UFC 200 compels

Daniel Cormier seeks to avenge loss,

- Martin Rogers @mrogersUSA­T USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Cormier LOS ANGELES talks with his hands. When he talks about his desire to get his arm raised in the main event of UFC 200 he lifts his arms. When he talks about a childhood bully who would punch him with regularity, he pounds his fists against each other. And when he talks about his greatest loss, one so much greater than any setback in the octagon, he holds his arms as if cradling a baby.

He doesn’t realize he is doing it, but it is beautiful, watching a beast of a man and a ferocious fighter reunite with his memories, heartbreak­ing but perfectly sweet at the same time.

“I still see a 31⁄ 2- month-old baby,” Cormier says, pausing for a long, deep breath. “The love I have for Kaedyn has grown for 12 years, but without the memories of the time we should have spent together. That is the most difficult thing.”

Kaedyn, Cormier’s daughter from a previous relationsh­ip, died in a motor vehicle accident in 2003, when the vehicle she was traveling in was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler. The intervenin­g years and two subsequent children with his partner Salina have done little to dim the pain for the UFC’s light heavyweigh­t champion, albeit adding perspectiv­e.

Cormier is propped up in bed in a Los Angeles hotel room. It is early June, and UFC 200, where he will meet Jon Jones in the main event of the biggest event in mixed martial arts history, is just over a month away.

“You are a different person once something like that happens,” he says. “The greatest gift my daughter has given me was perspectiv­e. We are getting close to the biggest UFC event of all time, and I’m headlining. People would worry about that situation. Not me. I am enjoying the process because I know I have been through and seen as bad as you can ever experience.”

As Saturday’s spectacula­r closes in, Cormier will think about Kaedyn and the other tribulatio­ns of his life even more, as athletes and people tend to do when their most significan­t challenges approach.

Cormier fought Jones, the UFC’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, once before, losing a unanimous decision in January last year. It remains the only mixed martial arts defeat for the former Olympic wrestler and rankles still.

The fight game is full of faux rivalries, talked up into something more to boost interest and tout pay per views. Forget about that with Jones and Cormier. The dislike is real, the animosity zinging whenever they are together.

Cormier insists Jones was the instigator, both in the lead-up to their first fight, when tempers regularly flared during news media commitment­s, and ahead of this one.

“At first he would walk up to me at random places or events and talk smack,” Cormier says. “It was like being around a clown, he was like Shooter McGavin from

Happy Gilmore, like a caricature. “But then you see him constantly doing stupid stuff. He has all the ability in the world. This dude has everything to lose, and he seems intent on losing it.”

Cormier’s biggest issue is with Jones’ numerous auto-related incidents, including a hit-and-run conviction for leaving the scene of an accident in April 2015.

“The irresponsi­bility of the driving, combined with my history with my daughter … there are so many things that make me say this guy is not a good person,” Cormier says. “We have all driven too fast and made mistakes. But with him there just seems to be a disregard for the safety of other people. What is next? How much worse can it get? Does somebody have to die?”

Cormier was once an angry man, the aftermath of Kaedyn’s passing piled on top of financial struggles making his late 20s a blur of discontent.

Now, he has found a good spot, happy with himself, happy with his achievemen­ts in MMA and his rapid ascent to the elite level. When UFC 100 took place seven years ago, MMA was barely on the national radar, and Cormier had not even considered a career in the sport. Now, he is the first name on the billboard for a card stacked top to bottom with talent.

“Just now at 37 I am at a point where my life is going where I am supposed to,” Cormier says. “I am doing the right things overall, and I am so committed to what I am doing I can be at peace with my thoughts.

“For so long I had to have people around me all the time. I couldn’t be alone because I didn’t like what the little voice in my head might have to say.

“I speak freely, man, whether it is Kaedyn or anything else that happened to me, it is therapeuti­c to know that I can carry everything that has gone on in my life and use it to be better.”

Virtually everything he discusses is either a trip down memory lane or could be used in a motivation­al speech. The only time he changes tack is when he discusses Jones. He admits his rival has gotten under his skin but insists that will only help him come fight night.

“Everyone knows I don’t like Jones, and because of that they think I wish bad on him,” Cormier says. “But I don’t. The only bad that I wish on him is that I will kick his ass.”

 ?? JAYNE KAMIN-ONCEA, USA TODAY SPORTS Daniel Cormier, left, lost to Jon Jones, right, by unanimous decision last year in UFC 182. ??
JAYNE KAMIN-ONCEA, USA TODAY SPORTS Daniel Cormier, left, lost to Jon Jones, right, by unanimous decision last year in UFC 182.

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