Cormier comes of age with help from AKA

Initially, Daniel Cormier wasn’t deemed attractive enough to receive one of the eight invitations to Strikeforce’s Heavyweight GP. The consensus was that he was too green and had too many blemishes in his standup game to warrant a ticket to the big dance.

Cormier, undefeated in the cage at 8-0, is a highly skilled wrestler who was adept at taking an opponent to the ground and control him. But his striking was lacking, both offensively and defensively. Too often, Cormier appeared indecisive on his feet. He threw punches from wide, awkward angles, his head wasn’t always moving and footwork could oftentimes be an afterthought.

A flaw in just one of those standup techniques can prove disastrous against a top-tier Strikeforce heavyweight. Unfortunately for Cormier, he was struggling with all of those aspects. So, he began devoting extra attention to his standup game at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif. The move immediately paid off when Cormier stepped in the cage June 18 against veteran Jeff Monson.

Cormier consistently moved his head, he never stopped moving his feet and there was the jab that regularly hit its mark. The former United States Olympic wrestler even showcased a crisp overhand right that found Monson’s chin on a few occasions.

It was an impressive performance by Cormier, who earned a unanimous decision win. More importantly, Cormier proved that he was no longer a one-trick pony.

Cormier is now ready for Strikeforce’s elite. And he won’t have to wait long to prove he can compete against top heavyweights. In July, Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem was removed from the Grand Prix tournament due to a scheduling conflict; he’d later be released outright from the promotion.

Cormier was offered the chance to replace Overeem. He immediately accepted and is set to face Antonio Silva on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET) in Cincinnati.

“He was the first person under consideration [to replace Overeem],” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said. “He had a great performance against a seasoned veteran like Monson.

“And in that fight, his standup, he looked like a kickboxer actually and hardly wrestled at all. He showed he had the standup ability to take it to the next level.”

Cormier will sacrifice a ton of experience to Silva, but the standup improvement he has shown in this camp has his AKA teammates confident their guy will be successful Saturday night and throughout the tournament.

“Daniel has an amazing wrestling background,” UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez told ESPN.com. “But he’s also one of those guys who picked up this sport very quickly. He is definitely going to go out there and impress a lot of people.

“He’s had a great training camp. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is going to win the tournament.”

While Cormier is comfortable standing these days, if things aren’t going the way he’d like against Silva, expect him to turn quickly to his bread-and-butter skill: wrestling.

There is nothing like wrestling to turn a fight in Cormier’s favor. And he intends to give Silva (16-2) a steady dose of it. Still, he has no plans of completely abandoning the newly acquired skills he’s come to believe in recently. His jab, head movement, footwork and overhand right will play a significant role in this fight.

“I’m going to be quicker than he is, more athletic, more agile,” Cormier said. “He’s bigger, stronger, more experienced; he’s got the standup advantage.

“He’s got the jiu-jitsu advantage. That’s fine. But the most dominant skill in MMA lately has been wrestling. And there is no bigger gap between skill sets in my wrestling over his wrestling. That will keep me in the fight if that’s the path I take.”

Cormier vows to pressure Silva throughout the fight, that’s where his improved jab and footwork will come in handy. It allows him to transition from standup to takedown much easier.

Silva will face a new-look Cormier.

“I’m going to push the pace on him,” Cormier said. “I’m going to get in his face, and I’m going to take him places he hasn’t been so far.

“I’ve got to make him uncomfortable. And because of the way I fight, I have the ability to do all those things.”