spent the day along with his coaches chipping away on the quantity between the mats and the sauna. On time, Cormier weighed in at 96kg (211.6lb) precisely. Then, started the restoration routine.
“The hour after weigh-ins was all the time horrible,” stated Cormier. “I’d be pooping and vomiting and sweating, however I all the time knew that after about an hour I’d begin feeling higher. This time I used to be not feeling higher.”
Along with his abdomen and legs cramping up, he was despatched to hospital, the place his conditioned worsened. His organs had been failing.
“The medical doctors instructed me I’d by no means get better from this,” stated Cormier. “It was unhealthy, however I’m pondering I’m nonetheless going to wrestle the following day.”
A USA Wrestling official referred to as Cormier that night time to inform him he wouldn’t be allowed to wrestle. He wept in his hospital mattress for 4 days straight.
When he returned residence to Stillwater, Oklahoma, Cormier withdrew from the world. He threw sheets over the home windows and performed video video games day and night time to drown the deep disappointment he felt in himself. Over the following yr, he gained 40lb. Lots of his teammates and coaches nonetheless spoke to him. A couple of didn’t. An Olympic official lastly referred to as Cormier – to not talk about what had occurred, however to ask that he refund them the cash they’d spent on his airfare to the Video games. The 28-year-old wrestler barely had sufficient for a package deal of spaghetti.
Any job alternatives instructing wrestling had dried up. Nobody wished “the man who didn’t wrestle on the Olympics” heading up their program. “There was no worth in me at that time,” stated Cormier. “No worth in my identify in any respect.”
His Olympic misstep affected many lives – not simply his personal. After he had weighed in that day, no alternate might take his place, per Olympic rules, so the match was forfeited. Cormier’s coaches had been additionally scrutinized.
“I owe the most important apology to Kevin Jackson,” Cormier stated. “On the time, Kevin was the nationwide group wrestling coach, a Black man, an Olympic and World champion. I really imagine my scenario is why he wasn’t requested again to educate the nationwide group.”
In 2009, Cormier took a job at an area TV station, promoting promoting. He walked round city in his pressed beige slacks and button-down shirt, pitching enterprise house owners industrial ad-space concepts on the spot.
That would have been Cormier’s life, however adversity tended to encourage, not discourage him. He had misplaced his toddler daughter in a automotive accident a yr earlier than the 2004 Olympics, then gone on to clinch fourth place in her honor. At his nephew’s basketball observe sooner or later, Cormier climbed down the stands and slipped right into a stall within the lavatory. He dialed the quantity one other had given him and was on a airplane days later headed for the AKA health club in San Jose, California.
As he climbed the MMA ranks, Cormier got down to make amends along with his previous. He talked up wrestling wherever he might, and commenced teaching children in San Jose in 2011. In 2013, when wrestling was in peril of being dropped from the 2016 Olympics, Cormier referred to as USA Wrestling to make a donation.
“Whereas I used to be at it, I requested them if I might settle up that airfare I owed them, as effectively,” stated Cormier, who was met with a pause after which amusing. “It was lastly one thing we might carry up.”
At his UFC debut later that yr, USA Wrestling allowed Cormier to put on their patch on his shorts, a small gesture that signaled some word of forgiveness. “It felt good,” stated Cormier, “like the game was coming again round to me.”
Final yr, Cormier turned the pinnacle wrestling coach at Gilroy Excessive Faculty in California. In his first season, Cormier coached his neighbor’s son, Chase Saldate, to a state title and a No1 nationwide rating. He encourages his athletes to eat to hurry up their metabolism.
Cormier nonetheless struggles with the truth that one of many worst errors of his life was the important thing to his reinvention as a champion, a pacesetter and ultimately, a task mannequin.
“I might by no means have accomplished for wrestling and made individuals suppose and speak about wrestling on such a large scale, if I’d wrestled within the Olympic Video games,” Cormier stated. “It’s so loopy to suppose that not attending to chase down that dream that I labored for for thus lengthy, turned out to be – as unhappy because it was – it allowed me to go chase one thing completely different.”