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Opinion : Is Daniel Cormier About To Let His Ego Destroy His Legacy?

Daniel Cormier has finally been scheduled to defend his UFC light-heavyweight title in a matchup against Anthony Johnson at UFC 210 but is the former-Olympian about to make the biggest mistake of his professional career when he does?

Legacy is a word that is thrown around a lot in combat sports. In the realms of professional competition, there is perhaps no greater show of power out there than to be able to physically outwork your opponent and assert complete and utter control over their body. To beat someone within the arena of combat is perhaps the purest form of dominance you can attain in modern sports and Daniel Cormier has built his entire legacy on his ability to dominate lesser men.

The UFC’s light heavyweight champion is something of a polarizing figure for fight-fans. On one hand, you have those who appreciate his great talent and achievements over his truly exemplary career. On the other, you have those who just see him as a ‘paper-champion’ who could not defeat the mighty Jon Jones and whose style (to the uninformed viewer) is one that borders on tedious from an audience perspective.

I think there’s only one side to that argument that holds any merit. Daniel Cormier is a legend of the sport and if it were not for the defeat at the hands of, as well as the very existence of the great Jon Jones, there would be a very strong argument that he’s one of the best 205lb-rs to ever do it. DC began his career as a heavyweight, finishing his first 6 opponents in the space of 14 months, before nabbing the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix by defeating the likes of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Josh Barnett.

After making the switch to the UFC and racking up another 3 wins at 265lbs, in which he added the heads of Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Dion Staring to his collection, Cormier made the drop to his more natural home at light-heavyweight, ending his unbeaten 12-0 run in the heavier weight-class with eight finishes to his name.

In his new home, Cormier – in 5 out of his 6 matchups – finished Patrick Cummins, Anthony Johnson and Dan Henderson, had an all-out war with the dangerous Swede Alexander Gustafsson and took a short-notice fight with the greatest striker the UFC has ever seen in Anderson Silva (albeit an older version) that was booked just hours before UFC 200. He did this just so he wouldn’t be doing his own fans a disservice by pulling out entirely from the landmark event.

Yes, he lost to Jon Jones, but who hasn’t lost to Jon Jones? Bones may go down as the greatest talent the game as ever seen and indeed on the night Cormier was no match for him but I do not believe that in any way nullifies his achievements as a mixed martial artist to this point.

Those who say Cormier’s style is boring need to remind themselves that this is not designed to be a spectacle. The margin of error at this level is so slim that one poor decision could cause everything you have built to crumble in an instant. If you look at the masterful control of the likes of Demian Maia and think “this is boring, he’s just humping him on the ground” then perhaps this is not the sport for you.

Of course, who doesn’t love to see a good ‘ol slugfest? Moments like those are sometimes among the most memorable for anybody who loves the sport but people tend to forget that these are human beings inside the octagon and like it or not, this is one of the most dangerous forms of competition out there.

Throughout the entire press tour undertaken by both DC and Jon Jones for their scheduled bout at UFC 200, Cormier just could not understand why the fans were siding with his ‘bad-boy’ opponent, who he deemed to be a ‘scumbag’ and a vile person overall. No matter what he did outside of the octagon and no matter how bad it all looked, the fans still cheered when Jonny “Bones” Jones stepped out onto the stage and embraced him with the kind of warmth that DC really seemed to crave.

Cormier was antagonised by the masses as he sat across from Jones and I feel like this worsened to an extent when he fought Jones’ replacement Anderson Silva in the manner that he did. Fighters need to time to prepare in order to properly gameplan and for DC, he took on a radically different style of opponent in the Spider Silva than the one he was scheduled to face. As much as it would have been great to see a battle, that was Daniel Cormier’s own body being put on the line right there. He didn’t have to take that matchup, but he did, and the fans booed him mid-fight for it.

What worries me now, in the lead-up to his championship bout with Anthony Johnson, is that Cormier seems to have taken this all to heart. Between his unwanted role as the villain in his dynamic with Jon and the reaction by the fans to his selfless decision to take a fight at UFC 200, he very well could be in danger of doing something reckless when he faces his next opponent.

Cormier has promised his fans that he would not use his wrestling at all when he takes on Rumble at UFC 210, in fact, his exact quote (as reported by TMZ) was as follows.

“You’re going to see me get my hand raised. This time, no wrestling. No wrestling. Only boxing. If ‘Rumble’ wants to box, we can box, let’s go. He said he was going to knock me out. I’m gonna knock him out.”

Now, I’m not saying he won’t win, I’m not even saying he can’t win, but to me, that decision and the subsequent announcement in public is one borne out of desperation for affection from the fans. By tieing himself down to this promise, DC effectively has given this fight three possible outcomes for himself, two of which will do damage to his credibility and just one that will save it.

In the first, he goes out there and stands and bangs with Johnson. He keeps his word and loses because of it. In Anthony Johnson, you have quite possibly the most terrifying knockout artist on the roster today and for the sake of this argument we’ll assume he wins by TKO. Cormier loses the fight, loses his belt and given his age, more than likely loses his shot at a rematch with Jon Jones. The fans – unless he puts up a truly heroic fight – will not be any more impressed with him than they were previously and when all has been said and done, the records will show that DC lost to two of the best light-heavyweights on the planet.

The second scenario is one where Cormier goes into that bout and keeps his promise…. until he feels Rumble’s power that is. In fairness, this is the smartest option from a fighting perspective with his own safety in mind. He goes into that matchup, stands for a bit before realising he’d be better suited towards fighting to his strengths. Win, lose or draw, title or not, Cormier will not gain himself any fans with this one. If it’s acceptance he craves – and he clearly does – then going back on his promise will not earn him any respect to those he wants it from.

I genuinely feel it was a stupid thing to say in public. To reveal and predetermine your gameplan to both the fans and your opponent out of a desire to be loved just does not seem right for the brutal game that is MMA but still, it’s a risk that could pay off in more ways than he could ever imagine.

The third outcome in this UFC 210 contest is that DC goes out there, stands with Anthony Johnson and wins the fight. It’s a tough ask. Rumble only needs one punch to put your lights out. He showed this to its fullest extent when he annihilated Glover Teixeira in 13 seconds at UFC 202. It wasn’t even a fight, Glover may as well not have shown up.

I’m not saying Cormier can’t do it, or won’t do it or even shouldn’t do it, but what I am saying is that if this decision is one that stems from his own ego, one in which he is prioritizing the public’s perception of him over his own personal health, then I just think it’s a bad move on the part of the former Olympic-wrestler and I really don’t like to see him feeling like this is what he has to do for the masses to accept him.

But by far the worst thing about it all is, he’s probably right.

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at [email protected]