HOUSTON — It was a curious thing.
Daniel Cormier, so often viewed as someone who doesn't cause controversy or stir up trouble, surprised plenty of folks last month when he said he would request (via the Texas athletic commission) that UFC 166 opponent Roy Nelson be required to shave his beard before their fight.
"The thing about the beard is it doesn't seem to be well-kept, so I'm going to request that there's a rubber band in it and that it comes straight down," Cormier said during a UFC Fight Club Q&A prior to UFC 163. "Also, I'm going to ask that they put his hair in two plaits off to the side. Part it down the middle, plait it on the sides. I don't want it all in my face."
Nelson was mostly silent on the request, and Cormier said on Wednesday during the UFC 166 open workouts that his appeal was denied.
"There's nothing we can do, boys," Cormier said. "It's official. There is no law or rule against his beard. He can wear it as long as he wants it. He can go out there looking like a grizzly bear if he wants."
"I was going to make him (trim or braid it) if they let me, but they didn't," he continued. "Initially, it was a joke. A lot of fans really like Roy. Roy's a good guy to like. He's cool. He has the beard. He's a little heavier. People like Roy. So they got offended by it."
If Nelson was offended, he certainly didn't show it. Another thing Nelson didn't show? His typical belly, which along with his thrilling take-no-prisoners fighting style has turned him into a cult hero to many mixed martial arts fans, seems mostly gone these days. He may be known as "Big Country," but the Nelson who came to Houston this week appears to be more of a small-to-medium-sized Country.
As he usually does, Nelson deflected questions about his weight by saying that he stops eating when he's depressed. That depression, he said, was caused by the hospitalization of boxing coach Jeff Mayweather.
"This has probably been the crappiest camp I've ever had. It is what it is," Nelson said. "I was more concerned with people in my camp. Jeff Mayweather was in the hospital. There are things that are more important than worrying about a beard."
Cormier has multiple concerns. First, he must beat Nelson, which is no easy task given Nelson's ultra-durable nature. It is also Cormier's final fight at heavyweight; win or lose, he's dropping to the light heavyweight division in his next fight.
He's already started the process of moving down. Cormier is lighter than he's ever been, saying he'll likely weigh in around 225 pounds at Friday afternoon's weigh-ins. The weight loss, Cormier said, has not affected him negatively at all, and he expects that the size difference with Nelson won't be a problem.
Who will win this fight?
"I feel fast. I feel just as strong. I feel great, and I'm excited about this fight," Cormier said. "I've been training for Roy Nelson. If I wouldn't have lost any weight, I would have been fine because I still prepared for Roy Nelson."
Nelson, who went through a much-publicized contract renegotiation with the UFC earlier this year, said that despite his training camp not going quite the way he'd like, he won't be distracted come Saturday night and plans to put on a show.
"That's how other fighters work. All the other fighters are like 'oh, my big toe hurts,'" Nelson said. "People want to pay to see me fight. I'm going to put on a show. That's what the UFC expects out of me, to put on a show and go out there and fight. I come to fight every time."