Seventeen months have passed since the last time Daniel Cormier defended his UFC light heavyweight title. That’s a long time for a champion who, at age 38, was already far closer to the end of his fighting career than the beginning. Throw in the fact that Cormier was forced to overcome two injuries during that span, and suddenly it’s worth wondering whether the Cormier who will show up in Buffalo for UFC 210 is a lesser version of the man who defeated Anthony Johnson the first time around back in 2015.
But Cormier isn’t buying it.
"I have no idea what people are talking about," Cormier said Thursday on UFC 210’s media conference call when asked if he may have lost a step. "I fought Anderson Silva on two days’ notice (at UFC 200) and I beat a guy who people consider the greatest fighter of all-time, 30-26 across the board. There was no danger in that fight. That was the easiest fight of my entire career. I don’t know how I lost a step. If anything, I feel like I’m still able to get these takedowns whenever I choose to."
Cormier squares off against Johnson in a title rematch on April 8 at UFC 210, running things back nearly two years after "DC" scored a third-round submission over Johnson to capture the vacant UFC light heavyweight strap. Cormier accepted that 2015 fight on short notice as a replacement for then-champion Jon Jones, who was stripped of his belt and suspended due to a hit-and-run accident that left a pregnant victim with a broken arm.
The condensed timetable ultimately didn’t matter for Cormier, as he persevered through an early knockdown to submit "Rumble." And considering that he has a full camp this time around for UFC 210, Cormier expects an even better outcome in the rematch.
"I feel like I’m a better fighter today than I was the first time," Cormier said. "You know the first time we fought, I fought him on three-and-a-half weeks’ notice. I had a three-week training camp. I had a three-week training camp and still outworked him. I know I was a different opponent than his previous guy, but he still had a full training camp. I had three-and-a-half weeks to get prepared for a championship fight and still found a way to outwork him. What’s going to happen now that I’ve been training for him for 12 weeks? It’s going to be worse than the first one."
While Cormier may be confident in his chances, the betting odds reflect a much closer match-up than the champ lets on. Despite the result of their first fight, oddsmakers ahead of UFC 210 have deemed Cormier-Johnson 2 a dead heat. But Cormier isn’t sure what people are seeing.
"I don’t know, but I’ve said time and time again, I cannot dictate people’s feelings," Cormier said. "The fact that the odds say we’re even, I actually have no idea how anyone could think that we’re even. He had a moment. He had a moment in the first fight. Outside of that moment, I pretty much just beat him up. So I don’t understand what makes anyone believe that Anthony and I are close, but next Saturday I just get to show him again, and just beat on him again like I did last time."
A second decisive win over Johnson would be a worthy addition to Cormier’s résumé — a résumé that already includes an undefeated heavyweight run and a slew of quality wins over big-name opponents. But ultimately, as his career winds down, Cormier knows that his standing among the greats of the sport will depend largely on his ability to avenge his only career loss and defeat Jones.
"I think beating ‘Rumble’ again, it’ll help. But ultimately, it will come down to my rivalry with Jones," Cormier said. "Anthony has done a tremendous job as he’s come up in weight classes, but we’re talking about a rivalry with a guy who many consider the greatest fighter of all-time. So a win over a guy like Jon Jones is what’s going to really probably be the one thing that solidifies where I’m trying to sit whenever I retire from this sport.
"At the end of the day, I do have a tough challenge on my hands next week. Beating Anthony again, it’ll just be closing the chapter. People really do believe in him, and they really do love the knockout, so he gets reputation for being ‘the scariest guy.’ So beating someone like that twice really should cement who I am and everything else I’ve done. But ultimately, I think it will depend on the rivalry with Jones."