It's hard not to see big things on Daniel Cormier's horizon.
The two-time U.S. Olympian and decorated amateur wrestler beat down onetime UFC heavyweight title challenger Jeff Monson (42-12 MMA, 0-1 SF) this past Saturday at "Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum" for a win as an alternate in the promotion's heavyweight grand prix.
Whether he gets to fight in the tournament or not, Cormier (8-0 MMA, 5-0 SF) is approaching a stage in his career in which the competition gets stiffer and the pressure intensifies. It's a stage where many fighters have stalled and others have rocketed to the top.
The American Kickboxing Academy has seen both, and that's why he's cautiously optimistic about his future in the sport.
"I think it puts me not as a prospect as much," Cormier told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) following the event, which took place at Dallas' American Airlines Center and aired live on Showtime. "You beat a guy that's been that seasoned ... but I don't know.
"I just want to keep fighting. I enjoy doing it. It was a good fight for me. I knew from the moment it was announced that it was a pretty good fight for me."
And so far, he's been moved up the ladder in a deliberate way by his management. He's stayed busy and fought up-and-comers who tested his skills in different ways. King of the Cage heavyweight champ Tony Johnson and Soa Palelei are big punchers. Devin Cole has a broader wrestling background. Monson is a submission specialist.
In each fight, Cormier worked on attacking their weakest points, and so far, it's worked brilliantly. This past Saturday, he knew to avoid the ground with Monson and press with his standup skills. For three rounds, he displayed a poise and polish well beyond his relative inexperience.
But there could be a point – sooner than later – where demand puts Cormier in a situation for which he's underprepared. Or he could be outgunned by the luck of the draw – if a grand-prix competitor is injured. All of the heavyweights remaining in the grand prix have far more experience than he does and would be strong favorites. A loss might sap some of the momentum he's achieved.
If Cormier hadn't signed up to fill in, he might have cause to stay on his current trajectory. But that's not the case.
"If they thought it was OK for me, I'd do it," he said. "I'm a fighter, man. This is the job I chose, so if they say, 'You've got to fight this guy,' then I've got to go out and fight that guy."
Here's the caveat: If he takes a big leap up, don't expect him to stay far from his natural strengths.
"The reality of the situation is these guys are way more experienced than I am, so just as (with) Jeff (Monson), I've got to find where I'm better than those guys in the fight," Cormier said. "When you look at the final four guys, where am I better than them? Wrestling. So I'm going to have to keep taking them down over and over.
"So people just have to accept that being that I'm only eight fights into my career."
Of course, Cormier hasn't yet been put in that position, so it's too early to start making predictions as to how his career is going to play out. But if there's one thing he's learned to appreciate in his rise is the consistency of those at the top levels of the sport.
"It's really hard to consistently beat top-level guys," he said. "That's why you look at guys like Rashad Evans and 'Rampage' Jackson and Chuck (Liddell) – when he was a champ – to beat those top-level guys is an unbelievable accomplishment."
It could be a while before Cormier has the resume to be spoken of in the same breath as those fighters. There are a great number of variables that will determine whether he's the next big thing or just a flash in the pan. But for now, the future looks very promising.