With UFC 226 just two weeks away, we break down headliners Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier in a pair of three-part series detailing their careers.
Two fighters. Two three-part series designed to take a look at both of the men who will engage in one of the most anticipated fights in the history of mixed martial arts.
It’s important to build up a milestone like this. We’ve had super-fights in the past but I would argue none of this magnitude. The two heaviest and most traditionally-followed divisions coming together with two men who are genuinely on the cusp of making a very strong argument for G.O.A.T status.
Of course, Stipe Miocic stands as the most successful heavyweight in the history of the UFC and while the next edition to this series will deal with him, for now, we will focus solely on the man who will hope that he can defy the odds to become the second UFC champion to hold belts in two divisions simultaneously, Daniel Cormier.
Quite possibly the most underrated athlete in the UFC today, Cormier’s path to the very top of the mixed martial arts game started long before he eventually made the transition to the sport. Success was something that was ingrained in him from day one.
Three-time high-school Lousiana State Champion. 1995 Greco-Roman World Championship bronze medalist. All-American wrestler. Cormier could have stopped short of being an Olympian in 2004 and he still would have been exceptional but after a run on the wrestling circuit that culminated in him being selected as the U.S team’s captain ahead of the 2008 Olympics, DC began the transition towards becoming a mixed martial artist.
At 30 years of age, he officially made his debut as a heavyweight, winning each of his first six with a finish before a pair of decision victories over Devin Cole and Jeff Monson got him a shot at the Strikeforce heavyweight grand-prix.
Now Cormier was unconvinced about his suitability for a tournament where he lose inches in both height and reach to the likes of Alistair Overeem, Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski and Fabricio Werdum but when an injury forced the Dutch kickboxing legend Overeem to withdraw, DC answered the call and before he knew it, he was a grand-prix semi-finalist.
The man who would face him, Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva – was fresh off of the biggest win of his career. Stopping the longtime PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko in the opening round of the grand-prix, the late-replacement and undersized Cormier wasn’t exactly expected to set the tournament alight upon his entry.
And it was understandable. As a wrestler who adopted the striking arts of MMA in his late twenties – who could have predicted how well he would have grasped them so quickly. His coach ‘Crazy’ Bob Cook actually told DC in his first fight in Strikeforce not to bother throwing any kicks which was more than likely due to his inexperience, but it was also something that stood as a sobering reminder of the hours it does take to get the technique down.
Cormier looked like the real deal early on and with his first-round KO of the in-form Bigfoot Silva, he well and truly arrived on the heavyweight scene.
Facing the tried and tested veteran Josh Barnett in the final, would be another challenge entirely.
Barnett was a UFC and Pancrase heavyweight champion, a potent submission threat and above all else, a much larger man than his fellow finalist. A lot of people will point to the size and stout frame of Daniel Cormier as a reason to undermine his chances against a more muscular or traditionally athletic figure but as the former-champ Barnett found out, when DC gets a hold of you – his technique, his leverage and his immense strength will allow him to lift you up and swiftly drop you back down again.
Cormier dominated this fight. Barnett was tough but barring a few decent shots, some good knees and a failed submission or two, he was there for the taking.
Against all odds, Daniel Cormier had won the Strikeforce heavyweight grand-prix.
For all of those out there who are claiming that the size of Stipe Miocic will prove too much for the apparently tiny 205lb champion in front of him, taking an hour or two and watching a very green Cormier in his first run at heavyweight will do wonders in your faith in his suitability for the weight-class.
Miocic is definitely the favourite, don’t get me wrong. But if there’s one thing that the past will show, it’s that DC is built for success and his ability to turn your expectations on their head is proven.
On Thursday we will examine the early years of Stipe himself and the one loss that helped define his eventual title-run and when Sunday comes around, we will continue where we left off with Daniel Cormier – as he finds himself under the bright lights of the UFC for the first time.
Each edition of this series will be linked below as they are published.
Daniel Cormier – Part II
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena