UFC 241: Daniel Cormier's guide for young professional fighters

Daniel Cormier will fight Stipe Miocic for the UFC's heavyweight belt on Saturday at UFC 241. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Daniel Cormier was supposed to be retired by now. He said as much on multiple occasions. Cormier's self-imposed deadline to hang up the gloves was March 29, 2019 -- his 40th birthday.

This September will mark the 10th anniversary of Cormier's professional debut in mixed martial arts. He started at age 30, after two trips to the Olympics as a wrestler, and became one of the greatest fighters ever. Cormier (22-1, 1 NC) was only the second man to hold UFC titles in two different weight classes concurrently and has officially lost just once, to pound-for-pound king Jon Jones (Cormier's second loss to Jones, in July 2017, turned into a no-contest when Jones failed a drug test)

On top of the accolades, Cormier is a highly regarded mentor. He's the captain of the MMA team at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, and the coach of the wrestling team at Gilroy High School. DC, a surefire UFC Hall of Famer, is as qualified as anyone to impart wisdom. He said he sees a lot of young fighters who are trying to rush through their careers the way he did.

"All they want is to be the best," Cormier told ESPN. "Take your time. It's all a journey. Even when you're not the best, you're still on your way to building a game that's gonna be beneficial in the long run.

"I feel like for a lot of my career, I was speeding. Everything was overwhelming. Now, as I've gotten older, I feel like I just live day to day. Because I do that, I not only appreciate every opportunity to train again but appreciate all these great milestones that we're crossing as I approach this fight."

Cormier's scheduled retirement date came and went five months ago. On Saturday, he will defend his UFC heavyweight title in a rematch against Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC 241 in Anaheim, California. Ahead of the card, ESPN asked Cormier for his tips on navigating the daily life of an aspiring MMA star.

How to handle losses

You let it hurt. A lot of people try to move on. I see guys that'll lose a fight and they'll be on Instagram 30 minutes later talking about, "We're gonna get on to the next one." No, live in that loss for a while, because it motivates you not to do the same thing again. Live in that loss so that pain that you feel will drive you to not be there again. Everybody wants to move on -- "Let's go, we've gotta get on to the next thing." No. I let it sit with me. When I lose -- those two fights I've lost -- it's been like a mourning process for me. I need it to be motivating and it to be a lesson that I learned so it doesn't happen again.

Assessing your performance

We as humans want to be applauded. We like the pats on the back and everything else. But in those pats on the back, you've gotta be real with yourself. I think for me, it's my coach, Bob Cook, who does that more than anybody. I could win a fight, and he'll be like, "Ah, it wasn't the best." He just tells me, "You could have done this better" or "you could have done this better." Win or lose, it doesn't matter.

That first fight I lost to Jones, I left the Octagon, I was mad. No tears. But then when I walked out of the Octagon, Bob looked at me and goes, "I usually get a better guy in the gym and tonight I didn't get that." That's why I started crying. He broke me. He told me this right when I was walking down the stairs. I felt like I let him down and it broke my heart, because I know how much they put into me. But he does that win or lose. He tells me the exact truth, and that's exactly what I need. He keeps me in reality.

Dealing with stardom and money

The biggest thing for me when it comes to fame and money is you see guys change. But ultimately, they didn't change. They're only the person that they always aspired to be. Because now they have all this stuff. Know who you are to yourself. Be true to yourself. And whether you're a guy who loves to do crazy things or you're a conservative guy, just try to stay true to that. I always say money allows you to be exactly what you always hoped you could be. And sometimes that's a bad thing.

You've gotta really, really be careful not to fall into the traps of what a life in the spotlight can provide.

Weight cutting and nutrition

Be smart with it. If anyone can learn, it's me. I went from the Olympics, where I made weight and almost died [due to kidney failure], to making a weight class 6 pounds lighter for four straight years. It's just being very disciplined in your approach, understanding that if there are necessary changes, you have to try and make them. It's not easy, especially at heavyweight, where I feel like, "Why am I losing weight when I can just eat whatever I want and I'm never gonna weigh 265?" But you've gotta really find the optimal weight for you and truly commit yourself to getting where you need to be to be your best version of yourself.

