Daniel Cormier can't afford to have many more fights like this one. Nobody can. And he was the winner.
Cormier defend the UFC light heavyweight title for the first time in a back-and-forth, five-round slobberknocker over Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 192 on Saturday night in Houston. He was bloodied, bruised and might have broken his foot. But the champion still persevered in a split decision (47-48, 48-47, 49-46) victory.
"I feel pretty beat up," Cormier said in the post-fight press conference. "This is the worst that I've ever been beat. Gustafsson is a stud, man. He's a good fighter."
That's saying a lot since Cormier suffered the only loss of his career to Jon Jones at UFC 182 back in January. Jones certainly beat Cormier up, but that was more like a slow burn. Gustafsson almost ended the fight with a big knee in the third round. Cormier dropped and was nearly finished.
Unlike his fight against Anthony Johnson at UFC 183 in May, Cormier said he couldn't stop Gustafsson from landing a follow-up shot after the big one.
"This guy actually got one off as I was trying to get away," Cormier said. "I kind of fell down."
Cormier (17-1) said he couldn't remember that round, but he tried to channel what his teammates have done in similar situations. He recalls Luke Rockhold gutting out a win over Ronaldo Souza in Strikeforce and Cain Velasquez pushing the pace against Junior dos Santos to regain the UFC heavyweight title. Cormier just "kept punching."
"These are the ones you dream about when you start doing this," he said. "You don't dream about them as you want to be involved. You want to be involved and you want to win them."
Cormier, 36, picked Gustafsson up and tossed him head over heels in the first round. The champion controlled things on the ground for most of the first five minutes. He wasn't able to get the big Swede down after that and didn't even try. Cormier still won against someone who many felt was the better striker.
"I think it allows people to understand that I'm more than just a wrestler," Cormier said. "When I said I could beat Alexander Gustafsson in a standup fight, people laughed at me. They thought, 'No way.' But I believe in what I'm seeing every day. I've never been pushed like I am in the gym."
Overall, Cormier was impressed with Gustafsson. He talked a lot of crap about the man who nearly dethroned Jones in 2013 before the fight. That was just promotion, Cormier said. He respected Gustafsson from the start.
"It is my job to sell these fighters," Cormier said. "I'm now a business partner of the UFC. What I do directly affects my paycheck. I try my best. I just don't want people to be indifferent. You can love me, you can hate me, but just don't be indifferent. Care about it enough to watch. But Alexander earned my respect.
"The truth is that guy beat me up tonight and made me fight at a level that I didn't even know I could go to. And I appreciate him for it."
One of the things Cormier said repeatedly leading up to the bout was that Gustafsson had talked about retirement before and maybe that's what he should do. Cormier didn't mean that, either.
"I don't want him to go anywhere," Cormier said. "This sport needs guys like Alexander Gustafsson that can go out there and lay it all on the line against the best fighters in the world."
Cormier will now go back to his gig as a FOX Sports host and analyst before training for his second title defense at some point in the coming months. He'll need to heal up what could be a broken foot and lick his other wounds. "DC" isn't sure how much longer he'll do this. He's past 35 years old now and has been a competitive athlete in wrestling since he was a child.
"Because of my TV career, I try not to put an end date on this fighting," Cormier said, "because then you start looking forward to the days of wearing expensive suits and eating from the crafts table and weighing 240 pounds instead of being beat up at midnight talking and going to the doctor and getting an X-ray."