HOUSTON -- For a matchup that was derided in many corners as an unworthy title fight, the UFC 192 light heavyweight championship fight between Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson sure did overdeliver.
After wild second and third rounds put the outcome in doubt, Cormier dug down deep and held on to the title. Cormier (17-1) won via split decision in the main event of UFC 192 at Toyota Center, wining on scores of 47-48, 48-47, and 49-46.
"I'm just going to be myself," said Cormier. "Thank you Alexander Gustafsson, you made me a better man tonight. I will forever be indebted to you for your performance tonight."
Cormier dominated the opening round, using a giant slam early and smothering Gustafsson for much of the round.
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In the second, though, things took a dramatic turn. Gustafsson stunningly landed a pair of takedowns on the former Olympic wrestler, and went to work on Cormier's damaged right eye. In between, though, Cormier landed uppercut after uppercut.
It was clear the battle was on. In the third, Cormier seemed to be on his way to winning the round, but Gustafsson landed a monster knee in the final minute and swarmed Cormier on the ground. Cormier, however, managed to get to his feet and shake off the cobwebs.
In the championship rounds, both guys noticeably slowed down. Cormier, however, seemed to have more left in the tank. While both fighters landed in close, Cormier scored more often, and Gustafsson likely didn't help his cause with the judges by frequently turning and running from the action to rest whenever things got hairy.
The victory marked the first successful title defense for Cormier, who won the vacant title against Anthony Johnson in May after Jon Jones was stripped of the belt due to his legal trouble.
"I have to sell the fight," Cormier said. "But I expected this tonight, I expected Alexander to be a warrior. I wanted to prove I'm not one dimensional, I can strike with the best of them."
Gustafsson (16-4) has now been the hard-luck loser in a pair of light heavyweight title challenges despite valiant efforts against both Cormier and Jones. Gustafsson was gracious in defeat.
"He proved he's a striker," Gustafsson match. "He's a standup guy, he's a good striker, he's a legit champion."