Even before making his iconic sprint to the Octagon on Saturday night in what will be his 14th UFC appearance, reigning heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier can lay claim to one of the most impressive resumes the sport has ever seen.
The barrel-chested 40-year-old rematches Stipe Miocic in defence of the heavyweight strap a little over a year since upsetting the odds to stop the Ohioan in shocking fashion at UFC 228, becoming a reigning two-weight world champion in the process.
In doing so, Cormier joined Conor McGregor as the only two men to have achieved the feat in the UFC – an elite club to which Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo have both earned membership since.
A lucrative dust-up with another former champ, Brock Lesnar, appeared inevitable in the aftermath of Cormier’s victory last year but after the WWE superstar instead called time on his MMA career to focus on his legacy in professional wrestling.
A trilogy fight against familiar foe Jon Jones appeared to be the next logical possibility for Cormier with many speculating the controversial 32-year-old could move up to heavyweight to challenge DC in unfamiliar territory.
However, both men promptly put those plans on ice with Jones refusing to concede a weight advantage to his rival while Cormier suggested it would take “a lot of money” to tempt him into a third fight.
Now, more than nine months since his last action inside the Octagon, the former US Olympic wrestling team captain returns to action seeking to cement a legacy many already believe to be the most impressive in MMA history.
In many ways, the fight could be the toughest of Cormier’s career; the 21-1 (1 NC) champ underwent surgery in December to correct an agonising back injury that curtailed his physical activity to the bare minimum.
Cormier subsequently ballooned to the heaviest mark of his career, juggling his duties as a high school wrestling coach with an ever-increasing workload as a broadcaster.
Retirement may have been a temptation to any other fighter – but in an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole this week, Cormier reaffirmed his hunger to fight.
Describing his motivation ahead of this weekend’s rematch against Miocic, he said: “I’m going to win the fight and I get to go out there and defeat the guy that people thought was the best of all time – again.
“When you start to change the mentality, change the approach, change what the goals are, it [my reason for fighting] starts to make sense.
“The more I do in this division, the more it cements a legacy because after this, beating the guy that was supposed to be the greatest of all time and never losing in this division ever, they’ve got to start to put me atop those leader boards for the greatest heavyweight of all time.
“I think I’m in the conversation already for greatest fighter of all time, I don’t know why it gets mixed up so that I’m not the greatest heavyweight.”
A glance at Cormier’s record suggests the Lafayette native has the right to feel entitled to his claim to be the so-called GOAT [Greatest Of All Time].
He has won heavyweight titles in four MMA promotions [Xtreme MMA, King of the Cage, Strikeforce and the UFC], dominated all but one of the light-heavyweight division’s meanest operators and become the first UFC fighter to be a double champion who successfully defended both belts.
Speaking on his “Below the Belt” podcast last year, MMA personality Brendan Schaub hailed DC as the best ever, telling listeners:
“The reason why… is when you look at his body of work, you look at the guys he’s beaten and you look at the talent-rich division that he’s always competed in at a heavier weight division…
“The margin of error at light-heavyweight and heavyweight is so much smaller than all those other weight classes… where you can make a million mistakes and continue not to get knocked out.
“Daniel Cormier went from heavyweight to light-heavyweight and stepped back up to heavyweight – and he was f****** good, man.
“[He was] undefeated at heavyweight, goes to light-heavyweight and only loses to a man who tested positive for PEDs. Other than that he beat everyone not named Jon Jones.
“Then he steps up to heavyweight, where he hasn’t competed in forever, and beats the most successful UFC heavyweight of all time [Miocic]. Not only does he beat him, he knocks him out in the first round.
“How you can say Daniel Cormier isn’t the Greatest of All Time is surprising to me.”
Schaub’s words were echoed by welterweight contender Colby Covington last summer who, ironically, indicated Cormier’s behaviour outside the Octagon was more befitting of a champion than his pound-for-pound rival Jones.
“DC is the greatest fighter of all time, no doubt about it,” the controversial competitor told Chael Sonnen.
“He’s undefeated in his career; his losses that he supposedly had to Jon Jones - we all know with Jon Jones, there’s a huge asterisk there.
“You can’t put him [Jones] in the GOAT discussion with all that’s gone on.
“You don’t see DC hitting a pregnant lady at an intersection and running off to the foothills… you don’t see him failing steroid tests and doing cocaine.”
But with little left to achieve in a sport that can be so punishing – as the viral image of Mike Perry’s broken nose this weekend demonstrates – how long can Cormier continue to compete?
In an interview with MMAFighting today, the heavyweight champion appeared to accept that the curtain may be coming down on an illustrious career.
“I’ve long said I don’t want to be a guy that goes out on my back,” Cormier explained.
“A lot of our greatest champions leave the sport on their back. They leave as former champions. They leave their fans with that last vision of their favourite fighter on their back, [then] standing in the middle of the Octagon while their belt is getting strapped on someone else. I don’t want to be that guy.”
“I want to be a guy that goes out on his own terms. I know that as you turn 40 years old, that time starts to near. I just have to decide if that time is now or a little bit later down the line.”
Can Cormier keep his dreams of retiring a champion intact? Or will Miocic scratch his painful defeat to the pound-for-pound king with a win at UFC 241?
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