As the curtains closed on MMA’s most important and spectacular fight card of the year so far, UFC 226, Daniel Cormier provided an iconic moment that will be imprinted for years to come into the already saturated history of the sport. When the dust settled on an electrifying night in Las Vegas, Cormier emerged triumphant from the much anticipated super-fight with two gold belts wrapped around his shoulders, finally earning the respect of his detractors and catapulting himself into the conversation as the greatest fighter of all time.
Cormier has cemented his status within the discussion of who is the greatest fighter of all time among the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson
At the centrepiece of UFC’s 2018 International Fight Week, UFC 226, Cormier defied the odds and capitalized on the opportunity of a lifetime as the current Light Heavyweight Champion moved up a weight class and knocked out the most successful UFC Heavyweight Champion ever, Stipe Miocic, in the very first round. In doing so, ‘DC’ becomes only the second ever fighter to become a simultaneous two division champion, a feat only previously achieved by Conor McGregor in 2016 and doing so at 39 years old makes this undoubtedly the biggest moment of his career.
This remarkable ascent to the apex of the sport must cement his status within the discussion of who is the greatest fighter of all time among the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson, following a career and athletic achievements that have been criminally overlooked for far too long. Undefeated at heavyweight before this and only moving down a division to compensate for his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez, on July 7th, DC finally realised his full potential and laid to rest his critics and doubters. While he may never fully escape the shadow of Jon Jones, the owner of Cormier’s only two losses (the second of which was overturned after Jones tested positive after the fight), by defeating Miocic, DC has added to his own rich legacy detached from the spectre of his fiercest rival. One could only imagine being a fly on the wall in Albuquerque as Jon Jones watched from home inevitably pondering what could have been his own fate had he overcome his perpetual struggles and demons beyond the octagon. It was almost exactly a year ago that Jones knocked out Cormier at UFC 214, leaving him in tears and potentially ending his career. Just 12 months later the unprecedented turn in fortunes and glory encapsulates the sheer unpredictability and chaos of this incredible sport.
It appears there will be a titanic Heavyweight Championship clash between Cormier and a returning legend in Brock Lesnar, who was in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena
The newly crowned double champion’s victory has by no means been a simple journey though, as evidenced by his admission to Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview: “I am 39 years old. I’ve been second a lot of times. From crying in the Octagon a year ago, to being the UFC heavyweight champion today… this is the most amazing thing I have ever experienced.” What has made Cormier’s rise so mesmerising and inspiring is not just overcoming an elite competitor like Miocic, but his ability to persevere through continuous setbacks. In 2001, he lost to Cael Sanderson in the NCAA wrestling finals and he missed out on a chance to captain the 2008 US Olympic wrestling team following kidney failure from a weight cut; he lost to Jon Jones twice after Jones was flagged by USADA for failing a drugs test. More importantly, Cormier has had to overcome personal tragedy and heartbreak. In 2003, he lost his three month old daughter in a tragic car accident. When he was 8, his father was shot and killed on Thanksgiving. This combination of athletic achievements and personal struggle is what makes this sport and moments like UFC 226 so compelling and DC’s realisation of his dream is a fitting reward for his determination.
As for what lies ahead for the promotion, it appears to be a titanic Heavyweight Championship clash between Cormier and a returning legend in Brock Lesnar, who was in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena. True to his superstar aura, Lesnar made his way to the Octagon, shoved Cormier, verbally eviscerated the modern heavyweight class and vowed to reclaim the title of a division he dominated eight years ago. While the quasi pro-wrestling theatrics will inevitably polarize the fan base- especially among the hard-core enthusiasts- there is little doubt that Cormier Vs. Lesnar is blockbuster-level excitement that will tantalize the appetite of mixed martial arts fans across the globe.
Beyond the post-fight antics, the lingering question that emerges from the smoke of UFC 226 has to be: ‘Is Cormier the greatest fighter in the history of the sport?’ Perhaps. It’s a debate that will continue to exist for some time. What is certain, however, is that Cormier is the embodiment of heart, passion, dedication, class and integrity and by his own words has realised a dream: “ I never knew what I could become, but tonight I got the answer…”