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Sesker: Daniel Cormier is still a champion in my book

Craig Sesker interviews Daniel Cormier at the 2007 World Championships (Photo/Larry Slater)

Daniel Cormier is an athlete I've seen at his very best. And very worst.

I witnessed first-hand the struggles he had during an up-and-down wrestling career during my time at USA Wrestling.

I saw him running sprints in the middle of the night down a hotel hallway in Guangzhou, China, to make weight in 2006. I saw him shed nearly 30 pounds in less than two weeks at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing before the tough weight cut cost him a chance to compete.

I also saw him battle back with a courageous effort to win a bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. He was the lone U.S. freestyle medalist that year and he also qualified the weight class for the Olympics.

I interviewed him after he won his first and only world medal and he was as articulate, well-spoken and engaging as ever. He's always been an excellent interview and that has translated to him becoming an outstanding broadcaster.

I also watched Cormier's ascent to becoming one of the best mixed martial artists of all-time. He made history by holding two belts from the Ultimate Fighting Championships at the same time.

He turned his life and his fortunes around when he embarked on his post-wrestling career in the sport of MMA.

I'm not sure many people in 2008 could have envisioned Cormier going on to this type of career in mixed martial arts.

Even though he dropped a hard-fought battle to Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship bout Saturday night, Cormier's career feats are still impressive.

He has compiled a 22-2 record in his MMA career with his only losses coming to Miocic and Jon Jones. Miocic owns the longest title run in the UFC heavyweight class and Jones owns the longest title run in the UFC light heavyweight division.

The only fighters to beat Cormier are two of the best, in any weight class, in UFC history.

Cormier has had his share of critics and detractors, but you can't question how competitive this guy is.

He has excelled in MMA with his wrestling skills, but he's also become a great striker and boxer.

He came out strong Saturday night, winning the first three rounds and taking control of the fight. The 5-foot-10 Cormier lifted the much bigger, 6-foot-5 Miocic off the mat and planted him on his back. He also backed Miocic into the cage with a number of effective punches on his feet.

Cormier's corner urged him to do more wrestling and less boxing during the bout. He continued to stay on his feet and box, and that may have led to his eventual downfall. You can't fault the effort he gave. Cormier never stopped battling and competing. He gave it his all before the powerful Miocic overwhelmed him to win by knockout in the fourth round.

It was a hell of a fight between two top-shelf competitors. There was non-stop action, a rarity sometimes in a heavyweight bout, and it was an entertaining bout for the fans.

Being able to excel at heavyweight despite being much shorter than many of his opponents is no easy feat. But Cormier has excelled against a number of guys who are much bigger than he is.

Cormier is 40 years old and he's still fighting at an elite level. That is a credit to him and the career that he has had.

It was interesting to see Jon Jones taking to Twitter to take a few shots at Cormier after his loss Saturday night.

Jones is a tremendously talented fighter, but he also has a history of failed drug tests and brushes with the law.

Say what you want about Cormier, but he never failed a drug test. And was never in trouble with the law. Cormier has stayed clean -- he doesn't cheat.

Cormier can talk his share of trash and antagonize opponents like Jones to sell a fight, but the guy I know is one of the most down-to-earth and genuinely good guys I've ever worked with. He is someone I have great respect for as a person.

I remember attending a UFC mega press conference in 2015 in Las Vegas just before the World Championships for wrestling were held in the same city.

As I took my seat among the media, Daniel spotted me and he smiled and waved to me. It was impressive to me to see how a guy that is such a bad-ass in the cage can be such a nice guy.

I did a one-on-one interview with Daniel following the press conference and posted a story on him on USA Wrestling's website later that afternoon.

A few hours later, Daniel called me and thanked me for the article. He also asked me if I wanted tickets to the next night's UFC fight card that featured lightweight star Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson.

I already had tickets to the fight at MGM Grand Arena, but Daniel said he would leave me a handful of tickets to give to any of the wrestling people, friends or media I wanted to bring with me. When I arrived at the will call window, he had left me 10 tickets. It was a heck of a gesture by Daniel and we were able to fill all 10 seats for the fight.

That's just the kind of person that Daniel Cormier is. He's a kind and giving man who truly cares about people. He's personable, engaging and charismatic. He's one of my favorite athletes that I've ever worked with.

Daniel Cormier serves as the head wrestling coach at Gilroy High School (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

He's also been a great ambassador for the sport of wrestling. He's always promoting the sport and he's giving back as a successful wrestling coach on the high school level.

There was a touching moment late Saturday night when Cormier walked out of the octagon after his setback. His son was standing there, sad and with tears in his eyes. Daniel placed his hand on his son's head and told him "don't cry" before kissing him on the forehead.


Cormier obviously was disappointed with his performance, but he also knew what happened in that fight wasn't the end of the world. He has a young family that he cherishes and adores. They are his priority.

There was talk that Cormier would retire if he beat Miocic again, but now what will he do? Knowing the competitor Cormier is, we may see him fight again.

He is 1-1 against Miocic and a third bout would certainly attract interest and be intriguing for UFC fans.

In my eyes, Cormier has nothing left to prove in the octagon. His impressive resume and his accomplishments speak for itself.

No matter what happens, Cormier should be remembered as one of the best mixed martial artists in the sport's history. Winning UFC title belts in two different divisions certainly is proof of that.

He also should be remembered for being a great human being and a truly good person.

He may have lost his UFC championship belt Saturday night, but Daniel Cormier is still a champion in my book.

Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.

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