GILROY, Calif. -- Daniel Cormier is considered to be among the top UFC fighters of all time, but that's not all he wants to be remembered for.
As he reaches the end of his MMA career, he turns back to his roots to train the next generation of talent on the mat.
Cormier is handing in his fighting gloves and trading them for a coach's whistle.
"I coached at Oklahoma State for eight years after I graduated, I was on the coaching staff coach of the Cowboy wrestling club program down there and I've had my wrestling program in San Jose for six years now," Cormier said. "When this opportunity presented itself, I jumped right on. Marco Sanchez was the principal at Gilroy High School, he was an Olympian and he knew I lived in town. He reached out to me and said, 'would you be interested in doing this'? I'm a guy that likes to chase things and, yeah, it'd be cool to have a program for my young kids to feed into. Also, we try to chase down the state championship. Knowing the history of the Gilroy wrestling program, knowing how much his community loves wrestling, it was an easy decision."
Gilroy High School has been one of the top wrestling programs in the country.
One that caught the eye of this world-class fighter for quite some time.
"There's just a different mentality to wrestling here than anyone else in the northern part of California," Cormier said. "There are some really good teams, but I don't think anyone strives to have the level of success that the Gilroy Mustangs have and it shows every single time we step on the line."
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But Cormier didn't come to the South Bay just to live in the past glory of the Mustangs.
In his wrestling and MMA career, he has won gold medals, national championships and plenty of UFC title matches.
Now, he wants to add a California state championship to his trophy case.
This time as a coach.
"I want to be the guy that took a program that was already good and made it great," Cormier said. "I want to change the mentality. The team has been state runner ups, we've been second in the state three times total twice in a row, but I want to change that. I want the second to not be good enough. I want to win state titles."
The people who benefit most from this championship mindset is his athletes that he coach.
When you attend practice at Gilroy High School, you see a wrestling team that is much larger than most high school teams in the area.
Why? It's safe to assume that it comes from wanting to work under the knowledgeable and experienced coaching staff, including Cormier.
Cormier, or "DC" as the athletes call him, is described by his wrestlers as really fun, energetic, a father figure, involved and a great coach.
It was an adjustment for the athletes when a star of his caliber came to town, but they know it's for the best.
"When I first came in, it was very different, I was really like, starstruck kind of by him," Gilroy senior Chase Saldate said. "But having him as a coach now, getting used to it, I kind of see him as a normal person. It feels great like, especially for like a coach.
"It's different to see people stop them at the airport or something like ask for an autograph," Gilroy senior Nicholas Villarreal said. "But, it's cool because we know that he's already so accomplished and that his plan should work."
With plenty of success in just a year and a half under Cormier, it's easy for the athletes to buy-in.
When DC talks, the kids listen.
Because they know that every lesson can take them from good to great.
"Being at the level he wrestled at, the Olympic level and the NCAA level, he has a lot of fine-tuning stuff, where it's very small details that they will transition to us," Saldate said. "Us knowing that definitely puts us at a game that's very high. He's almost like one of us, like a college kid, I'd say. I think it's amazing knowing that as big as he is, as famous as he is, he still wants to give back to the community and take a little high school, the older one in our community, and really keep the wrestling program going. For someone like him to step up, it just shows his true character and how much he really cares for Gilroy."
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For Cormier, despite always working as a coach, coaching these high school kids hits him a little differently.
He has hoisted the championship belt on his own, but watching his athletes hold their fists in the air in victory is a feeling that he loves to have.
"Being around these kids just gives me a different motivation," Cormier said. "Obviously you find joy in winning for yourself but watching these kids accomplish great things is amazing. Over the course of the first year and a half, we had six kids go to college and five who are signing and committed to Division One universities. The reason that we did this is actually showing itself right away. I'm just glad to play a part. If I could be there when they sign scholarships and accomplish things that they didn't think they could initially, I did my part."
Legacy is something that's always looked at when talking about sports and athletes.
Each player in each sport steps onto their respective field or court and wants to walk off as "the best".
Coaches feel the same way.
Cormier will forever be considered one of the greatest UFC fighters ever, but he hopes his legacy will live on in Gilroy as well.
"It'll be hard to be remembered as the greatest coach in Gilroy history unless I win a state championship and I have every intention on doing that," Cormier said. "I want my son to wear a Gilroy singlet. He's eight now and I can't wait until the day that he wears that Mustang blue and gold and steps on the mat."
UFC legend Daniel Cormier looks to add "state title-winning coach" to his championship resume with Gilroy wrestling team
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