Maintaining a positive relationship with the UFC

It's not hard. I swear to God, I don't understand how these guys have all these issues. For me, it does not make any sense. It is our job. If you have to go do promotion, go do promotion. You're getting paid massive amounts of money. Even for guys that are just starting, you're making 30, 40 grand. You didn't make 30, 40 grand [before]. You started doing this with the idea that someday the UFC could make you money. It's not that hard. If they ask you to do something, do it. Get along with people. Again, it's whenever you are someone at your core and you get in a position where you feel you can mistreat people, people mistreat people. It's just silly. But it's not that hard. Get along with the people and I promise it'll be a lot easier for you.

Injury recovery

It's only time. And it's a matter of how you spend that time. If you spend that time working on things -- maybe not physically but mentally -- it can still be beneficial. So in that time that I couldn't train [after back surgery], I still thought about fighting. I thought about how could I become better, not only in fighting but as a wrestling coach, as a husband, as a father. How do I become better? And you can still educate yourself in those times away. It's just time. Take that time to do something positive. If you do that, then you never really lost anything.

Handling the media

Everybody is like, "I just want to train, I just want to fight." Well, there's more to it. You can't just say "I just want to train, I just want to fight" and then when the paychecks aren't what you expected be upset about it.

Honestly, I feel like the media, they're the people that spend the majority of your career with you. Because guess what: When there was no UFC, you still were getting interviewed by the websites and everywhere else. They join you on this journey so early, why not be nice to them?

Sometimes people write things that are sometimes not necessarily 100 percent true. You've gotta kind of navigate that stuff and then try to speak your truth. You've gotta understand that not everybody is gonna be faithful to your words. So be careful with what you say -- very thoughtful and very mindful so that nothing can be misconstrued.

The dangers of PEDs

Stay away from that stuff. S--- is horrible, man. Reality is, even if you do well, even if it benefits you in the sport, what are you gonna do, take away your life? You're gonna actually take years away from your life for the benefit of living in the now? What about what you leave behind? What if you live to 70 because of what you did with performance enhancers and your kids are 25? Why not live to 80 or 85? Stay away from that stuff. It's no good, man. And ultimately, when guys get on that stuff they'll do anything to continue using it, because they don't feel that they can do what they do without it.

Party, in moderation

You can hang out. You can have drinks. You don't have to be crazy. You're adults -- you can have drinks. But I think the biggest issue is that people start to do things that are just not conducive to being a pro athlete. You start doing the drugs that affect your nervous system and all of a sudden you got a guy that looked like a world-beater and he can't even fight anymore.

I think every young guy should have fun. You should go to Las Vegas, where the UFC is located and everybody knows you, like, "Come in here, it's free for you." Enjoy that stuff. It's all part of the journey. You want to look back on that when you're older and go, "I had fun ­-- in my time, I had fun." But you don't have to have fun by doing all kinds of other extra stuff.

Planning your post-MMA career


Daniel Cormier's other job

UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier's second job as a high school coach keeps him connected to his first love, wrestling.

Make investments, but very safe investments. It's easy to think, "Oh man, if I put so much of my money in this, this thing is gonna go through the roof and I'm gonna be rich." No. Get something that makes you a little bit of money every single month. Like my barbershops. I'm so happy with those things. They probably make me 5 grand a month between the two. Five grand a month might not seem like so much money now, but imagine when I'm 50 and it's still doing that. Or 60. Do a bunch of little ones like that. Don't worry about trying to knock it out of the ballpark. Do something safe and smart and then your money will always continue to come back to you. I have two Faded barbershops in Los Angeles and I have a Poke OG [restaurant] in Miami.