mma / Columns

A Lesnar Bout Adds Nothing to Cormier’s Impressive Legacy

November 5, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Daniel Cormier Brock Lesnar

A little more than four months remain until Daniel Cormier’s 40th birthday. That is to say if Cormier sticks to his pledge to retire before that milestone birthday, we will witness, at best, only one more fight from one of the best to ever compete in MMA.

In perhaps his second-to-last fight, Cormier was as dominant as ever in dispatching Derrick Lewis on Saturday. The two-time Olympian had an easy time wrestling Lewis to the mat and was excellent at keeping his powerful foe there. It was a performance that displayed the vast difference in ability of the champion and a solid contender. It reminds one that if instead of challenging himself against Jon Jones at light heavyweight, Cormier had remained a heavyweight for the entirety of his UFC run, there may not be an argument about which fighter is the best heavyweight in MMA history.

The win over Lewis is Cormier’s third title fight victory of the year, all of them stoppages within two rounds. Following his devastating knockout loss to Jon Jones in July of last year, it was improbable, especially given his age, that Cormier would follow up with a historical 2018 run. But then he bounced back against Volkan Oezdemir, achieved undeniable greatness against Stipe Miocic, and routed Lewis. Never before has a fighter at such a late stage in their career locked up Fighter of the Year honors, but Cormier did just that on Saturday.

Now, the attention turns to what could be Cormier’s grand finale.

In his last two post-fight interviews, Cormier has made his intentions clear: he wants to fight Brock Lesnar. For Cormier, it’s difficult to resist the attraction of the combination of a major payday and a relatively safe fight.

Lesnar is one of the biggest draws in UFC history, drawing some of the company’s biggest ever pay-per-view numbers, including two million-plus sellers (UFC 100 and UFC 200). Due to the brevity of his career and two poor performances at the end of his first UFC run, it’s easy to overlook Lesnar’s accomplishments. The reality is that he turned the heavyweight division on its head, ushered in the best period in the history of UFC’s heavyweight division, and was the most impressive specimen the division had ever seen until Cain Velasquez beat the crown off his head.

Two years ago, Lesnar returned for what turned out to be a one-off fight at UFC 200. Although the bout was tainted by Lesnar failing a drug test for clomiphene, an estrogen blocker, his victory over Mark Hunt that night following a four-plus year absence showed he could likely beat most top heavyweights. Whether that’s still true two years later is unclear, but he’s far from a bum.

Yet still, Lesnar can be considered a relatively safe fight for Cormier. The matchup is nightmarish for Lesnar. His game is takedowns, control, and brutal ground and pound. But although he would have a size and strength edge over Cormier, he won’t be able to get Cormier to the ground consistently, and even more surely, he won’t be able to hold him there. Similarly, Cormier won’t have an easy time putting Lesnar on his back, but his aim will be to put his hands on the damage-shy Lesnar. He should have no issues hitting Lesnar, and from that point on the fight swings wildly in Cormier’s favor.

The Lesnar fight is a nice final salute from Cormier. It will be a big fight, it will likely see a good performance from Cormier, and it will earn him a big paycheck to go out on. It will also be a fun fight for Cormier, a pro wrestling fan that will certainly enjoy the promotional build to the fight. However, it’s not a fight that’s going to do anything for Cormier’s legacy.

At the ceremonial weigh-ins for UFC 230 on Friday, Cormier referred to himself as the greatest fighter of all-time. While Cormier is certainly among the greatest fighters of all-time, most aren’t going to place him at their top of their historical rankings. There is only one fight that could push Cormier’s legacy to another level, and that is a third fight against Jon Jones.

Financially, a third fight with Jones is about as meaningful to Cormier as a fight with Lesnar. But Jones is a much taller task than Lesnar, and more importantly, Cormier wants to avoid the perception that he needs Jones to cement his legacy, and therefore isn’t going to look desperate for another fight. Still, if gaining wide acceptance as the greatest of all-time is important to Cormier, fighting Jones is his only option.

In an alternate universe, Cain Velasquez is out of the heavyweight picture and Daniel Cormier never moves down to light heavyweight. Cormier dominates the heavyweight ranks as Jones lords over the light heavyweight division. Cormier vs. Jones becomes the dream superfight.

Instead we live in the remarkable time and place in which Jones and Cormier, the two best fighters above 155-pounds of this era, have already fought twice. Jones won twice, convincingly, but not without controversy.

There is a prevalent idea that Cormier needs Jones and not vice versa, but I don’t agree. Cormier is the bump in the road that Jones rides over, but recklessly leaves bits of his legacy behind. Each time, Cormier has gamely and eagerly gathered those pieces and ran with them. He became the second-longest running light heavyweight champion in UFC history, and a double champion. Jones has never had a clean break from Cormier, notched the feather in his cap, and put him in the rearview mirror. Where Jones failed, Cormier was always there to succeed in his stead.

With Cormier’s career winding down to one final fight, there is no next time. It’s a clean break one way or the other; all or nothing.

Lesnar is the comfortable money fight. Jones is the incredibly difficult money and legacy fight. There are benefits and drawbacks to each option, but I know which one I hope to see.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.