There’s not much Daniel Cormier hasn’t accomplished during his 30-plus years in combat sports. He wrestled at the Athens Olympics, he's a two-division champion in the UFC, and he’s become one of the best commentators not just in mixed martial arts but in sports generally. Check, check, and check. So after he announced his plan to retire from the sport this past June, it’s only fitting that the final act of DC’s storied career will take place on Saturday at UFC 252, with his third matchup against current heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic. Each man owns a victory against the other, and a win here gives Cormier the chance to take his final bow with gold around his waist. “A perfect capstone,” he calls it.
GQ caught up with Cormier three weeks out from the trilogy bout, deep into the throes of training camp, to talk about what it takes to prepare for a main-event fight in the UFC against one of your biggest rivals, and to reflect on those notoriously difficult weight cuts of the past.
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GQ: UFC 252 is rapidly approaching—how are you feeling both mentally and physically right now?
Daniel Cormier: I feel healthy, which is one thing that I didn’t have going into the second fight [with Miocic]. And by being healthy, it allows me to be much more confident. Not just in the fight but in my ability to prepare for the fight. So everything has been really good to this point. I feel great.
This is perhaps something that is changing on a daily basis as we get closer to fight night, but from a nutrition standpoint, what does your day look like this deep into a training camp?
I wake up early every day. I’m always up early. 5:30, 6 o’clock. So I get up in the morning and I just cruise for a little bit. I don’t get started right away. But right around 8:30 or 9 o’clock I’ll have a shake. It’s whey protein, some fruit, peanut butter, oat milk. That’s kind of my breakfast. I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I don’t wake up and have a bunch of eggs and everything. I usually like to have something light on the stomach before I go to train. So that’s what I usually eat in the morning, and I’ll start drinking water to get fluids in. But all I really have in the morning is that shake, normally. Maybe a cup of coffee. Then I go to practice from 12 to 2, and after practice I’ll usually have a pretty big meal. Yesterday’s meal for lunch was grilled chicken with some Jamaican rice, which was really good. Some rice and peas. Everything is super clean and healthy. It’s not going to be the rice that has a ton of coconut milk or the other seasonings that usually come with the rice and peas that you’re used to getting.
None of the fun and exciting seasonings during training camp.
But it was good! And again, I’ll be drinking water. Maybe I’ll have a kombucha. Kombucha is really the only thing outside of my nutritional drinks that I’ll have instead of water. Most of the fluids I take during the day is just water now. And then for dinner, I had kālua pig—the Hawaiian barbecue. I had some kālua pig with steamed rice. It was a good day yesterday. They’re not always like that, but yesterday was a really good eating day.
You mentioned kombucha. Are you throwing kombucha in there just because you like it, or is there a specific benefit for you?
For me, it’s because it tastes different. The things I usually drink, like Gatorade and soda, I can’t have right now. The kombucha has some of that fizz that kind of just feels good. Plus, it’s not water.
When you’re not in camp for a fight, how different is your day-to-day diet?
What I do outside of camp would not be considered in any way, shape, or form a diet. [Laughs] It’s a free-for-all! I’m eating whatever I want, man. But, you know, whereas my nutritionist might make a healthy version of jerk chicken right now, I’ll go and find the jerk spot that’s hidden in the hole in the wall. I’ll eat Louisiana food as much as I possibly can.
My nutritionist, Ian Larios, has done a really good job of incorporating some of the foods that I love, but healthier versions. He made gumbo the other day. A Louisiana staple, obviously. But he made it with super-clean ingredients. He’ll make red beans and rice, but it’s all super-clean ingredients. If I could make the healthier versions myself, I’d be much better off for it when I’m not in training camp.
Is it hard for you to switch up that mindset when you’ve gone so long not having to be overly concerned with what you’re putting in your body and then having to put some restrictions on yourself when preparing for a fight?
