When Daniel Cormier left the UFC heavyweight division in 2013, he hadn’t lost a round, much less a fight in the weight class.
But since Cain Velasquez was atop the division at the time, “DC” had to try his hand at light heavyweight because he would never consider fighting his American Kickboxing Academy training partner and close friend.
Velasquez, of course, has been sidelined by numerous injuries in recent years and hasn’t competed since July 2016. That absence created an opening for Cormier, already the reigning 205-pound king, to challenge for heavyweight gold at UFC 226. Cormier capitalized on that opportunity, knocking out Stipe Miocic in the opening stanza to become just the second fighter in UFC history to hold two titles at the same time.
According to Cormier, he couldn’t have done it without Velasquez.
It’s such a big thing, something that seemed so impossible before. I left the heavyweight division the No. 2 ranked guy in the world. I didn’t get to fulfill my journey in the division because Cain was the champion,” Cormier said at the UFC 226 post-fight press conference. “If I had to make that same decision, I would do the same thing because I would never fight Cain, and I would never have done this without him and all the rest of my training partners.
“What Velasquez has been to me is unbelievable. He showed me that becoming a champion [was possible] because he was the first guy from AKA to do it. Told me on numerous occasions there was no way I could lose this fight. Trained with me tirelessly. Put himself on the line and I really appreciate him for it. He’s a great friend. I love that guy.”
Although he hasn’t been able to fight frequently of late, Velasquez remains very much involved in Cormier’s career. The former heavyweight champion was backstage for perhaps the most disappointing setback of Cormier’s tenure last year, when he was stopped in the third round by Jon Jones at UFC 214. (The fight was overturned to a no contest after Jones failed a drug test).
“Cain Velasquez was in the back because he always comes to the fights and sits in the back when we warm up. He walks with me to the staging area when I go to walk to the Octagon, he hugs me and then he turns around and he watches from the locker room,” Cormier explained. “When Jones was finishing me last year, he ran from the locker room and started yelling at [referee “Big” John McCarthy] because he thought he took too long to stop the fight. He cares, man.”
The two friends and training partners were able to share a much more pleasant moment following Cormier’s win at UFC 226.
“He came to the back — I don’t want to ruin the aura of Cain Velasquez — but it looked like he’d been crying a little bit. He said he was so proud of me and he knew I was gonna do it…He’s one of the best people you could ever meet in your entire life. He is a great human being.”
Velasquez has fought just twice since 2013, as surgeries on his back, knee, shoulder, elbow, foot and hand have all inhibited his career. While Cormier hinted that Velasquez might be nearing a return in December, the Mexican-American star still has nothing booked. Regardless of what the future holds, Cormier says Velasquez has already secured his place in history.
“The reason the fight was so easy [at UFC 226] is because for the last eight weeks I was getting beat up by Cain Velasquez,” Cormier said. “He’s still the best. He’s the best heavyweight the UFC has ever seen. He does things that you just don’t expect somebody to do.”