Daniel Cormier surprised Antonio Silva with his speed. | File Photo: Sherdog.com

American Kickboxing Academy trainer Javier Mendez didn’t want Daniel Cormier to fight in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix.

Mendez wanted him to get more experience before tangling with some of the best heavyweights in the world. Cormier was drafted into the field anyway, though, to replace Alistair Overeem. He was also slotted against an opponent who had just beaten Fedor Emelianenko: Antonio Silva.

“When he got the call that we had to take that fight, we didn’t really want that fight,” Mendez said on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show. “We wanted to give Daniel some more fights, but hey, when you’re an alternate, you have to take the fight. There’s no ifs or buts about that; you have to do it.”

Mendez’s confidence in Cormier grew quickly. In his first sparring session for the bout, Cormier got in the ring with UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.

“He did exactly what I needed to see,” Mendez said, “so I kept hitting on him that I want to see that first round with Cain continuously when you go through this fight. That was the game plan going into it: being fast, being fast on the inside and moving to the right, [and throwing] quick, fast combinations. We felt that Silva was going to underestimate Daniel’s speed. I think that’s what happened.”

The result was the breakthrough win in Cormier’s career so far, as he knocked out Silva 3:56 into the first round. The upset also advanced Cormier to the finals of the grand prix alongside Josh Barnett.

“I was crossing my fingers [Barnett] wouldn’t win,” Mendez said with a laugh. “He’s so damn dangerous. There’s really not much weakness [with] him. We’re going to have to really, really do our homework with this one. … If you want to be realistic, after watching all the fighters, the number one guy that’s really the best out of the group, the first original eight, is the guy in the finals now. That’s Josh. If you’re going on how they approached their fights and [how] they looked in their fights, you have to give it to Josh.”

That’s quite a compliment considering the original eight tournament entrants include Alistair Overeem, Fedor Emelianenko and Fabricio Werdum. Mendez knows Cormier is in for another challenge with Barnett, but his fighter is also dealing with a broken hand. Cormier confirmed the injury Monday on his Twitter account and added that he will be “on the shelf for a while.”

“It could play an impact for us because who knows when the bones heal, what kind of time’s going to be required,” Mendez said when asked how the injury could affect the grand prix final. “I don’t know. It could be bad for us or it could be OK. It all depends on the healing process.”

Regardless, for now Cormier is enjoying his big win.

“He got what he needed from that fight,” Mendez said. “I think for him, he’s not focusing on Barnett right now. He’s going to be focused on healing himself and getting ready to go. He’s been through this before. Come fight time, he’ll be ready to go.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 4:50).

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