Daniel Cormier might be the most underappreciated top-level fighter in the history of MMA. His career success has partly been overshadowed by the rivalry with the more talented and younger Jon Jones. And at UFC 210 this Saturday, Cormier’s journey could come to a crashing end when he defends his light heavyweight title against one-punch-knockout-artist Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
Up until now, the Cormier story has been coined by his unparalleled determination and the fact that his personality seemingly splits the MMA audience. The Louisiana-native came late into the game, after a long career as an amateur wrestling. In 2008, named the captain of the U.S. wrestling team, Cormier was not able to participate in the Olympics in Beijing due to kidney failure, brought on by excessive weight cutting. On welfare and without a promising future, he started his journey in mixed martial arts, soon competing with the best heavyweights in the world. Only 5’11’’ tall, Cormier beat the likes of Josh Barnett and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and quickly made a name for himself as gritty competitor with a great attitude. After joining the UFC, his undefeated streak continued and granted him a title shot against Jon Jones at light heavyweight.
At that point, his career took somewhat of a turn. During the lead-up to that bout, both were involved in verbal exchanges and even a physical altercation during the UFC 178 media day at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Cormier talked the big game and convinced many fans that he could be the one to beat Jones, one of the greatest talents in the sport. Jones, however, dominated the fight and beat Cormier decisively. That Cormier holds the title today has as much to do with his excellent fighting skills as with Jones’ lack of ability to stay out of trouble outside the cage. Thus the theme for Cormier’s career seems to be: ‘He is a truly great fighter, but …’
The lack of respect shown for his success is even more astonishing when you consider that Cormier does not possess the athletic gifts like many other top-tier fighters. Javier Mendez, the head coach of American Kickboxing Academy, stated in the past that Cormier outworks everyone in the gym—that includes Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold and Khabib Nurmagomedov, some of the finest mixed martial artists in the world. If there is one athlete in the UFC or in MMA in general that indeed trains beyond 100 percent, it very likely is Cormier. His stocky physique and lack of defined muscles might give a wrong a picture, but, especially in his case, don’t judge a book by its cover.
All of that, however, does not change the fact that a considerable portion of the audience will boo Cormier when he enters the Octagon on Saturday. And should he once again “embrace the grind,” as former UFC play-by-play commentator Mike Goldberg in all of Cormier’s fights famously stated, meaning that he imposes his will on his opponents in true wrestler fashion, he would not silence the boos. It seems that many fans would just wait for “Rumble” Johnson to throw one of his devastating power punches and let Cormier’s head drown to the canvas.
In their first fight at UFC 187, Cormier survived one of these sledgehammer-like blows and quickly brought Johnson to the mat. “Rumble” has repeatedly been criticized for his tendency to quit during fights if it does not go his way early on. Yet, at age 38, Cormier may not have the iron chin he once possessed and could not be durable enough to withstand Johnson’s power. A devastating knockout loss would prove in the eyes of his critics that he is not one of the greatest of all time. And a win over an opponent he already beat would still not push him above his nemesis, Jon Jones.
Cormier has enjoyed success beyond his athletic potential, thanks to determination and an almost indestructible attitude. He has won titles and been praised by many experts in the MMA world. But he will never gain the respect of the entire audience.