ABU DHABI – Daniel Cormier embarks on a new challenge in his broadcasting career Saturday at UFC 254.
Cormier, a former two-division UFC champion, has transitioned full-time into a commentary and analyst role since his retirement from competition in August. He’ll be in the booth for the biggest fights going forward, including the Saturday’s lightweight title unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje.
Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) is a friend and teammate of Cormier at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., and that relationship draws questions about whether Cormier can be unbiased on fight night. Cormier said past experiences lead him to believe he’ll be able to do the job competently for the matchup with Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC), but he hasn’t encountered a situation of this magnitude.
“I’ve always said no to calling my teammates’ fights,” Cormier told reporters, including MMA Junkie, on Thursday in Abu Dhabi. “But as I move into this second phase of my life, I have to. It’s my job. It wasn’t like a decision made on a whim. It’s a lot of people asking, ‘Can you do this job?’ 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, right? Because Khabib’s been there for eight years now at AKA, and we’ve seen his rise from the very beginning. But I’ve got a job to do on Saturday.”
UFC 254 takes place at Flash Forum at Yas Island. Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje headlines the pay-per-view main card, which airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+.
Cormier said this particular matchup is one he was comfortable calling, mainly because of the respect level between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje. The two have been cordial with each other leading up to fight night, which allows Cormier to more comfortably slip into his role, he said.
That wouldn’t be the case for everyone, though. Nurmagomedov has had some high-emotion fights in the past, like with Conor McGregor and scheduled bouts with Tony Ferguson. If that type of tension existed here, Cormier said he likely wouldn’t be able to cope.
“Certain guys, if he fought, I couldn’t do the job,” Cormier said. “I’m being honest. But I respect Justin so tremendously that I can do the job with him fighting Justin, because I like Justin so much. It’s hard to do it with someone you know. To call Khabib and Conor with all the bad blood, I couldn’t have done that because you’re so solely in a guy’s corner. But Justin’s a good guy.”
Although Cormier said he intends to call the fight evenly, his heart is naturally with Nurmagomedov to get the win. He said it won’t be easy for “The Eagle” to keep his perfect career record, however, and that’s because Gaethje offers a real threat.
“I believe he’s the toughest fight for Khabib,” Cormier said. “For a long time, we thought that Tony Ferguson was the guy who would give him the most trouble, if there’s trouble to be had. But then obviously Justin Gaethje beat Tony.”