Relentless UFC Pound-for-Pound King Daniel Cormier Is Better Than Ever at Age 39

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterNovember 2, 2018

Daniel Cormier celebrates his most recent victory over Stipe Miocic.
Daniel Cormier celebrates his most recent victory over Stipe Miocic.Associated Press

Thirty-nine is not an age known for athletic achievement.

By the time an athlete is 39 years old, they are generally either winding down their careers or already comfortably ensconced in retirement. It's the time when your reflexes start slowing down, when you begin to struggle against fighters who you would've blown right through a few years ago.

It's when you start thinking about getting a broadcasting gig or devoting more time to running your gym or signing to fight for Bellator.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. The ageless Randy Couture comes to mind. At the moment, the most prominent exception is Daniel Cormier, who, at 39 years old, holds the UFC's light heavyweight and heavyweight titles and who, at 39 years old, might be better than he's ever been and still improving.

How can a person excel in a sport as physically grueling and mentally punishing as mixed martial arts at 39? How is it that Cormier, who faces Derrick Lewis in a heavyweight title defense Saturday in New York, can rule two divisions at an age when most fighters have either retired or reached that point where they should retire?

Cormier showing off both his UFC belts.
Cormier showing off both his UFC belts.Ed Mulholland/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It all starts with Cormier's background. Pretty much any fighter who makes it to the modern-era UFC is going to possess a modicum of athleticism. But Cormier has spent a lifetime in wrestling, and wrestling is a sport that produces athletes that are just different

There are endless hours of training to perfect technique while building ridiculous amounts of strength and endurance, and that's all before you have to go through the brutal process of cutting weight. This subjects them to horrendous levels of physical and mental stress, and they endure it because that's the way wrestling is and always has been, and the end result are athletes and humans who just have a different mindset to others.

But wrestling doesn't fully explain why Cormier is excelling at an athletically advanced age. If it did, then all wrestlers would be dominating the sport well into their 40s, and that just doesn't happen.

The thing that separates Cormier from pretty much every other fighter in the world, and maybe every other fighter ever who isn't named Brock Lesnar, is that he started facing the best his division had to offer early in his career.

"I was fighting at the top of the sport within a year and a half," Cormier told Bleacher Report in July. "I had no amateur fights. I was fighting Bigfoot Silva a year and seven months after I started, and he was ranked top five in the world.

"I had to stand across from Josh Barnett when I had less than two years of fighting under my belt. The guy was a former UFC champion that beat some of the greatest ever. I had to stand across from Bigfoot right after I saw him pound Fedor into the mat. It's crazy! But that's what excites me about competition."

Cormier defeated Josh Barnett back in 2012.
Cormier defeated Josh Barnett back in 2012.Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Getty Images

Spend a day in San Jose, California, with Cormier, and you realize that he takes no shortcuts and never uses his age as an excuse. It's exhausting just to read his daily schedule.

He starts early in the morning, eschewing the habit of waking up late embraced by many fighters in the sport, and from the time he wakes until the time he sleeps, he is always going somewhere, doing something. He trains obsessively at American Kickboxing Academy. He helps other AKA fighters prepare for their own fights. He coaches kids for his wrestling school at AKA and at Gilroy High School. Oh, and he works regular broadcasts for FOX Sports. And he does all this while winning and holding two UFC championships.

And that is the major reason why Cormier continues to excel even as he nears his self-mandated retirement age of 40: because he's been embracing and conquering challenges his entire life. And when you never give yourself a moment to rest and relax, you never get lazy. You never rest on your laurels.

There are always new mountains to climb, new goals to check off your list.

This mindset has not only allowed Cormier to round out his skill set and add to his always-phenomenal wrestling over his career. It's helped him reinvent himself after his rivalry with Jon Jones pushed him into adopting a persona that was out of character for him. And of course it's what drove him to come storming back from a knockout loss to Jones (which was later overturned due to Jones' PED use) that was followed by a now-infamous tearful post-fight interview. 

In his two fights since that fiasco, he retained the light heavyweight title against Volkan Oezdemir before scoring a first-round knockout over Stipe Miocic to capture the heavyweight title. 

"I seek out the big challenge," he said. "I think that's why I've accomplished the things I've accomplished. From day one, I knew how I wanted to be remembered. A guy that worked hard. A guy who did everything the right way."

Cormier entered the sport a decade ago wanting not just to be a good fighter, or a championship fighter. He wanted to be the greatest to ever do it. And though there will always be debate about who holds that lofty title, one thing is now certain: Cormier is part of the conversation.