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As Daniel Cormier’s career ticks down to a self-mandated retirement next year at age 40, he finds himself in an interesting historical place.
There will be those who will never let him forget about his two losses to Jon Jones, as though two losses to the man who would arguably be the best fighter of all time if he were able to get his act together outside the Octagon somehow diminish a career as sterling as Cormier’s.
And then there are those who will look at the breadth of Cormier’s ledger and his time in the sport and recognize, correctly, that his accomplishments make him a strong contender to be the greatest fighter in MMA history.
Did Cormier’s win Saturday night over Derrick Lewis add a significant new dimension to his case for the oft-overused GOAT mantle? Maybe not in the way some of his other, more notable victories did. It wasn’t in the same league as Cormier’s quick dismissal of Stipe Miocic, for example, or a litany of his other wins. It was simple, workmanlike and easy.
Lewis is nowhere near the complete martial artist that Cormier is. But then, few in history have been. The 33-year-old challenger went into the Octagon at UFC 230 in New York City with essentially the same overpowering, singular tool he always takes into the cage with him, which is to say: the ability to land a single punch to the face that can end a fight instantly—no matter how badly the bout was going for him.
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A puncher’s chance. It’s a cliche, but that’s what Lewis had when you boil it down to the basics. And it wasn’t enough. Not by a long shot. Cormier took Lewis to the canvas at will, exposing a chasm in wrestling skill that Lewis, were he to dedicate the next 10 years exclusively to wrestling training, would still not be able to cross. Cormier used basic drags, trips and even an ankle pick to keep Lewis on his back before the champion secured a second-round rear-naked choke and submission to win.
“I think a lot of people have to understand that I’ve been doing this for nine years, and I’ve fought at a championship level for eight of them,” Cormier told Joe Rogan on the pay-per-view broadcast after the fight. “So there’s no surprises with me. I come in here and try to do my thing. If you have a puncher’s chance, like I’ve said, that’s not enough. You have to be one of the best in the world to even compete. And Derrick is good, but not at that level yet.”
There will be Cormier skeptics—those heartless ones who delighted in seeing his tears drop after the second loss to Jones in July 2017 seem likely to fall into this category—who will use Cormier’s win over Lewis on Saturday night as a blemish of sorts. They’ll scoff and claim Lewis was a pushover and that beating him isn’t that impressive a feat, as though the 21-6 challenger is a journeyman who’s never won in the UFC.
This is false, of course. Lewis is not the most well-rounded fighter, but he has skills that translate to the confines of the cage. He is a good fighter. A dangerous fighter.
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And consider that Cormier went into the Octagon on short notice, just like Lewis. He also has a broken hand. I met Cormier at his hotel room in September during UFC 228’s fight week in Dallas, and he told me there was no way he’d be available to fight until January. We sat on his couch, watching iPhone videos of his son playing football, and we talked about how much he’s looking forward to being able to just do that. To be a dad, all the time. In the meantime, though, he wanted to let his hand heal and then get ready for the expected 2019 fight against Brock Lesnar.
But then the UFC called with a big cash enticement, and Cormier couldn’t turn it down. Who could? So he went into the cage against a power puncher without the ability to grip or make a fist with one of his hands. He still took the fight, and he still handily beat a man who has obliterated his share of heavyweights.
As for what’s next? No date has been set, but Cormier will likely close out his career with a big-money fight against Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight champion who holds WWE’s top Raw singles championship. Cormier, a notoriously thrifty athlete, will earn enough money in that one night to support generations of his family, and he will walk away from the sport. Whether he joins WWE’s commentary team or sticks with the UFC as it moves to ESPN next year, he’ll still be in the public eye, even if he’s no longer in the cage.
And beyond that? The UFC Hall of Fame is likely next—a richly deserved honor for a man who was already the greatest fighter in the history of the sport before he even stepped into the cage in the world’s most famous arena.