Above all, Daniel Cormier would like to stress that he's never had a problem with Roy Nelson in the past. And Cormier says once they finish their business in the co-main event of UFC 166 in October, it's very likely he won't have any lingering ill will towards Nelson in the future.
Right now, though? That's a different story.
The former Olympian isn't even that upset that Nelson said Cormier "pulled an Uncle Tom move" by declaring he wanted to beat up "Big Country" for UFC president Dana White, who has famously feuded with Nelson over the years.
The source of Cormier's ire, he told Bleacher Report on Monday, stems from something else entirely.
"The thing that bugged me the most was him saying that I turned down that fight when I didn't turn down a fight. I couldn't fight," Cormier says. "And he also said something to the effect of, 'Why would I want to fight Daniel? Is he the champion?' It was almost like he was questioning what I've done so far in mixed martial arts."
Cormier notes that he's not the UFC champion and that he doesn't want to be treated like one. But he's clearly agitated that Nelson elected to downplay Cormier's accomplishments.
"We both won tournaments, you know? You want to talk in terms of titles? Roy won the Ultimate Fighter title and I won the Strikeforce title," Cormier says, his voice rising a few decibel levels. "So when he was beating Kimbo Slice and Brendan Schaub, I was beating Josh Barnett and Bigfoot Silva.
"So if we're comparing each other in that aspect, that's what offended me."
The pairing of Cormier and Nelson has been a long time coming. The fighters began exchanging barbs after White noted during the UFC 159 press conference that he wouldn't mind seeing Nelson—who'd just scored a first-round knockout win over Cheick Kongo for his third win in a row—face Cormier or Mark Hunt in his next fight.
Fans immediately responded to the matchup. Cormier, who maintains an active social media presence, says that his Twitter account was flooded with messages from fans who voiced their support for the ultra-popular Nelson.
"When Dana first talked about us fighting in April, I got flooded with 'Daniel, you've got no chance,'" he says. "'You're gonna get knocked out.'"
These days, the tide has turned swiftly in the other direction. After Nelson's miserable performance in a losing effort to Stipe Miocic at UFC 161, Cormier says that he received Twitter messages of a very different kind.
"Now it's like 'Daniel, what's the point in fighting Roy?,' he says. "Roy is a tough fighter. He's a good fighter. Roy's a guy that just fights. That's why I want to fight him, outside of everything else. I want to fight him because I think he's a great fighter and he's well-rounded. And he wants to fight. I want to fight a guy that just wants to fight."
Cormier claims that he doesn't really hold Nelson's loss versus Miocic against him because "Big Country" took the fight on two-and-a-half weeks' notice.
"They say he looked terrible in his last fight. But what do you expect from a guy taking a fight on two-and-a-half weeks' notice? He's not Josh Koscheck or some of these other guys that take fights on two weeks' notice," he says. "Those guys are small and they can get in shape faster. It's tough for a big guy like that to do it.
"I don't hold that last fight against him at all."
And so Cormier will travel to Houston alongside training partner and student Cain Velasquez. The reigning UFC heavyweight champion will defend his title against Junior dos Santos in the main event, while Cormier will walk into the cage in the co-main event slot.
Cormier's positioning on the card brings about a scenario that neither Cormier or Velasquez have ever dealt with.
Since he'll be fighting immediately before Velasquez walks to the cage, he won't have time to go through the UFC's standard post-fight routine—a process that includes a mandatory physical examination by the on-site doctor—and still have time to walk to the cage with Velasquez and work his corner.
"That's a tough thing for me because I've been cornering Cain for a long time. But by the time we get to Houston, the work is all going to be done," Cormier says. "Him and I are going to get together and talk about the areas I feel he needs to be ready in. He's fighting a guy that we feel comfortable with putting Cain in there with."
Last December, Velasquez regained the UFC heavyweight championship he'd lost to dos Santos a year earlier. It was a savage five-round beating. There was no mystery to the decision the judges would hand down that night; the only question on the minds of most onlookers pertained to how dos Santos managed to survive until the end of the fight.
"I mean, I think it's going to be a tough fight, but I think Cain will be okay. I think this fight is happening really soon for Junior," Cormier says. "Less than a year after taking a beating like he took from Cain last December, he has to go in there and fight again. So I'm not sure enough time has passed for him to get over the way the last fight went."
Before before Cormier can watch Velasquez complete his trilogy with dos Santos from the relative comfort of his backstage dressing room, he'll receive the opportunity to settle his first true grudge since making the move from the world wrestling stage to mixed martial arts.
And the beauty of mixed martial arts, Cormier says, is the way that it gives two people who may have a problem with each other the chance to put their issues behind them by punching each other in the face.
"As an adult, if you have someone that you don't quite see eye to eye with...two adults would normally have to come into a room and sit down and talk," he says with a laugh. "They figure it out and they move forward with their lives. They don't really have any other option.
"We're lucky enough as fighters that we have two options. You can either sit around and talk about it, or you can go in the cage and fight. On the playground, if you got into an argument and started fighting, then it was done. As a fighter, we're one of the lucky few people in the world that can have an issue with someone and still go and fight about it.
"We have options that most adults don't have."
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