It has been nearly two years since Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson first collided inside the Octagon, and if you ask your average MMA mark to sum up the outcome of this UFC 210 rematch as briefly as they could, then they would more than likely say Johnson must knock out Cormier early or else DC will take it in the later rounds.
That’s exactly what you would have said before their first fight too. A very broad statement but also a very true one when you consider both men’s records.
The first contest played out exactly as above. Johnson dropped Cormier with a huge right hand in the opening seconds that sent him flying across the Octagon. Cormier recovered well, putting into practice his motto of ‘embracing the grind’, to wear down Johnson mentally and physically and eventually finding the submission victory.
Looking at ‘Rumble’ Johnson’s record, it is clear to see he is a blitz fighter with frightening knock out power aiming to get you out of there as quickly as possible. Top MMA journalist Luke Thomas regards Johnson as the greatest first round fighter of all time and that is no surprise when you consider his twelve first round finishes, which were all by knockout or TKO.
An intimidating statistic indeed, but with no submission victories and only a handful of decision wins in three rounds or less, Johnson is often considered to be a one-dimensional fighter.
This is something Cormier has focused on in the verbal warfare leading up to this fight and recently he spoke with MMAFighting.com about Johnson’s perceived limited skill set.
“I think he’s a phenomenal fighter, he’s tough as nails, he hits hard as can be. But truth is, if he doesn’t knock me out, he can’t win the fight, and that’s not enough.
“You can’t have one avenue to victory, he has to knock me out because I know Anthony Johnson can’t outwrestle me over 25 minutes, I know Anthony Johnson is not gonna submit me, I know the only way he can beat me is to knock me out. One avenue to victory is just not enough.”
It is hard to disagree with Cormier as Johnson’s record clearly speaks for itself. What’s also clear about ‘Rumble’s’ record is the manner of his defeats. Of his five losses, four were via submission and one by way of TKO. Obviously, every fighter is prone to a submission loss at some stage in their career but when this is how you lose consistently then it is quite reasonable to question the fighter’s heart when things aren’t going his way.
Cormier firmly believes these submission losses are not just a coincidence but rather a reflection of Johnson’s lack of resilience. He feels he is a quitter and referred to an unusual moment in their first encounter to highlight his point.
“To me, the most telling thing, and it was something his coaches gave me that they didn’t mean to give me, right when we were fighting in the third round and I was on top, his coaches started yelling ‘don’t give up, don’t give up.’ To me that’s crazy, that tells me that’s something they’ve seen in him a lot of times.
“So, to tell you that in the middle of a fight is about as bad as it gets, especially when the guy he’s fighting against has heard it, and knows that when things get tough, you know what to expect from Anthony.”
Moving on to Cormier’s record, during his early days he was regarded as quite an entertaining fighter, a far cry from his current standing. His first six fights all ended with a first round victory and he also can boast a brutal knockout over Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva to win the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix.
He is a former Olympic wrestler and he has now made that his primary mode of offence when fighting. Criticism in his most recent fights surfaces from an over reliance on wrestling and a clear unwillingness to stand and trade.
Johnson has been quite cordial throughout the build up with Cormier but when DC claimed he didn’t need to use his wrestling and that he would strike with the best of the best, ‘Rumble’ decided to call him out.
“Everyone knows if he gets hit, or if he doesn’t get hit he’ll go in for the takedown. That’s kind of what he’ll do. He is a wrestler.
“That’s where his heart is and that’s just the truth. He’s not the most exciting fighter,” Johnson told Foxsports.com.
Look no further than his last outing against Anderson Silva to back up this point. After the scandal involving Jon Jones at UFC 200, which led to him being removed from the card, the spider Silva took the fight with Cormier on literally two days notice.
The crowd showered Cormier with boos for failing to engage a post-prime, older, unprepared Silva. This fight provided a clear indication that Cormier is committed to his wear-you-down style regardless of the situation and Johnson firmly agreed when he said:
“He fought how DC fights. His usual grinding style that’s just what he does. He’ll land a couple of punches and then try and take you down and try to beat you up on the ground and wear you out. That’s usually what he does. He fought safe but the came up looking like sh*t.”
He then went on to warn Cormier that he needs to step up his game significantly from his last outing if he wishes to retain his title.
“It wasn’t his best performance. But like he said, that was the easiest fight of his career so if that was the easiest fight of your career then alright then. If that’s what you look like in the easiest fight of your career, then you’re going to have a hard time with me.”
Cormier’s last two stoppage victories have both come in the third round in the exact same way, by exhausting his opponents from applying his weight on them for the previous ten minutes and eventually getting a submission. Three of his last four fights have gone the distance, the only that didn’t being the initial match with Johnson. The game plan for Cormier is obvious for all to see.
This fight is so straight forward as both fighters have done absolutely nothing different since they last fought. Johnson has continued to knock out opponents at will, mostly in the first round, and Cormier has repeatedly applied his oppressive, safe style to scrape a victory.
With both men, whether they’d like to admit or not, eyeing the shot at Jon Jones down the line, you will see Cormier revert to desperate measures to drudge a win while Johnson will be more keen than ever to get it done in one. It’s the exact same fight.
David O’Donovan, Pundit Arena