Still room (and time) for Cormier to grow

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
6:52
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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Talent-wise, heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier is second to none. He can compete with and defeat any man willing to step inside the cage with him.

Cormier is that good. He hits hard, has quick hands, is physically powerful, can take it on the chin and to the body, possesses solid defense -- standing or on the ground -- and his wrestling is better any other mixed martial artist in the division.

He is arguably the fighter best suited to dethrone UFC heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez, who happens to be his close friend and training partner.

But despite his successful Octagon debut Saturday night in San Jose, Calif. -- a unanimous decision over two-time UFC champ Frank Mir -- it would be in Cormier’s best interest if UFC delayed offering him a title shot.
[+] EnlargeCormier/Mir
Rod Mar for ESPNDaniel Cormier had all the right answers against Frank Mir -- but would still benefit with some time to grow.

Cormier, 12-0 as a pro, is not yet ready to fight for the UFC crown. And he would agree with this assessment.

“I’m not happy with my performance,” Cormier said. “Even if [UFC officials] say I’m going to fight Cain Velasquez next, I don’t think this performance warranted a title shot.”

Cormier has been fighting professionally for less than four years. And with so few high-profile bouts under his belt, it is not far-fetched to classify him a newcomer among the elite.

Each training camp has been a crash course, every fight the equivalent of a cram session. But fortunately, the highly intelligent 34-year-old is a very fast learner.

Cormier has a tremendous ability to absorb information, quickly apply what he has learned and make adjustments on the fly. So in the days leading to his UFC debut with Mir, he was confident of remaining unbeaten.

Then Cormier arrived at HP Pavilion, heard the music blaring throughout the arena, fans screaming at the top of their lungs and realized he had arrived; he’d made it to the big time. And Cormier lost his nerves.

It’s the one thing that hours upon hours of training with some of the best fighters in MMA couldn’t prepare him for. Facing Mir, one of the top heavyweights, on MMA’s biggest stage, under its brightest lights was a bit much for the 2012 Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner to handle.

“I was nervous and I can’t explain why,” Cormier said. “It must’ve been this big-fight feel. Before I walked into the cage I felt nervous.

“I always laughed when [UFC president] Dana [White] said there’s jitters that come along with this. I was like, ‘My career prepared me for this.’ But man, I was nervous today. I was so nervous.

“More than anything I got tired. I’ve never felt tired in a fight. I think it was my nerves.”

I always laughed when [UFC president] Dana [White] said there's jitters that come along with this. I was like, 'My career prepared me for this.' But man, I was nervous today. I was so nervous.

-- Daniel Cormier

Competing in UFC for the first time proved to be Cormier’s latest MMA learning experience. He gets a passing grade for weathering the nervous storm, surviving his latest cram session.

Defeating Mir, who appeared to be in the best shape of his career Saturday night, is a major accomplishment for the man who entered the bout with only 11 pro fights. Mir was determined not to drop two fights in a row, something he had never done in UFC.

So give Cormier credit, he was facing the best that Mir had to offer and he won. It wasn’t a memorable performance -- too much holding against the cage, not enough striking and nothing by way of ground attack. It was a win for Cormier -- methodical, but a good one nonetheless.

Though his cardio came into question for the first time -- nervousness did have much to do with it -- this win cements Cormier as one of the two or three best heavyweights in MMA. But UFC officials should not offer him a title shot, not yet.

Cormier needs one or two more fights inside the Octagon. He needs to know, not believe, that on fight night he will leave the arena victorious. Every step must be taken to never allow his nerves to betray him again.

A fully developed Cormier, physically and psychologically, could become a great UFC champion. And that would serve the promotion well.

So give Cormier one or two more appearances in the Octagon. Let him put on the type of high-octane performance inside the UFC cage that fans were used to seeing from him during his days with Strikeforce.

Allow Cormier to get his nerves completely under control. Then offer him a heavyweight title shot. He will not disappoint.

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