Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Following mixed martial arts comes with an unofficial duty of policing authenticity.
Nearly every card, there’s a bout or two featuring feuding fighters. The responsibility of determining whether the animosity is real or manufactured falls to fans and media.
Saturday’s UFC 170 presents a particularly curious case in the co-main event. Daniel Cormier and Patrick Cummins have engaged in the usual routine of trash talking and exchanging unpleasantries over the last week.
It was initially easy to write the episode off as a couple guys trying to drum up interest for a fight that came together less than two weeks ago. Until Thursday.
The situation became more intriguing at the pre-fight press conference at Mandalay Bay when Cormier broke from his normally rosy demeanor and sneered at Cummins as he approached for the usual staredown. Instead of posing for the photo-op, Cormier cocked back his arms and shoved Cummins across the stage before UFC President Dana White could intervene.
“I think he’s pissed,” White said of Cormier. “I didn’t see that coming.”
The cheap shot was completely out of character for Cormier, who’s usually charming and one of the most happy-go-lucky fighters in the sport. But it’s possible Cummins has just found a way to bring out the worst in the former Olympic wrestler.
Cummins crossed the line earlier in the week by telling the story of how he used to make Cormier cry in sessions at the Olympic Training Center, according to Cormier. When a reporter asked Cummins a question about the ordeal Thursday, Cormier turned visibly frustrated as he frowned and looked across the podium.
“I’m not one to brag about myself very often but this opportunity came up and I started to talk about it,” Cummins said.
Cormier interjected to set up an exchange that the contingent of fans audibly gasped at.
“Patrick, hold the microphone because we can’t hear you,” Cormier said.
“Sorry man, it’s my first time,” Cummins responded. “I feel like we’ve gotten really close in this past week, so I used to call you Daniel but now I’m going to call you Dan. Are you OK with that?”
“I’m going to beat you up on Saturday,” Cormier finished. “Are you OK with that?
White got a quick laugh out of it, but later defended both fighters. White believes Cormier is legitimately peeved, and not just taking part in the back-and-forth with Cummins for the benefit of viewers.
He recounted his first conversation with Cormier about Cummins to explain why. Cummins convinced White to give him the fight partly because of his story about getting the best of Cormier when they used to wrestle each other.
When White passed the tale along to Cormier, the former Strikeforce champion was none too pleased.
“He went off,” White said. “No one wants to hear that. I think he’s embarrassed and I think he’s upset.”
Cormier wouldn’t go that far, but did at least admit the obvious at the press conference.
“He annoys me,” Cormier said of Cummins. “But I respect him and I can’t wait to fight against him.”
Finally, something Cormier and Cummins can agree upon. And something that doesn’t merit a debate on plausibility.
“Is it contrived,” White asked. “I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”