Ex-wrestler Cormier to make UFC debut

Daniel Cormier circled, hunched over with his hands outstretched.

It was wrestling practice at American Kickboxing Academy and Cormier — as one might expect from a former captain of the US Olympic wrestling team — was leading the half-dozen gym members.

“This is something I’ve always enjoyed,” said Cormier, who had on a University of Maryland sweatshirt given to him by a friend who coaches there. “I love to share what I know.”

And wrestling remains the base of Cormier’s MMA repertoire, even if he’s knocked out seven of his opponents in a flawless 11-fight pro career. Cormier makes his UFC debut against Frank Mir at UFC on FOX 7 at HP Pavilion on Saturday.

Cormier exited as Strikeforce’s Heavyweight Grand Prix champ, beating Dion Staring with a second-round TKO in the promotion’s final event in January before it was absorbed by the UFC.

Cormier, 34, counts his friend and UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez as one of his training partners. Now that Cormeir is in the UFC, things get a little more complicated.

Cormier remains apprehensive about fighting Velasquez. AKA founder Javier Mendez said it will never happen. The alternative: Cormier moves down to 205 pounds and fights as light heavyweight.

“I’m just going to see what the UFC says,” Cormier said. “I kind of have to do what they tell me if I have to fight another heavyweight fight, I will. If they say I should go down to 205, I’ll have to take some time and take the weight off. If we can do it and figure out a plan, and then I’ll just go with it.”

Cormier said he could make it to 205 with the help of a dietician. He weighed in at 230 pounds before his victory over Staring and joked he hasn’t been 205 since high school.

Complicating a possible cut is his medical history. Cormier suffered kidney failure that kept him out of the 2008 Summer Games, a result of a reckless weight cutting regimen that strained his body.

Kidney issues prevented him from training for several months and effectively ended his amateur wrestling career. He eventually made his way back to good health and into the AKA, where he made fast friends with Velasquez.

That friendship could pay dividends even more than usual at UFC on FOX 7.

Velasquez was scheduled to fight Mir at UFC 146 last May before Mir was tapped to face then-champ Junior dos Santos. (Mir was TKO’d in the second round.) Velasquez fought, and beat, Antonio Silva instead.

“He’s been a tremendous help,” said Cormier, who was first scheduled to fight Mir in November before Mir injured his knee and the Strikeforce fight was postponed. “He trained for Frank. He’s been a great help. Cain is a guy who pushes me to the limits. Having guys as highly ranked as we are in same gym is huge. I’m really appreciative to have him.”

Mir, who trains at Jackson’s MMA, told FOXSports.com he agrees Cormier found a good camp.

“He’s going to be a very dangerous opponent,” Mir said. “He’s done well at making the transition from wrestling to mixed martial arts. He’s got great takedowns and good strikes. He’s always in good position. He fights a very close style to Velasquez.”

Cormier could be a solid teacher, although four years after making the transition to MMA he’s not a bad student either.