SAN JOSE — Daniel Cormier is 15 months shy of his 40th birthday, which means he’s 15 months shy of hanging up his gloves.
Sure, these things are always subject to change. Athletes balk at retirement when the time comes, or they return to the sport after a very brief absence, but Cormier has always been pretty steadfast on his exit plan.
“I’ve been pretty vocal about it, that you’ll never see me at 40,” Cormier told ESPN. “We may be going into my last year in 2018. And I’m completely at peace with that.
“It’s time for this dude [nods at his son, Daniel Jr.] to take precedent in terms of sports. I’ve been doing high-level sports since I was 15. I can’t do it forever. I’m ready to give the commitment and focus to my boy, after a few fights. I’ve got a couple [fights] left in me.”
When time is running out, it’s only natural to discuss how best to use it. Right now, Cormier and his team are doing just that.
Cormier (19-1) defends his UFC light heavyweight title against Volkan Oezdemir (15-1) at UFC 220 on Jan. 20 in Boston.
It’s a strange set of circumstances for a title fight. Cormier lost to rival Jon Jones via TKO in July, but was reinstated as the UFC’s 205-pound champion after Jones failed a fight-week drug test.
Oezdemir, of Switzerland, is coming off back-to-back sub-one-minute knockouts, but truthfully doesn’t add much to Cormier’s resume. Cormier’s team doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that.
“We’re at a point where we have to think about how much longer he’s going to fight,” said Bob Cook, Cormier’s longtime mentor and friend. “This fight right now, unfortunately, is just about getting back on the horse.
“Get in there and put another win under your belt. And after this fight, we’ll sit down and ask, ‘What’s the next challenge? What’s the next thing to look forward to?'”
Believe it or not, the closest answer to that is still Jones.
The 30-year-old is still awaiting official sanctions for the failed test, and faces a maximum suspension of four years. Jones, however, has maintained innocence and holds the right to appeal. His future is still very much unknown.
Cormier says the twilight of his career will not be dictated by Jones, but it’s hard to believe him as he discusses it. He has lost to Jones twice in his career, but believes he was on his way to beating him this year before Jones landed a perfect head kick.
“I think one of my biggest mistakes has been hinging so much on one person,” Cormier said. “It’s unfair to my career to base it all on him, but yes, I do still feel he’s the icing on the cake.
“There’s nothing like a loss. Some people take time and move past it. I never do. All those losses in the big spots — NCAA finals, Olympic semifinals, Olympic bronze-medal match, the fights with Jones — they all stay with me. I think that’s what makes me, me.”
Hearing that, it’s no surprise Cormier hasn’t quite moved past the idea of beating Jones — even if the rest of the world probably has.
As far as the rest of his career, there has been some talk about a move to heavyweight, but Cormier prefers light heavyweight and says his story there isn’t done yet.
Maybe a win over Oezdemir will change his mind. But in reality, it’s probably more tied to Jones.
“I don’t know whether the public cares or doesn’t care about that anymore, but that doesn’t matter to him,” Cook said. “He feels like, in the first fight, Jon was the better man. But in the second fight, he felt like things were going his way.
“He’s a little obsessed with Jon. He obviously made a mistake in the second fight and got caught. Then the drug results came out, and he didn’t really know how to feel about that. He was still hoping to position himself to fight him again.”