After suffering the first loss of his career in UFC, Daniel Cormier needed to come home.
The Lafayette native will do just that following his loss to Jon Jones for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 182, as he takes on Ryan Bader in the main event for “UFC Fight Night” on June 6 at the Smoothie King Center.
During his childhood, Cormier said it was a rarity for his family to visit New Orleans for any reason — other than the state wrestling tournaments he competed in during his days at Northside High School.
But following his crushing loss to Jones, Cormier viewed New Orleans as the perfect place for him to seek redemption.
“As a kid, I dreamed of maybe doing something at the Cajundome — or maybe if I had a billboard in Lafayette, that would be awesome,” said Cormier, who enters UFC Fight Night with a 15-1 record. “But to be able to do it in New Orleans, that’s like the big city. In the state of Louisiana, we view New Orleans as the big city.
“So when it came time for my next fight, I asked for them to have it in New Orleans. I told them it would mean a lot for me if I could be the main event at home for the UFC.”
Cormier, a two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler, gets that opportunity one fight after his loss against Jones. That fight ended in a five-round unanimous decision.
After the fight, the “disappointment” of his first career loss overtook Cormier as he was brought to tears during the post-fight press conference.
Now that a few months have passed, Cormier says he he will look back on his time from UFC 182 and use it as a learning experience.
“Investing so much into that fight: mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Everything went into that fight,” Cormier said. “It was my ultimate goal for six months. ... I think the mistake I might have made was training as hard as I did for 12 weeks straight, and I might have started coming down by the time the fight came around.
“But the way it’s set up now, I’ve got eight weeks until the fight, and I can go super-hard for these eight weeks and be hitting my peak by the time the fight comes.”
Bader, who was the winner on the eighth season of UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” enters his bout with Cormier winning his last four fights and sporting an overall 20-4 record, including victories against top-ranked opponents such as Phil Davis, Ovince Saint Preux and former UFC light heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson.
The Nevada native said his personal growth and surrounding himself with the right people are the main reasons behind his recent ascent.
“Doing the right things and focusing on the little things that I had to work on in the past is really what’s gone right for me lately,” Bader said. “That’s really the main thing I’ve focused on, and really believing that I can beat anyone in the world.
Both fighters rank among top five light heavyweights. They both believe the winner will have a great case to make for a shot at a title bout.
“Title shots are given based on a numerous amount of things, but I know if I go in there and do the job right, there is a chance,” Bader said. “I want to go in there, put on a spectacular performance and win impressively. If I do that, I believe that warrants a title shot.”
Cormier added: “If Ryan Bader wins, he would have five legitimate wins in a row under his belt, and he should get a shot at the title. If I win, I would be 16-1 and my only loss would be to the champion. That’s a great case for giving me another shot at the belt, or at least one more fight against the top contender.”
While Cormier was in negotiations to bring his next fight to New Orleans, he also lobbied to make sure the other fights on the card featured fighters with Louisiana ties like himself.
While the UFC has held events in New Orleans five times, Cormier said the excitement around the events wasn’t what it could have been if they’d included home-grown fighters.
The June 6 card includes former LSU fullback Shawn Jordan taking on New Orleans native Derrick Lewis.
“The last time the UFC came here here in 2011, they couldn’t really fill the place up,” Cormier said. “I’m tied to Louisiana, Shawn Jordan is tied to Louisiana, so we thought we should get as many of these types of guys as we can, so people around the state could feel connected to the event.”
The other bouts on the card will be No. 9 heavyweight Ben Rothwell taking on No. 13 Matt Mitrione and Tim Boetsch takes on former STRIKEFORCE light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson.