Everything seemed to be set fair for Daniel Cormier.
The two-division UFC champion, recovering from an injured right hand after his historic heavyweight title-winning knockout of Stipe Miocic at UFC 226, had seemingly agreed to face returning former champion and WWE superstar Brock Lesnar in a huge UFC heavyweight title fight in the New Year. And he’d also expressed his openness to squeeze in a defence of his UFC light-heavyweight world title in the meantime.
It seemed a decent plan for a man who not only held two world titles, but also had a desire to defend both of them before eventually hanging up his gloves on his 40th birthday, on March 20 next year.
Unfortunately, the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, and what appeared to be a solid gameplan has now been thrown out the window for an altogether different route, and it’s one that will deny him the opportunity to become the first athlete in UFC history to retire as an active “champ champ”.
With the UFC in need of a headliner for UFC 230 in New York, Cormier was given the call. “In Emergency Break Glass, Call DC”.
The UFC wanted him to squeeze in a title defence on short notice to help give the Big Apple event a little more juice. But with such a short run-up, a light-heavyweight defence would have been problematic, so Cormier was offered Derrick Lewis for his maiden heavyweight title defence on November 3. The UFC sweetened the pot to make it more financially attractive and “DC” agreed to step up to headline at Madison Square Garden.
Lewis won’t rile Cormier, disrespect him or cause undue issues in the lead-up – a major benefit for the UFC, given what we saw at UFC 229 earlier this month. But what “The Black Beast” does pose is a legitimate knockout threat for the world champion, whose previously unquestioned chin was cracked to devastating effect by a Jon Jones head kick at UFC 214.
Cormier undoubtedly holds the edge over Lewis, and is a near-unbackable favourite with the bookies based on their early odds. But Lewis demonstrated as recently as last week his ability to soak up punishment like a sponge, then explode into action to turn both the fight and his opponent on their heads.
So, credit to “DC” for being the company man and stepping up and putting his title on the line at such short notice. But that isn’t the end of his contribution to the UFC’s cause.
The re-jigged timeline of Cormier’s career and the lack of a light-heavyweight title defence opened the door for an outcome the two-division champion would certainly have chosen to avoid, if at all possible.
In short, Cormier’s days as UFC light-heavyweight champion appear all but done.
Jones’ return in a main event battle with old rival Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on December 29 demanded a title to be on the line, and it has since been reported that Cormier will vacate his title on fight night, with the winner of the Jones-Gustafsson scrap taking over as the UFC’s undisputed 205-pound king.
Assuming he gets past Lewis without any major issues, it seems unlikely that “DC” would attempt to squeeze in a quick-turnaround bout with either Jones or Gustafsson when there’s a huge payday against Lesnar staring him in the face.
It means that now with Cormier now scheduled to defend his heavyweight belt, rather than the light-heavyweight strap, in Q4 this year, it means we’ve almost certainly seen the last of him in the octagon as a defending 205-pound champion.
Cormier has since revealed he conceded to the UFC’s request to vacate, recognising the need to keep the weight divisions moving. It’s not the way he would have chosen to give up the belt, especially when you consider his old nemesis Jones could well be the man to benefit.
“It kinda sucks it’s going to be him,” he admitted when speaking to the Associated Press today.
But the fact that he stepped up to take the MSG matchup and agreed to relinquish his title on December 29 says a lot about Cormier’s character.
Some will look to put a mark against his greatness as a result of his losses to Jones, but for others within the MMA bubble, Cormier is not just one of the pound-for-pound greats of the UFC, he’s also a team player and one who is helping the UFC move on at a time when they desperately needed to do so in the aftermath of UFC 229.
He’s given his all inside the octagon and he’s promoted the sport admirably outside of it. Now he’s effectively giving up one of his world titles for the greater good as the UFC looks to keep the ball rolling and finish 2018 in strong style.
For that, the UFC should be hugely grateful.
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