Future Contenders: Heavyweights

Daniel Cormier won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in dominating fashion. Rod Mar for ESPN.com


With all Daniel Cormier has been through in his life, he wasn't going to let a little thing like not being included in the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix bracket prevent him from winning the whole thing.

He did just that last Saturday in San Jose, Calif., with a thoroughly impressive unanimous decision victory over Josh Barnett in the championship match of the tournament that began with some of the elite names in mixed martial arts history and ended with just one of the top prospects in the sport still standing.

Cormier entered the event as a replacement for Alistair Overeem before the semifinals and knocked out Antonio Silva before dispatching of Barnett to win the belt.

Cormier is just 5-foot-10 and has been training in MMA for just three years, but the former Olympic wrestler is undefeated at 10-0 and improving with each fight. While he has yet to face much adversity in the cage, Cormier has had plenty in his personal life.

His father was murdered when Cormier was just 7 and then he lost his first daughter to a car accident back in 2003. He also lost a close friend in a plane crash. The heartbreaks in his life haven't just been limited to personal tragedy, either. Cormier competed for the United States in wrestling at the 2004 Olympics, losing the bronze-medal match, and was set to do so again as team captain and medal favorite in 2008, but suffered kidney failure as he tried to cut weight and was unable to participate in the Games.

Cormier has refused to let anything stop him.

"Everything is finally turning around, not just in my professional life but in my personal life. I've got two young kids, a great girlfriend. My family life is perfect. Everything is on the up and up," he said after beating Barnett. "All the negatives prepared me for the good times. No matter how bad things get, the sun is always going to shine. If you try and live life the right way, not saying I'm this good person or whatever, but good things happen to decent people if you stayed settled in on your goals."

The shocking part, and scary for other heavyweights, is that Cormier's striking is improving at a dramatic rate as he works with the American Kickboxing Academy crew. He showed off the power in his hands with the knockout of Silva and then beat Barnett to the punch all night long in his past bout. Cormier also landed two head kicks against the taller Barnett.

If there's anything that can slow Cormier down, it could be the persistent problems with his right hand. He broke it again on Saturday and will have surgery to repair it this time. Once healed, it's one more fight in Strikeforce and then over to the UFC where he will no doubt be an instant contender.

For now, Cormier will have to settle for taking the top spot on the ESPN Insider list of "Future Contenders" in the heavyweight division. The "Future Contenders" series focuses on fighters in every weight class who have the best chance to work their way into a UFC title shot down the road. Eligible fighters are those who:

1. Have not held a UFC belt in the weight class
2. Have not previously fought for a UFC title in the weight class

Fighters need not currently be in the UFC to qualify, but they must be active. Also, holding a title or having fought for a title in another fight league does not disqualify a fighter.

Here are other prospects for the heavyweight division: