This weekend sees the long-awaited rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson finally take place, and with that in mind we take a closer look at the defining wins in the career of DC as he tries to hold onto his belt.
Despite his status as the champion of one of the UFC’s most historically competitive divisions, Daniel Cormier is still someone whose skills could be classified as ‘underrated’, at least in the eyes of a sizeable portion of the MMA community as a whole.
With him set to defend his title this weekend at UFC 210, we’re going to take a closer look at the three performances that best sum up the former Olympian in an attempt to do this future legend the justice his fine career is more than deserving of.
Daniel Cormier vs Dan Henderson at UFC 173 (24/5/14)
Cormier’s career is one that contains several performances that are nothing short of astounding, but in his 2014 win over Dan Henderson, DC achieved a masterclass.
Henderson will no doubt go down as one of the greatest to ever compete in the sport of mixed martial arts. As a two-time PRIDE champion and the final Strikeforce light-heavyweight strap holder, he faced some of the greatest to ever do it over the course of his 29-year career and came into the sport – like Cormier – as an Olympian, with him having represented the United States in Greco-Roman wrestling on two occasions in the 1990s.
His right-hand shot, the aptly-named ‘H-bomb’ is one MMA’s most legendary fight-ending weapons and coming into his bout with Cormier, the combination of the aforementioned H-bomb as well as his wrestling pedigree (which was more-than-comparable to his opponent), built him up as a credible threat to DC in what was only his second light-heavyweight contest.
What transpired that night when these two Olympians met inside the octagon can only be described as complete and total domination on the part of Cormier. With his opponent’s lethal right hand in mind, DC kept his distance, pumped the jab and kicked enough to keep Hendo at bay, allowing him to explode in at the opportune moment and bring the fight to the mat.
Some of the takedowns achieved by Cormier over the course of the scheduled three rounds were simply a joy to behold. One slam in particular sent reverberations that were felt all of the way through the light-heavyweight division, as Cormier announced himself as a big player in his new home in terrifying style.
Cormier destroyed Hendo that night in a way that no one thought possible at the time and sure enough, with less than two minutes on the clock, DC exploded onto the back, pulled his beaten and battered foe into a rear naked choke and left no doubt in the minds of the public as to who was the next big thing in the 205lb division.
Daniel Cormier vs Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 192 (3/10/15)
It’s a credit to the versatility of the UFC’s light heavyweight champion that the next performance on this list is one that in no way resembles the one discussed above.
When Cormier met Gustafsson at UFC 192, he entered the octagon this time not only with the 205lb strap to defend, but he also had to do it against the man who took his great rival Jon Jones to the very edge, the crafty, rangy and all-round tricky customer that is Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson.
Cormier’s wrestling credentials could have very easily led him to employ a grappling-heavy approach for this one. At 72″, his own reach was dwarfed by the 6’5″ Gustafsson, who sported a frankly-monstrous seven-inch reach advantage and a much greater level of diversification of strikes on the feet.
What was truly great about this performance was the sheer audacity of it all. It was like DC saw the struggles his heated foe Jon Jones had with the Swede on the feet and it fired him up to go out and prove he could handle his own and I would argue that when you consider his disadvantages in the physical department, he ended up putting on a better display against Gustafsson than ‘Bones’ was capable of doing himself.
Cormier, despite getting rocked by a vicious knee in the second round, utilised constant pressure, highly-effective dirty boxing and his ever-improving striking to outpoint Gus over the scheduled five-rounds in a way that perhaps came as a surprise to those who had just seen Alexander emerge as one of the promotion’s brightest prospects at UFC 165.
Gustafsson moved in and out of each exchange and actually made a point of jogging away from his opponent between bursts, something Cormier wisely began to capitalise on when he noticed a pattern. His forward movement, ability to close the distance and his admirable chin saw him through on the day and despite the size and length going against him, Cormier retained his belt in what was one of the standout fights of 2015.
Daniel Cormier vs Anthony Johnson at UFC 187 (23/5/15)
You were surely expecting to see this one pop up, right?
Cormier’s win over Anthony Johnson that won him the vacant UFC Light Heavyweight Championship was a performance that perhaps no one else in the 205lb weight class could have given with someone like Rumble in front of them.
DC’s chin bettered Johnson’s power on the night and his Olympic level wrestling proved the perfect antidote for AJ’s early rush. Cormier controlled, battered and broke his opponent within the first two rounds and despite taking a seriously hard strike right on the jaw within the opening minutes, he rallied, recovered and dominated Johnson before submitting him in the third.
This fight stands as the blueprint on how to defeat Anthony Johnson. We all know he’s at his most dangerous in the first and second rounds and the way in which DC managed to weather that storm and use his skill and experience was certainly a joy to behold. Of course, Johnson’s power – in the rematch – is just as big a factor as it was here but after defeating him in their first meeting, Cormier will go into their second with a level of confidence that may well be the difference come fight night.
It’s never a good sign when you hear a coach telling his fighter not to give up, and try as they might to deny that that was what was being said, Rumble’s gas tank just couldn’t withstand the pressure and smothering style of grappling that DC was able to inflict on him constantly in that bout.
If he does hope to stand a chance of defeating the champ come this weekend, he’ll at least know that adjustments will most definitely need to be made.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena