mma / Columns

Major Legacy Implications for Cormier vs. Miocic II

August 12, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Daniel Cormier Stipe Miocic UFC 241

Daniel Cormier’s late-career trajectory just doesn’t make any sense.

It was clear right away that Cormier, despite not stepping foot into a cage until he was 30, would be very good. He had tremendous speed for a heavyweight and a fantastic wrestling pedigree. His physique—short for a heavyweight and with a belly—disguised a level of athleticism rare for a heavyweight. In his first five years of fighting he went 15-0. You could say he took to the sport.

He was a couple of months away from turning 36 when he fought Jon Jones for the first time. It was then and remains in retrospect a titanic clash of two fighters in their prime, making Jones’s comfortable victory all the more impressive. If Cormier were following a normal career trajectory, this would have been about as good as it got. He came into the sport with wear and tear from years of wrestling at the highest level, and was entering an age range were few competed on a championship level. At that time, only three fighters—Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, and Anderson Silva—had won a UFC title fight after turning 36. That’s where Cormier’s greatest accomplishments begin.

He beat Anthony Johnson for the light heavyweight title two months after turning 36, and beat Alexander Gustafsson the same year. At 37, he took out the aforementioned Silva. The following year he took Johnson down again, and before he next birthday he stopped Volkan Oezdemir. In his first fight after turning 39, Cormier knocked Stipe Miocic out to win the heavyweight title, and later defended it against Derrick Lewis.

That’s six UFC title fight wins after turning 36. Only Couture has more with eight.

By no means is Cormier the athlete he was the first time he fought Jones, but he still maintains some key advantages—most of the speed is still there—and added veteran craftiness. Now 40 and returning from back surgery, this begs the question: where does it end for Cormier? The answer might be Saturday night versus Stipe Miocic, win or lose.

There have been a few fighters given the designation of being able to beat everyone but one person. The most notable example before Cormier is probably Rich Franklin, who couldn’t crack Anderson Silva’s code. But Franklin eventually lost to others. Cormier on the other hand has literally beaten everybody he’s ever fought except Jon Jones. He has beaten 21 of 22 opponents, with the 1 being generally regarded as the best fighter of all-time. Said another way, the distance between Cormier and probable universal recognition as the best MMA fighter ever is two fights with Jon Jones.

Fair or not, that distance either remains the same with a win over Miocic on Saturday or lengthens with a loss. This is not to say that Cormier beating Miocic again wouldn’t be a phenomenal achievement that will bolster his resume. But at this stage with perhaps just one or two fights left in his career, the only thing that would get him closer to best-ever status is beating Jones.

If Cormier beats Miocic on Saturday, the major question is not necessarily going to be whether he’ll fight again, but more specifically whether he’ll risk his happy ending to fight Jones again.

The overarching legacy theme is equally relevant to Stipe Miocic. A bit more than 13 months ago, he was the most successful heavyweight champion the UFC ever had. He had three consecutive knockout wins over three major names in heavyweight history, and then he stalled Francis Ngannou’s hype train. That run ended abruptly at Cormier’s hand.

That win over Miocic last year raised Cormier’s stock, and in a strange way makes this fight even more meaningful for Miocic than the last one. Beating Daniel Cormier the defending heavyweight champion carries more weight than beating Daniel Cormier the light heavyweight champion moving back up to heavyweight. Cormier has proven himself more, which means Miocic has more to gain on Saturday than he stood to gain on July 7, 2018. With a win he gets not only the title, but the prestige of topping Cormier.

The first bout between Miocic and Cormier was very well contested. Miocic looked good early, but he failed to use his height and reach advantages to keep Cormier on the outside. Midway through the round Cormier’s speed started showing and he landed combinations. It was a well-timed, well-placed punch exiting the clinch that ended things last time.

Miocic has not fought since losing to Cormier. He is no young man himself, just a week from turning 37. It’s a real possibility he may have lost a step since we last saw him. The same could be said for Cormier. He hasn’t competed since last November due to injury, and he is trying to be only the second fighter to win a UFC title fight after turning 40.

Due to that inactivity and the age of the competitors, a lot of unclear heading into Saturday’s rematch. The only thing clear is the fight has significant implications for the legacies of both fighters.

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.