In the fight game, title shots are sometimes never attained. Getting two in as many fights, well, that usually doesn't occur outside of an immediate rematch, which is typically due to a split or controversial decision. Divisions can be littered with fighters who fail to win the gold in their first chance, then strive back toward it, only to never get a shot at redemption.
But for Daniel Cormier, one man's misfortune has given birth to a second opportunity.
"Normally, that doesn't happen unless you are the champion," a very happy Cormier told MMAmania.com early Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday night, UFC announced Jon Jones would be stripped of his light heavyweight title and suspended indefinitely, due to his recent arrest on a felony charge for leaving the scene of an accident and subsequent pending legal issues. Cormier was then announced as Jones' replacement against Anthony Johnson at UFC 187 on May 23, 2015.
Our full report here.
While the Jones news was unfolding on Sunday evening, "DC" was phoning UFC President Dana White to offer his services for Memorial Day Weekend, since it was looking pretty grim for Jones' chances at that time.
"I did, right away," said Cormier, who was originally scheduled to fight Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 68 in June. "Once you get through the shock and you get through the awe of the whole thing, like 'Oh my God I cannot believe this is happening. Is this lady okay? Is this lady's kid okay?' Then you kind of start thinking about opportunity. Your initial reaction is always going to be the human reaction -- it's not the competitor's reaction -- it's 'is everybody okay.'
"Then you start thinking man... We pay attention to social media. When you start to read it and you start to see like, 'I don't think he's going to come out of this. I think this is going to turn out bad.' You start thinking, 'maybe there is an opportunity for me,' and you start to kind of search yourself. I called Dana a few times and I think Dana was on vacation. Then I started calling Lorenzo. I just actually went to the next level after I called Dana a couple of times."
While saying there is no love lost between Jones and Cormier would be a massive understatement, Cormier was asked if he felt any satisfaction about Jones' suspension and UFC stripping him of the title. He appeared on Monday's UFC Tonight, but didn't take any shots at the now-former champion. But some part of him had to feel karma came back to bite Jones, right?
Or maybe that the troubled fighter got what was coming to him?
"Not really. I'm not that type of guy," Cormier answered. "I don't like to kick a guy when he's down. I think that's not fair. At the end of the day, I think about more than just my feelings towards Jon. If you are saying this guy got what he deserved, what are you saying about his family? I'm not that person. I try and think about is everything okay in terms of his daughters and his family. So, I never had that actually."
Jones certainly kicked Cormier when he was down after the loss at UFC 182 back in January, saying: "I don't respect Cormier. I hope he is crying somewhere right now. I'm sure he is. I can't wait until he earns his way back so I can whoop him again."
"DC" was asked about his reaction to those comments made by Jones.
"He's a competitor. He was on a high after winning such a big fight. And you know what man, I kind of thought... The one thing that stuck out to me in the whole quote was, 'I really hope that he can build himself up so I can whip him again.' And he won that fight, but you can honestly, unbiasedly watch that fight, he didn't whoop me. I walked out of there I had no bruises. I think I had a bloody nose, but no one fights him and comes out like that."
Now, the 15-1 fighter has another chance to win the title. A second crack at winning the UFC light heavyweight strap and feeling gold wrapped around his waist. A shot at redemption after the most disappointing fight in his professional career. Jones will be in his rearview mirror and Johnson is now the man he must face for the vacant championship and who he now turns his attention to.
Cormier recently fired the first salvo on his title-fight opponent, saying that "at his core," Johnson is still the man who got submitted by Josh Koscheck and quit against Vitor Belfort. The Olympian wrestler gave his overall thoughts on "Rumble" and their UFC 187 match up.
"He's a monster," said Cormier about Johnson. "He's an absolute monster and I think what's good about AJ now is he is in his right division. What I mean is, I believe that deep down in there behind all the muscle, intensity, meanness, toughness, it's still there (the Johnson who lost to Koscheck and Belfort). But you know what? If I can't go and find that and make him go back to being that guy, it doesn't matter, he will win that fight. So, I can say that, but [I need] the ability to actually make him question himself and make him fight from behind and make him dig deep."
While he couldn't deny Johnson is on a roll in his second stint inside the Octagon, Cormier feels that "Rumble" really hasn't been tested during his nine-fight winning streak.
