In the fourth instalment of our Lazy GOAT UFC series, I take a look at my top five fighters in UFC history. I’ll be assessing their career, listing their achievements, and then hoping to persuade you as to why they belong in this list. It’s going to be a controversial one, but who doesn’t love a bit of drama.
Note: This list will only include fighters that have competed under the UFC banner – so no Fedor.
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight
Record: 22-1-0 (1 NC)
Key Stat: First ever simultaneous UFC Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight champion
Unlike most of the fighters we have looked at in this series so far, Daniel Cormier did not start his MMA career at a young age. He instead pursued a career as an Olympic Wrestler, a path which took him to the 2004 Olympics (in which he finished fourth) and the 2008 Olympics as Team Captain (however he was forced to pull out due to medical issues caused by excessive weight cutting). He also managed to claim a bronze medal at the 2007 Baku World Championships, a mightily impressive feat.
After the heartbreak of his withdrawal from the 2008 Olympic Games, and with Father Time starting to rule him out of another Olympic cycle, Cormier began to turn his attention to MMA. Taking up training at American Kickboxing Academy with Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck. Cormier was almost 30 years old by the time he started diving into the MMA world, much older than all of Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones.
After a year of training, DC would make his professional MMA debut at Heavyweight in September 2009, Strikeforce Challengers: Kennedy vs Cummings. He would win his bout against Gary Frazier via TKO in the second round, starting off as he meant to go on in the world of MMA.
In his third fight, Cormier headed to Australia to compete under the XMMA banner, winning his first title in just the third bout of his career – becoming XMMA Heavyweight Champion with a victory over Lucas Browne. He would then go on to claim the KOTC Heavyweight Championship in his very next fight, taking his career record to 4-0, while already holding the top title of two different promotions.
Returning to Strikeforce for his next matchup, Cormier would keep both his perfect record and finish rate, knocking out his opponent just one minute into the first round (taking his record to 5-0, 4 KO’s and one submission). DC would then defend his XMMA Championship for the first and only time, picking up a knockout victory over Soa Palelei. After this, Cormier would return to Strikeforce and defeat Devin Cola via unanimous decision, before deciding to enter the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Heavyweight Grand Prix
Cormier initially had some reserves about entering the tournament, due to concerns about his lack of experience (he was only seven fights into his career at this point), as well as his height and reach disadvantages. DC did enter the tournament as a reserve however, defeating Jeff Monson via decision for the spot.
Cormier stepped in to face Antonia ‘Bigfoot’ Silva on just five weeks notice in the tournament semi final, after Alistair Overeem pulled out of the bout. In shocking fashion, the relatively inexperienced Cormier would pull off an impressive knockout victory in the first round, landing a number of clean shots on the jaw, dropping Bigfoot before finishing him with hammer strikes.
It was a huge upset, especially as Silva was 16-2 at the time of the fight, compared to Cormier’s 8-0 record, and Silva was coming off the back of a victory over long time Heavyweight god Fedor Emelianenko.
After picking up a victory in the semi finals, Cormier moved into the Grand Prix final to take on former UFC champion Josh Barnett. Coming into the bout Barnett had almost 30 more MMA fights than his opponent, however that wouldn’t stop Cormier going on to dominate the bout, taking a victory by unanimous decision, as well as becoming the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion.
UFC and move to Light Heavyweight
After picking up a victory over Dion Staring in Strikeforce, Cormier became one of the last remaining Strikeforce fighters to move across to the UFC (Zuffa had bought out their competitor in 2011, but allowed the Heavyweight Grand Prix to run its course).
In his first UFC bout, DC would take on Frank Mir, a fight which he would dominate before taking a unanimous decision victory. There was talk after the fight that Cormier could move down to the Light Heavyweight division, as his long term friend and training partner Cain Velasquez was UFC Heavyweight champion at the time.
Cormier would then go on to face Roy Nelson in his next fight, winning via submission in the first round after neutralising his opponents stand up game. After this fight Cormier would announce that he was planning to move down to the Light Heavyweight division (a move that was greeted with skepticism, as Cormier had previously suffered kidney failure at the 2008 Olympics trying to make the 211 lb limit.
A fight with Rashad Evens was lined up for the still undefeated Cormier, however Evans would be forced to pull out of the bout with a leg injury just ten days before the fight. Evans would be replaced by Patrick Cummins, DC would go on to win the fight via knockout in the first round. Cormier would then take on veteran Dan Henderson, again showing off his incredible grappling skills. Dominating the fight before taking victory by submission in the third round.
Meteoric rise to Light Heavyweight title
Despite only having two fights in the division, Cormier (15-0) would be matched up with current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Jones had torn apart the division, and was by far the toughest test of Cormier’s career to that point. There was also an incredible amount of bad blood between the two fighters, with a number of insults flung around in press conferences and even coming to blows before the fight. The clash between Cormier and Jones became an instant classic, and was a very hard fight to call, however Jones picked up the unanimous decision victory, handing DC his first loss in MMA.
