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How Daniel Cormier balances fighters' fragile feelings with the need to call it as he sees it

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 2: Former UFC Champion Daniel Cormier during UFC 276 on July 02, 2022, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Alejandro Salazar/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Former UFC double champion Daniel Cormier began working as a UFC analyst in 2016. (Photo by Alejandro Salazar/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Toward the end of their run on ESPN's “DC & RC” show, Daniel Cormier heard his co-host say something that blew his mind, only maybe not how you’d think.

This was just a couple months ago, in the aftermath of UFC 297 where Raquel Pennington won a lackluster decision victory over Mayra Bueno Silva to claim the vacant UFC women’s bantamweight title.

“Ryan [Clark], he said something about how, if that’s the best we can do then we should just cancel the whole division,” Cormier told Yahoo Sports. “I told him, ‘Dude, you can just say anything.’ You know what I mean? I always told him he had the best job. He could just say anything he wants and never have to talk to these people.”

What Cormier was getting at there, if you couldn’t tell, is that he does not enjoy this luxury. Not even close. The former two-division UFC champ has found a lot of success and personal fulfillment in his post-retirement career as a UFC commentator and general on-air talent for ESPN, but it’s not without its drawbacks.

For instance, if Cormier had said that about Pennington and Bueno Silva? He already knows what would happen. He’d have to see those fighters again soon. He’d have to see their coaches and their teammates too. He’d hear about it from all sides. MMA might be a global sport, but it’s still a small world.

“No one is more sensitive to critiques than fighters,” Cormier said. “All of them, they hate it. And I get it, because I know what it’s like.”

This puts Cormier in some uncomfortable positions from time to time. On one hand, he has a job to do. As the ex-fighter commentator on UFC broadcasts, he’s supposed to be there to not only lend technical expertise, but also to offer frank, honest opinions about the performances he’s seeing. One of the reasons to give that job to a former fighter is because the audience (at least the portion of it that started watching this sport prior to his retirement in 2020) knows he’s lived it. He’s been on the other side of that chain-link cage, so he’s earned the right to offer up critiques of those in there doing it.

There’s the added fact that, in order to stay afloat in the ecosystem of media takes, you have to be willing to say something people might disagree with from time to time. A commentator who never toes the line of controversy risks boring his audience. If he has to err on one side, it would probably be better for his career to be too inflammatory rather than too kind.

But then, Cormier also comes off as a big teddy bear. He’s always smiling and joking. He’s an affable guy, like the gym teacher who’d dole out some gentle ribbing but was still a softie inside.

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: Jiri Prochazka of Czech Republic is interviewed by Daniel Cormier after his victory over Glover Teixeira of Brazil in the UFC light heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 275 event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on June 12, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Daniel Cormier interviews Jiří Procházka after his victory over Glover Teixeira for the light heavyweight title on June 12, 2022, in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC) (Jeff Bottari via Getty Images)

It’s just that sometimes people see the nice guy in the sport coat on TV forget that he got there by first being the kind of guy who would punch you in your face and drop you on your head for money.

“I used to fight a little bit,” Cormier said. “I don’t know sometimes if some of them remember that. I used to be pretty good at it.”

For instance, take what happened with Nate Diaz recently. With a UFC pay-per-view event planned for The Sphere in Las Vegas this fall, Diaz had offered to fight in the main event. Cormier, as part of his seemingly ever-expanding on-camera work, said he didn’t see Diaz as main event-worthy for an event like that at this point in his career.

Diaz didn’t like that. He registered his disapproval by posting an image of Cormier looking distraught in the cage after a loss with the message: “This b**** is not a fighter. Complete opposite. Good talk DC.”

And while he’s mostly gotten better at letting fighter overreactions slide off his back, that one didn’t sit well with Cormier.

“I’m a lot of things, guys, but one thing I’m not is nobody’s b****,” Cormier said in response to Diaz. “I’m not a b****. So my question is this: When did it become OK for men to start calling each other outside their name like that? When did that become OK? I don’t disrespect nobody in my assessment of them. I try my best to be as fair as I can. I don’t quite understand why people think it’s OK to attack you in that way, especially calling you outside your name like that. It’s not cool, man. You don’t get to just talk to people any way you want.”

But when it comes to Cormier, a lot of fighters do seem to think they can say anything they want. Part of it, perhaps, is that he seems too gregarious and also too professional to give them back the same scorched earth treatment they give him. He’s a stationary target, in a sense. Fighters don’t face many professional consequences for berating their coworkers. Sometimes it feels like it’s even part of their job description.

But a commentator who answers to both the UFC and ESPN? He’s expected to abide by some sense of decorum. So say whatever you want to the retired version of Cormier. He’s no longer allowed to punch you for it and he’s expected to be at least somewhat diplomatic in his response.

“I wouldn’t say it bothers me to the point where I get sad about it or anything,” Cormier said. “I just don’t quite get it. I’m only doing my job, and if I’m talking about you, that’s helping you. … I understand how it is for fighters, because whether they want to admit or not, they want to be appreciated. But not everyone is always going to like what you do, and that’s fine.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 03: Former UFC two-division champion Daniel Cormier is seen on stage during the UFC 30th Anniversary Q&A session at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 03, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Daniel Cormier is seen on stage during the UFC 30th Anniversary Q&A session at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 3, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) (Chris Unger via Getty Images)

Still, Cormier knows how good he has it overall. At 44, he’s found a way to be a successful retiree from one career while still growing in another. He took up golf for the first time a month after calling quits on his fighting career. (“It just seemed like something a retired dude would do, and then I fell in love with it,” he said.) Just a few years later he now has a sponsorship deal with golf apparel company AndersonOrd, with a commercial featuring him planned to run during this year’s Masters tournament.

He’s also active on his YouTube channel with over 300,000 subscribers, and he recently announced a new podcast called “Good Guy/Bad Guy” with fellow retired fighter Chael Sonnen. (Cormier, one assumes, is supposed to be the good guy.)

The best part, aside from the steady ongoing paychecks, might be that Cormier has found a way to still be involved with MMA without having to keep getting hit in the head. It’s a feat few fighters accomplish, and it keeps him going in more ways than one.

“I think so many fighters struggle with retirement because once they’re done, it’s just over,” Cormier said. “They disappear from the public eye, and they're just gone. And then you go from living this life where things were so big and so good, to now you're just kind of forgotten. We still get to be a part of the show. I still get to walk to the Octagon on fight night with people calling my name. Honestly, I think that allows me to not feel like I need to run back in there. So many fighters go back because they have nothing else. They want to feel a part of that again. I still get to be a part of the show, and not everybody gets that. I’m a lucky, man. I know that.”

So the occasional slings and arrows that come with the job? Maybe it’s not so bad. Even if, on occasion, he does still get the urge to remind someone why the MMA world first learned the name Daniel Cormier — and it wasn’t for his congeniality alone.