Daniel Cormier is, by all accounts, a pretty nice guy. You’ll almost never hear anyone in the sport speak badly of “DC.” Yet, despite being nearly universally liked by his peers, Cormier, the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion, can’t seem to add the title of “fan-favorite” to his list of accomplishments. It’s honestly one of the biggest mysteries in MMA.
Cormier’s track to MMA is a familiar one. He claimed multiple state wrestling titles in high school and then continued his success on the mats throughout his JUCO and NCAA Division I wrestling career. He represented the USA at the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008. Cormier also wrestled on the international scene, where he earned accolades across multiple competitions.
The transition to MMA was easier for Cormier than for most, given that he was training with a gym full of studs at American Kickboxing Academy, a camp that has consistently produced world-class fighters. Cormier added to this legacy by grabbing a few regional titles before taking Strikeforce by storm in 2011. He continued to build off the success he enjoyed by capturing the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix title and went undefeated on his way to a UFC light heavyweight title shot against Jon Jones.
It’s here where Cormier’s career began to take odd twists and turns. The rivalry with Jones was intense. The two men traded verbal and physical barbs. Ever since Cormier’s loss to Jones at UFC 182, his fan support has seemingly been on a downward slope.
This is despite the fact that Cormier was involved in incredible performances at UFC 187 and UFC 192. He’s also shown moments of great vulnerability that few athletes have given us. Normally stone-faced and stoic, Cormier gave a rare show of emotion when the cameras were on.
At UFC 187, Cormier survived being knocked around the Octagon by Anthony “Rumble” Johnson to make a comeback victory and earn the vacant UFC light heavyweight title. He successfully defended the belt against Alexander Gustafsson in a “Fight of the Year” candidate.
Still, Cormier never could get the validation that a champion deserved. Considering the circumstances of how Cormier won the belt, it became easy for fans to still proclaim Jones as the true UFC light heavyweight champion. Cormier had a strap around his waist, but he couldn’t get the weight of the shadow from Jones off his shoulders. That was all set to change at UFC 200.
Cormier and Jones were scheduled to face off in the main event at UFC 200. It would give Jones the chance to end his rivalry with “DC” by showcasing who truly is the best 205-pound fighter in the world. Meanwhile, it would give Cormier the opportunity to finally validate his place as champion. Of course, we all know how that turned out.
Jones was removed just days before the card and all hopes of the stellar title fight fell apart. But something amazing happened during the hours when Jones was being pulled from UFC 200. Those in the pro-wrestling business would call it a “double-turn.” Jones, the anti-hero that fans were gravitating to, suddenly fell out of favor for once again running into character issues. Cormier, the All-American champion and perennial knight in shining armor that fans rebelled against, became the most sympathetic man in MMA. The pain on Cormier’s face when UFC President Dana White told him the fight with Jones was off became one of UFC 200’s most memorable moments.
And then, along came a spider.
Just as Cormier seemed to finally be positioned as the fan-favorite — he even received cheers at the UFC 200 weigh-ins — it all fell apart in the golden Octagon. Fighting the legendary Anderson Silva, Cormier employed a sound strategy by taking “The Spider” down nearly at will. Avoiding the dangerous strikes of Silva, Cormier effectively shut down the former UFC middleweight champion’s offense for the majority of their contest.
I’ve actually got to go watch it, and I took him down early in the fight, controlled the first round. In the second round, we got stood up for almost the last two minutes of the round, and the third round we got stood up almost the last two minutes of the round. He had chances, but I thought I implemented the right game plan. It was a different fighter. They do have a lot of similarities, but the wrestling — even if I was to fight Anderson again and he had a full training camp, I would go in there and implement the same game plan.
The reason for fan backlash from Cormier’s performance at UFC 200 wasn’t from Cormier utilizing his wrestling-centric game plan. Instead, it was the acknowledgement of Cormier not trying to end the fight before the final bell.
All day Friday, I’m telling myself I’m just going to smash him. I don’t care that it’s Anderson Silva, I’m just going to smash this dude. And when I looked across from him and he’s crouching, he’s in his Spider position, in that moment I did kind of have that one moment where I went, ‘Wow, that’s Anderson Silva.’ It was me fighting in the way I needed to. And what am I supposed to do standing in front of Anderson Silva? It would be catastrophic if I lost that fight to Anderson, still was the champion, and then Anderson went down a weight class and challenged for the belt.
(via Jim Rome)
So, where does Cormier go from here?
The career of his nemesis, Jones, looks to be on ice for the next two years, which will give both Cormier and the fans a chance to move on. Since joining the ranks of the light heavyweights, Cormier has been intertwined with Jones. By removing Jones from the UFC light heavyweight title equation, it’ll give Cormier the chance to cement his own championship legacy.
There’s also the chance that Cormier’s next title defense could have some interesting storylines. If the aforementioned Rumble is able to defeat Glover Teixeira, there’s the story of Johnson being the man that nearly finished Cormier in their first encounter. If Rumble had been able to land a few more significant strikes, Cormier would’ve likely been on the receiving end of a TKO loss.
The UFC could bump Ryan Bader back into title contention. Bader and Cormier had a verbal spat following Cormier’s win at UFC 187. That’s, of course, if Bader can get past Internet and fan sensation Ilir Latifi.
There’s also another Swede lurking in waiting: the aforementioned Gustafsson. We haven’t seen him since his loss to Cormier, but one would have to believe he’s likely to be thrust into a title shot with a win. Their rematch would sell itself based on the competitive first fight.
With the chance to forge his own path in UFC history without being tethered to anyone else, Cormier will finally have the opportunity to showcase why fans should be backing him. In a world where professional athletes make more headlines from all the wrong they do, it’s easy to overlook Cormier for doing things the right way. He’s never had an issue making weight while with the UFC despite his past troubles with weight cuts as an Olympic athlete. He’s delivered some of the most exciting moments in recent UFC history. Perhaps most importantly, he keeps away from trouble outside the Octagon. No, he’s not the anti-establishment renegade that so many fans cling to. He’s not the loud and obnoxious trash-talker. Cormier is a well-spoken former Olympic athlete that happens to have his head on straight. That sounds like quite the champion to parade to the mainstream media.