However it wasn’t long before Cormier was back in the title picture. While scheduled to take on Ryan Bader in June 2015, it was announced in April that Jon Jones had been stripped of the Light Heavyweight title and suspended indefinitely. Cormier would step in as a late replacement to face Anthony Johnson at UFC 187 for the vacant title.
Despite being dropped in the first round (for the first time in his career) Cormier would go on to take control of the fight, his grappling neutralising the strength of Johnson, and he was able to secure the win via rear naked choke in the third round. It made Cormier the first new Light Heavyweight champion in four years.
He would then go on to face Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 192, yet another Light Heavyweight title fight that could go down as one of the most entertaining of all time. It was a back and forth fight, again could have been called either way, but DC did just enough to take the unanimous decision victory, defending his title for the first time.
Jones rematch and drama
After this fight, Jones was reinstated by the UFC, and a rematch between the former champion and DC was set for UFC 197. Cormier however would be forced to pull out of the fight due to a foot injury, and would be replaced by Ovince Saint Preux.
The bout with Jones was then rescheduled for UFC 200, however just three days before the fight was due to take place, it was announced that Jon Jones had failed a drug test and was pulled from the card. Robbing Cormier of the chance to prove that he was the better fighter, something it was obvious that he was desperate for. Even offering to sign a release so the fight could go ahead.
Unfortunately it was not to be, and Anderson Silva stepped in to take on Cormier at UFC 200 on incredibly short notice. It was a non-title Light Heavyweight matchup, and Cormier managed to take a unanimous decision victory.
With Jones once again suspended and inactive, Cormier would be scheduled for a rematch with Anthony Johnson, who had been destroying the jaws of most of the division. Many fans wondered if Cormier would be able to withstand yet another massive blow from the heavy handed striker, or if this time he wouldn’t be able to recover.
Ahead of the fight, Cormier seemed to struggle with his weight cut, coming in at 1.2 pounds over the 205 limit, however at his second weight in he managed to make the 205 mark… with a little help from a towel.
The fight with Rumble never really turned into what many fans were expecting, as the striker adopted a more grapple heavy approach. Appearing lethargic and not overly interested in MMA, Rumble was once again defeated via rear naked choke.
Jones (again) and return to Heavyweight
After the win over Johnson, we would once again see a fight agreed between DC and Jon Jones. The rematch was set for UFC 217, and this time it actually went ahead… obviously it didn’t go without controversy.
Jones would catch Cormier with a high kick, rocking the champion, before eventually finishing the fight with one of the more brutal sequences I’ve seen. While all seemed well at the time, Jones had reclaimed his crown, it was later revealed that one of Jones’ pre-fight tests came back positive. This caused the result to be overturned to a no contest, and Cormier was given his championship back.
After this fight, DC would take on rising contender Volkan Oezdemir, however as he said in the build up to the fight, there are levels to this game. Cormier dominated the fight, both on the ground and on the feet. Never looked in trouble and finished the challenger in the second round.
With the landscape at 205 pounds barren, and no real contenders standing out, Cormier would line up a shot at UFC Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 226. It was a fight that I didn’t know how to predict. Cormier had already proven that he was lethal in the division, and Miocic had the most title defences in the history of the division.
Ultimately Cormier was able to shock most fans by knocking the champion out in the first round, becoming the second ever simultaneous two division UFC champion, holding a belt at both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight.
Cormier would defend his Heavyweight title against Derrick Lewis at the end of 2018, taking a comfortable victory on short notice, and we’re now waiting to see if Cormier will break his promise of retiring on his 40th birthday, or if he still has one fight left in him (cough, Brock Lesnar, cough).
It really is a shame that we didn’t, or haven’t, had a chance to see DC take on a clean Jones. I’d love to see that fight, and I’d love to see DC come out on top. He has been a great ambassador for the sport, and his transition into the commentary booth with Joe Rogan has been incredibly enjoyable. Always providing a laugh, as well as some expert insight.
Never change DC, never change.
As always, lets take a look at the insanely long list of achievements that DC has collected in his MMA career:
- Ultimate Fighting Championship
- UFC Heavyweight Champion
- UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
- Fight of the Night (x2)
- Performance of the Night (x2)
- First and only fighter to successfully defend titles in two different weight classes
- Fifth multi-divisional champion in UFC history
- Second simultaneous multi-divisional champion
- Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion
- King of the Cage
- KOTC Heavyweight Championship
- Xtreme MMA
- XMMA Heavyweight Championship
- Upset of the Month (2011)
- Fighter of the Year (2018)
- 2018 Male Fighter of the Year
- 2015 January Fight of the Month
- 2015 October Fight of the Month
- 2018 Male Fighter of the Year
- MMA Fighting
- 2018 Fighter of the Year
- 2014 Beatdown of the Year
- 2014 All-Violence 3rd Team
- 2018 Male Fighter of the Year.
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Feud of the Year (2014)