"He knocked out everybody in the WSOF except for Arlovski and Arlovski really didn't do all that much to him," said Cormier. "He just beat on Phil Davis for 15 minutes. He just beat Phil up. So he hasn't really been pushed since he's been back to the UFC. So, I guess it's up to me to make him turn back to that guy.
"If I can't do it then the dude will win the fight. It's on me. If I can't make Anthony do that then I won't. But again, when I say at his core, it's in there. I'm pretty sure they can find something about me that I've done over the course of my career that they will point to and say 'at his core, Daniel will do this.' It's a pretty fair assessment, actually."
Johnson may not have been tested yet, but his one-round mauling of Alexander Gustafsson was a surprise to everyone, Cormier included.
"Yeah, It was very shocking," he said. "I did the commentary and the analysis for that fight. I picked Anthony initially and then I changed my pick to Alexander Gustafsson because I decided to play it safe. It was surprising but you can see it. The guy goes to the Octagon like he doesn't have a worry in the world. He goes and does his thing. He is like an animal. You cannot allow him to corner you or trap you and get his hands on you."
The current No. 3-ranked light heavyweight can break down fight techniques and game plans with the best of them. His co-host gig on UFC Tonight and pre- and post-fight appearances on FOX and FOX Sports 1 are a strong indicator of the type of knowledge he possesses. However, he kept it short and sweet on his winning formula for UFC 187.
"To win I have to be me," Cormier said. "It's a tough hill to climb, make no mistake about it. But it's not insurmountable. A year ago, if they said 'hey, you are fighting Anthony,' I'd say 'okay whatever.' It's just for a belt now. If they would've told me a year ago it was for a belt, I wouldn't have believed it. That is a testament to who Anthony is and who he has become at this point in his career."
With a victory over Johnson, Cormier would be bringing another belt to American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), where UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez hangs his title. With the way fellow team members Luke Rockhold and Khabib Nurmagomedov have been fighting, many think a day with AKA having four UFC titleholders isn't outside the realm of possibility.
"After the loss in January I said, 'I'm going to be the freaking guy that doesn't bring the belt back.' You know man, It kind of sucked," said Cormier, thinking back on his lost opportunity against Jones. "I truly believe it is only a matter of time for Luke and Khabib because they are that good. So yeah, it kind of sucked, but then what an opportunity. How unreal is it that things happen in the way that they do."
The opportunity also came a great time as Cormier was already in camp preparing for the fight against Bader for the UFC Fight Night 68 card on June 6. Luckily enough, the former heavyweight was already in shape, and not indulging in his favorite meal: Popeye's Chicken.
"I had to lay off that shit man, for a long time before training camp even started," he laughs. "I have to stay off the Popeyes. You know when I eat a lot of that stuff is when I'm behind the desk. It's crazy because I have suits when I'm in fight camp and suits for when I'm just living my normal life, day-to-day. They accidentally sent one of my fat-man suits to one of my press conferences.
"I was in camp. We break it down into a six-week thing. It turned into four. So we kind of do a two-weeks that are more expedited, faster. See where we are and get our bodies a few pounds lighter. As of right now, I feel great. I feel healthy. I feel good and I'm ready to go."
It's also quite advantageous for him to have the UFC heavyweight champion and main sparring partner already in camp preparing for his title-unification about against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 on June 13.
"It's awesome having Cain back," Cormier said. "He's pushing me. Cain doesn't talk trash and Cain said 'Daniel, we have 45 rounds of sparring left. After you are done with these rounds preparing, there is nothing that you will feel inside the Octagon that you will not have felt inside the gym. You are going to be fine.' It's awesome."
On Sunday morning he was still preparing for Bader and a chance to climb the next rung of the ladder toward a second shot at Jones. Suddenly, Jones has a brush with the law and UFC takes a hard stance on the now-former champion for breaching the promotion's "Code of Conduct" policy (read it).
On Tuesday night, Cormier found himself back in a title fight.
He is beyond grateful for another golden opportunity and the fact that his fight is against Johnson and not Jones does little to diminish what winning the title would mean to the 36-year-old fighter.
For him, "it's always been about the belt."
"Even in the lead up to Jon and I's fight, I said if Jon Jones didn't have the belt, I wouldn't care about fighting Jon Jones so much," Cormier explained. "It's always been about the belt. It won't mean any less not winning it off Jones. Competitively, I know that I didn't beat him. Competitively, I will hope that he gets everything in order, comes back and is the same guy when he left and we get the chance to fight again."