clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fortunes changed for six at UFC 187

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
The narrative on Daniel Cormier's life has been picking himself up from tragedies, such as the death of his father as a young child in a shooting, and of his baby daughter years ago in an auto accident.

His other narrative, in sports, for the past 15 years was that of being a world-class wrestler, and then a top flight MMA fighter, getting ride to the top of the elite level, but not winning the biggest ones on the biggest stage. It's not exactly true, as he won a multitude of big ones during his wrestling career, from the junior college level, to a few major international tournaments, as well as winning the U.S. national freestyle championships six years in a row. But he never won a world championship.

What's most remembered is he placed as high as second in the NCAA tournament, losing to Cael Sanderson, arguably the greatest American collegiate wrestler in history. He placed as high as third in the world championships and was fourth at the 2004 Olympics. Like in college, where he was a contemporary of an all-time great, in MMA, when he moved to light heavyweight, he became a contemporary of Jon Jones.

In an emotion-filled speech after beating Anthony Johnson to become the UFC light heavyweight champion, Cormier said that the frustration of coming close on the biggest of stages is now gone.

"You know, man, I didn't win the Olympics," he said at the post-fight press conference. "I didn't win the NCAA tournament. I didn't win a lot of things. But I won the Strikeforce championship (a heavyweight tournament, he was never the official Strikeforce champion) and I won this championship. This will be the last athletic thing I'll do in my life. When I look at  my resume in MMA, I'm fine now. I won the two biggest organizations in the world's championships."

He didn't bring up the tragedies of his past. But did note it was only a few years ago when he started as a fighter in San Jose, broke, living in a 700-square foot one bedroom apartment in San Jose with his girlfriend, now his fiance, and baby. He noted they were so broke they were living on welfare and didn't even have enough money for gas. He once had to borrow money from his family in Louisiana, who were not well off, and they sent him $575, which got him through until he got a sponsorship check from the Cage Fighter brand.

But there's no running from the elephant not in the room. Jon Jones. There will be no asterisk next to Cormier's name in the UFC record books of champions. But even before he won the fight, there were already the statements that if he won, it was the title in name only. The title is supposed to represent the best person in the world in that division. But the best in the world was suspended and stripped of the title. Cormier's belt does represent the best fighter active in the division right now. It's almost as if he was transported back in time, and won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics when the Russians boycotted. It's a legitimate gold medal, but it's supposed to represent the best in the world. But in both cases, there were questions as to what it really represented.

Cormier said few words in the cage itself after his win, all directed at Jones. The two may be on a collision course, but Cormier has to keep winning and Jones has to get past his legal issues.

But Cormier becoming champion was one of numerous stories that played out in what may have been UFC's best main card for a pay-per-view event dating more than three years, to UFC 139. That was the show with Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua I, an almost certain future Hall of Fame fight, and Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le, on Nov. 19, 2011, in San Jose, Calif.

It wasn't just action, from a potential match of the year with Andrei Arlovski vs. Travis Browne, to one of them most exciting one-round title fights in recent memory with Chris Weidman retaining middleweight gold over Vitor Belfort.
In the five fights, three winners, Cormier, Weidman and Arlovski all came back from devastating knockdowns that looked like the beginning of the end for all three.

And it even beats UFC 139, when it comes to the immediate repercussions of the show. There were six fights that impacted the immediate championship picture, in five weight classes.

Because of that, we have to look at how fortunes changed for six different winners.

DANIEL CORMIER - While the shadow of Jon Jones will never be gone from the light heavyweight division until somebody beats him in the cage, as opposed to him beating himself, the show must go on.

Cormier's next contender looks to be Ryan Bader (19-4). The two were scheduled to face off on June 6 in New Orleans when Cormier was pulled from that show to replace Jones on Saturday's show. Bader felt he was the more viable contender, since he was coming off a win over Phil Davis, while Cormier was coming off a loss to Jones. Barring injury, that's the clear title direction.

They had a confrontation at the press conference, where Bader started yelling at Cormier and walked toward him while UFC officials jumped in, after Cormier insulted him.

