In a battle of former Oklahoma State wrestling teammates, mixed martial arts star Daniel Cormier defeated Chris Pendleton in an exhibition wrestling match at the UFC 175 Fan Expo in Las Vegas Saturday, then placed his wrestling shoes at the center of the mat as a sign of retirement from the sport.
After being behind 3-0, Cormier stormed back to beat Pendleton 12-5 in freestyle competition. After the match, with young fans spilling onto the mat, the former Cowboy wrestler and two-time Olympian took off his shoes and set them on the mat.
Cormier, who wrestled for the US men’s freestyle team at the 2004 Athens Olympics but was hospitalized at the 2008 Beijing Games because of kidney failure from dehydration, told MMAFighting.com after the retirement ceremony, "I didn’t get to wrestle in the Olympics, I didn’t get to do my last match, so I wanted to finish my career on mat, rather than in the hospital. I wanted to end it on the mat."
The last time Cormier stepped onto a mat and pulled on a singlet for an actual wrestling match was in 2008. After winning the exhibition match, the 2001 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships finalist (who lost to Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson, now Penn State head coach, in the 184-pound title bout) admitted in post-match interviews, “It felt crazy. I was so nervous before, and then Chris takes me down and he’s winning 3-0. It was kind of scary, man, I don’t like to lose. It was crazy...”
“Once I got up 6-3, I felt more comfortable.”
Video of the Cormier-Pendleton freestyle match shows two 30-something mat veterans putting aside same-school loyalties in spirited action... though, towards the end, Cormier demonstrated his current career in a playful way with a mock footsweep, then briefly assuming a fists-up MMA stance.
When asked about his exhibition match opponent and former Oklahoma State teammate, Cormier said, “Chris is much better than he used to be. Stronger. Faster.”
After the match, Cormier posted this message on his @dc_mma Twitter account: "Guys I started wrestling 25 years ago. And through it all I've gained a lot from this sport."
“It was a good finish. Now that I’m in the UFC and fighting in the UFC, and to do it at the Fan Expo, it means a lot. I guess it’s a symbol of completely finishing that chapter and moving onto the next chapter in my life. I can feel it now already there was something back with wrestling that I needed to get rid of, and now I can move on from it."
MMA fans, panic not. Cormier is merely concluding his career in amateur wrestling, not in the Octagon. He plans to have surgery on his right knee after tearing his lateral collateral ligament (LCL) while training in May for his UFC 173 submission win over Dan Henderson.
"My next fight, the next time I get my hand raised, it will be in the cage against Jon Jones," Cormier said in post-match interviews.
Cormier and Pendleton were teammates for Oklahoma State head wrestling coach John Smith, 2000-01, as Cormier was a senior that year, and Pendleton was in his first year at Oklahoma State. Prior to wrestling for the Cowboys, Cormier was a two-time NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) champ at Colby Community College in Kansas. At Oklahoma State, Cormier was a two-time Big 12 conference finalist, and two-time NCAA qualifier. Pendleton was a two-time Big 12 champ (2003, 2005) and two-time NCAA champ, winning back-to-back titles at 174 in 2004 and 2005, both times beating current MMA star Ben Askren, who at the time wrestled at University of Missouri. Pendleton is now an assistant wrestling coach at University of Wyoming.