There is an ingrained level of respect shared between athletes who compete across the spectrum of sports.
This certainly rings true when it comes to wrestling, but that element is uniquely amplified among those who have traveled the workman's path because only another wrestler truly knows the sacrifice and perseverance the sport demands. And when two athletes in that realm have risen to achieve Olympic status, the shared respect reaches an entirely different level.
Daniel Cormier has always held a tremendous amount of admiration for Dan Henderson, but his motivation to become a UFC champion trumps all things. D.C. made the drop from heavyweight into 205-pound waters to make a run at the light heavyweight strap, and the former two-divisional Pride champion and MMA legend is now officially standing between him and his goal.
Cormier will put respect aside in order to impose his will when the two men meet next month at UFC 173, as the matchup between the undefeated contender and the resurgent veteran will serve as the co-main event for the UFC's annual Memorial Day weekend event in Las Vegas.
"I have a huge amount of respect for Dan Henderson," Cormier told Bleacher Report. "I've always liked the way he fights and he was very nice to me when I first started out with Strikeforce. I consider Dan Henderson a friend and more than just an acquaintance. I think he's a great guy and the way he has competed since wrestling in the Olympic Games in 1992 and 1996 and the way he carried himself in Pride, Strikeforce and now the UFC; was a big deal for me. I have a ton of respect for Dan as an athlete and in general because he's always been very nice to me.
"My goal of becoming champion is the most important thing without question. People get caught up in mind games about what they will and won't do, but my intention to become champion. Nothing is going to stop that. Whether it be a guy like Dan Henderson—who I very much like in this world—to someone I really dislike; it doesn't matter who it is because nothing is going to stop me. My goals are out there for me and I need them to happen. Dan Henderson is out there and he's the guy I have to go through to get a championship fight then that's what I'm going to do.
"Rashad Evans is a friend of mine and I was going to fight him and I was going to beat him," he added. "I was going to win that fight and put myself in position to earn a title shot. I'm not going to allow friendships to stand in the way of what I want to accomplish for myself and my family."
Throughout his rise in mixed martial arts, Cormier has been vocal about his pursuit of championship gold. The volume on that particular matter has been turned up over the past year-and-a-half as back-and-forth exchanges between the AKA staple and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in interviews and on social media have made headlines across the MMA media landscape. Cormier has made no secret about his intention to become the 205-pound title holder, and he's sought out the types of fights that would put him on the fast track to accomplish his goal.
While he was supposed to face former champion Rashad Evans in his light heavyweight debut back in February at UFC 171, Suga suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from the bout.
The UFC tapped an unknown fighter in Patrick Cummins to step in on short notice—and Cormier promptly drubbed the Team Reign fighter in the first round of their tilt—but his opponent's lack of name recognition created a situation where victory wasn't going to warrant much more than a check mark in the win column.
Cormier was certainly keen to the circumstances at hand, but he sees the situation surrounding his bout with Henderson in a far different light. The 35-year-old believes defeating Henderson will be the final step he needs to take in order to get the opportunity he's been on the hunt for.
"There is nothing standing between me and a title shot but Dan Henderson and that's it," Cormier said. "There have been other times where I've gathered knowledge and waited to see what happens, but now I know. In my mind I know if I beat Dan Henderson I will get the title shot. It's what I've been wanting and what I've been begging for. I have text Dana so much asking, 'Am I next? Am I next?' that he has to be so pissed off with me calling and texting him all the time.
"I'm going to beat down your door until you give me what I want. Also, I'm not asking you to give me anything. I'm asking you to allow me to get what I've been working for. I'm asking for you to allow me to get what my resume shows I deserve. If I beat Dan Henderson and put him with Josh Barnett, 'Bigfoot' Silva, Frank Mir, Jeff Munson and Roy Nelson that will six of my 15 fights against guys who have hung around the top of the sport for a long time. That should certainly be enough to earn a title shot and guys have certainly gotten title shots of much, much less. I'm just asking what I believe will be rightfully mine if I get through Dan.
"I've continuously asked him for the big fight that will put me in position to get what I want," he added. "Now, it's only one fight—15 minutes—to give me exactly what I've wanted for the past five years, and I couldn't imagine any situation where I'm going to let something stand in front of that."
Although both Cormier and Henderson have shown multiple facets of their skill sets inside the cage, their respective wrestling credentials will be a major storyline in the lead up to the fight. That said, Hendo has used his grappling sparingly over the past several years as his signature "H-Bomb" of a right hand has leveled the opposition at a consistent rate and carried him to victory.
With Henderson's overhand right being one of the most dangerous weapons in the light heavyweight division, it is certainly something Cormier has to be mindful of once the cage door closes. That said, Cormier is no stranger to facing opponents who have the ability to finish fights in a multitude of fashions, and he's handled each challenge by putting the opposition right where he wants them. That is what he plans to do against Henderson as Cormier believes he will systematically defuse the "H-Bomb."
"I fight the way I fight," Cormier said. "I will go in there and fight smart and make Dan Henderson fight me where I want to fight. Whether that will be on the ground, in the clinch or at distance, I will make Dan fight me where I want the fight to be. But I don't know where that is yet. My coaches are working on that and we are incorporating those things into my training right now.
"If you look at fights over the course of my career that's what I have done time and time again. Jeff Munson has good jiu-jitsu and I had never been in there against a guy like that and made him stand up the entire time. 'Bigfoot' Silva is great when he's on top and I made him stand up as well until I knocked him out. I only grappled with Josh Barnett from the top position because that is where I was better than him. I never gave Frank Mir a remote chance of getting to the ground. Roy Nelson is very good with his overhand right and I completely nullified it.
"I make them fight uncomfortable and then I just roll on them," he added. "My coaches come up with a game plan, I follow it and eliminate any advantages these guys have. If it's Dan Henderson's right hand that people worry about, I'll make it seem like he's fighting with that right hand behind his back."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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