After that, there are injured fighters who probably need a win first, most notably Alexander Gustafsson (16-3), and Rashad Evans (19-3-1)., as well as the winner of an Aug. 8 fight with Glover Teixeira (22-4) vs. Ovince Saint Preux (18-6). While none of the fights will have close to the interest level as Jones, Cormier, or whoever ends up as champion, won't be at a loss for opponents.

CHRIS WEIDMAN - While Chael Sonnen was in many ways the focal point for the so-called TRT era, it was Vitor Belfort who was its poster boy. In 2013, Belfort had one of the greatest one-year-runs in history. One look at Belfort at weigh-ins, seeing him go from The Incredible Hulk to Bruce Banner, it told a lot of people something about fairness in sport that deep down many suspected all along.

It wasn't that Belfort lost to Weidman (13-0). It was more the physical transformation that told the story. Weidman put an end to that story in championship competition with a first round win. So that seemed to remove another obstacle in a Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold (14-2) title fight. The dream, as Weidman outright said at the press conference, was for it to be in Madison Square Garden. Rockhold was saying the same thing after he beat Lyoto Machida last month.

We're a few weeks away from the final obstacle, whether legislation passes in New York before the end of the session. If it does, there will be a show in December in Madison Square Garden.

But either way, the fight is happening barring injury. Both men have shown themselves to be strong strikers, and based on each man's last performance, outright killers on the ground.

DONALD CERRONE - Cerrone (28-6, 1 no0contest) won his eighth fight in a row on Saturday with a second-round stoppage of John Makdessi. Only six fighters in UFC history, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Royce Gracie, Weidman and Junior Dos Santos have ever had longer winning streaks.

The win should get him a shot at champion Rafael dos Anjos. Dos Anjos (24-7), is out of action due to a torn MCL, with the latest word that he expected to return around October.

Cerrone has been one of the most active fighters in company history. Since arriving in UFC in 2011, he's fought 18 times, including three times already this year. But rushing back into action is not part of the plan this time around.
"I'll wait for Denver, Colo., can I say that?" Cerrone apparently nearly spilling the beans on the Mile High City getting a major event later this year, that has not been announced officially.

ANDREI ARLOVSKI - Arlovski (24-10, 1 no-contest), appeared to be done as a fighter when he suffered four straight losses, three by brutal knockout, from 2009 to early 2011. Now he's won five in a row, three in the UFC.

For the heavyweight title, it comes down to either Arlovski or Stipe Miocic (13-2), for the winner of Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum for the title on June 13 in Mexico City. That's provided Velasquez retains. If Werdum wins, than Junior Dos Santos (17-3), would appear to have the best chance of getting the next shot.

JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ AND JOHN DODSON - Benavidez (22-4) has been the No. 1 contender for flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson for virtually the entire history of UFC's version of the division. Dodson (18-6), was going to get a title shot until needing knee surgery, and was talked about a getting the next shot after Johnson's win over Kyoji Horiguchi.

It was Dodson's shot to lose. Dodson won a three-round chess match, blamed by Dodson on ring rust and facing an opponent, Zach Makovsky, who he trained with four years. The crowd was booing both men at different times during all three rounds.

Benavidez looked the better of the two on Saturday. But Dodson scored two knockdowns when he fought, and lost a close battle to Johnson two years ago. Benavidez lost twice to Johnson, via split decision in 2012 and via first round knockout in 2013.

Plus, when it was over, Benavidez spoke like he knew he wasn't going to get a shot instead of campaigning for one, which was a huge tactical error.

"Well, I'm a realist," he said. "Logically, it doesn't make sense for me to go for the title right away."

He said he knew he wasn't next, so his goal was to just get three fights in this year.

Dodson, on the other hand, was pushing for the title shot and vowing to knock Johnson out.
There is a dark horse contender as well in Henry Cejudo (8-0), who faces Chico Camus in three weeks in Mexico City. But it still feels like it's a good year early for Cejudo. But when there is no strong contender on the horizon, a testament to both the ability of Johnson and lack of depth in the division, Benavidez felt like he made a lot more sense than Dodson based on each man's performance Saturday.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting