Cormier likes to say he taught Nurmagomedov a jab – with an assist from AKA head coach Javier Mendez – that made the UFC lightweight champion more than a guy good at slapping on the Dagestani handcuffs.
When he was still a professional fighter, Cormier said, there were questions about whether he could objectively call UFC bouts involving his teammates like Nurmagomedov. And to eliminate any concerns, he said no to commentating them. But now that he’s comfortably enjoying retirement, that’s no longer a concern.
“As I move into the second phase of my life, it’s my job,” Cormier told reporters, including MMA Fighting, at a media day in support of Saturday’s title unifier between undisputed champ Nurmagomedov and interim champ Justin Gaethje at UFC 254. “It wasn’t a decision made on a whim. It was a lot of people asking can Daniel do his job, and for me, I’ve called Islam makhachev fights, I’ve called Deron Winn fights, and I feel like I stayed down the middle as best I could. So I figured I could do it.
“It’s tough, because Khabib’s been there now for eight years at AKA, and we’ve seen him rise from the very beginning, but I’ve got a job to do, and that’s what I’m going to do Saturday.”
There are exceptions to this rule, Cormier adds. Certain opponents, namely ones who amp up the trash talk, make the former two-division champ hesitant that he could be an unbiased observer when his teammate Nurmagomedov is involved. He’s of course referring to Conor McGregor, who got under the champ’s skin in a way that no other opponent had in his octagon career.
Cormier was there on the night when months of bad blood boiled over at the T-Mobile Arena when Nurmagomedov defended his title against McGregor at UFC 229. It was Cormier who stepped into the octagon to calm down his teammate when a brawl broke out after the title was defended. Had he been on the mic that night, “DC” might not have kept his cool.
“Certain guys, if he fought, I couldn’t do the job,” he said. “I’m being honest. But I respect Justin so tremendously that I can do the job, because I like Justin so much. It’s hard to do it for someone that you know.
“To call Khabib and Conor with all the bad blood, I couldn’t have done that, because you’re so solely in your guy’s corner. But Justin’s a good guy.”
With that said, Cormier can admit Gaethje is going to be one of the sternest tests for his teammate and friend. Whatever Nurmagomedov brings to the table on Saturday night, he’s going to need to be at his best. He’ll definitely have to use that jab, and some wrestling.
Cormier called Gaethje’s fight against Tony Ferguson, Nurmagomedov’s other longtime rival, and decided there and then that the former WSOF champ was on another level.
“I believe he’s the toughest fight for Khabib, and for a long time, we thought Tony Ferguson was the guy that would give him the most trouble, if there was trouble to be had,” Cormier said. “But then Justin beat Tony, and the guy that showed up there in May, I just watched the most dangerous guy for Khabib. With his wrestling ability and his striking ability, I believe he’s dangerous.
“But there’s something that stands out even more. It’s the confidence. This dude believe he’s going to win. There’s no doubt in his mind. I think Justin’s mentality is what gives him a chance.”