The knockout artist from the Blackzilians camp tagged Cormier with a huge right hand at the outset of their UFC 187 main event Saturday night.
But Cormier survived the initial onslaught, then worked his game plan to perfection, as he grinded his way to a victory at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Cormier outwrestled and outstruck Johnson before earning a third-round submission victory to claim the vacant UFC light heavyweight title.
After the bout, Cormier had a message for the former champion, Jon Jones, who was stripped of the title several weeks ago due to his legal issues.
"I have a message for one man, Jon Jones," Cormier (16-1) said. "Get your s--- together, I'm waiting for you."
Cormier left the cage after issuing his challenge.
After shaking off Johnson's big right hand, Cormier controlled the bulk of the first round, using his wrestling to slowly wear Johnson (19-5) down. Johnson, for his part, kept throwing big bombs with bad intent, but never quite connected like he did his first big shot.
Cormier threw a couple body kicks at the outset of the second, but Johnson responded with brutal kicks of his own, so Cormier decided to go back to his bread-and-butter. Cormier worked into top position and went for a Kimura and then a straight armbar. When that didn't work, he landed several big punches, as well as an elbow which opened a big cut over Johnson's right eye.
By the third round, it seemed academic. DC weathered an early flurry, then once again implemented his wrestling game. He got Johnson's back, sunk in a rear-naked choke, and got the tapout at 2:39.
Johnson had a nine-fight win streak snapped, one which saw him rebound from getting cut from the UFC to returning to getting to the doorstep of the title.
"The one thing I want you guys to remember is you should never give up," Johnson said. "I pushed down to the bottom and worked to the top, no matter what gets in your way, keep pushing."
There's no timetable on a rematch between Jones and Cormier, as Jones remains suspended pending the resolution of his legal situation in New Mexico. Jones who held the belt from 2011-15, won their UFC 182 title fight on Jan. 3.