It’s tough initially. Especially late in my career. I’ve fought once a year for the last few years. So for eight months I’m essentially having whatever I want, and then all of a sudden the portions are a lot smaller, the food is a lot cleaner. So it’s an adjustment right away. But the first thing we do every single time is replace all the sugary drinks with water and try to flush my system to get it prepared to go back to work. That’s always step number one: Get enough good fluids in me where I can even handle the workload that comes with training camp.
Something I found interesting: For your second fight against Stipe, both of you went into that fight around 10 pounds lighter than you were for the first fight. For you, was there a specific reason for that, even after winning the first fight?
I think that was conscious, knowing that it was going to be a long, grueling fight, so cardio was going to be very important.
And how does that inform the weight that you’re hoping to come in at for the third fight?
In the last fight, if I’m being as honest and truthful as I can with you and the world, my cardio failed me. Right now there’s not necessarily a certain number on the scale, but rather the right weight that allows me to compete at the optimal level where I can go hard for 25 minutes with a guy that has a ton of skill that’s as good as anyone in the world. So it’s helped me in the sense that I know now how to manage my conditioning better. But it’s not a number on the scale. It’s more about being physically fit. We understand and know what we need to do in order to give us the best chance to win.
There was a span of time where you were fighting at light heavyweight, having to drop down to 205 pounds. You’ve been open in the past with how much of a struggle that was for you to do. What is the biggest difference for you at this stage when preparing for a heavyweight fight versus light heavyweight?
It’s so much easier to go to training. The reality is I was cutting so much weight, it was almost like a fat camp. We were focusing so much on making the weight that it was hard to just go train. Regardless of what I was doing, my practices at 205 were in full-on sweat suits. I had sweatpants, a sweat top, always long-sleeve shirts. I was never able to train comfortably because I had to make sure that every single practice resulted in a certain amount of weight off.
I feel so much more comfortable now, because I can go to practice knowing that the goal is to get better and nothing else. When I was fighting at 205, I was starting camps sometimes at 250—needing to lose 45 pounds just to get on the scale for a championship fight. And never having the extra pound because it was all title fights. So it was extremely difficult, and it feels good now to compete at a weight that is more natural to me. But I look back on those days and I’m very proud. I dealt with the adversity of making the weight, went out there, and beat some of the best fighters the world has to offer.
I remember you saying at one point that the move to the light heavyweight division would be something that would help you live a healthier life. Being a couple years removed from making those weight cuts, given how brutal some of them were, do you feel now that fighting at light heavyweight for those four years was perhaps more detrimental to your health?
No, no, no, no. I still feel that it was better for me, not only physically but mentally. It allowed me to do things I wasn’t sure I could do. I wasn’t sure if I could make 205. It was six pounds less than I was making when I was wrestling. So it allowed me to learn some things about myself. I learned that I can do just about anything if I put my mind to it. Every time I stepped on that scale, it was almost like a win, because I had already cleared the first hurdle of the fight. I knew that once I got on the scale at the weight that I was supposed to be at, I would be prepared to compete because I put in so much work just to get there. I know getting on the scale at weight shouldn’t feel like such a big victory, but it was every single time.
Do you have any predictions on how this third fight against Stipe is going to go?
I just know that this fight, I won’t lose my mind like I did last time. I’m going to be more focused, more prepared to win this fight at whatever cost. The last fight I thought I fought okay, but I didn’t fight to my true potential. This time you’ll get to see me for all that I am, and all that I’ve been throughout the course of my career. And not many fighters get that third, so I’m lucky that the UFC has put me in a position where I even get to chase that.
And given that it’s almost certainly the last fight of your career, how good does it feel to get to go out on your own terms, in a trilogy bout against one of your biggest rivals for the title?
It’s a fairy tale. We talk about fighters going out on their own terms—most fighters don’t get the opportunity to go out on their own terms. That’s just not the way the game works. I’m lucky to have done the things that I’ve done and built the relationships I’ve built where the UFC has given me this opportunity. I’ve had a good run. And it’ll be a celebration, because I’m winning this fight.
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Originally Appeared on GQ