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The Great Divide: If Daniel Cormier wins at UFC 230, which fight is bigger for him — Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones?

Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones: Which would make a better opponent for Daniel Cormier’s retirement fight?
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Great Divide is a new reoccurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which writers debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments section below.

In past editions Chuck Mindenhall and Shaun Al-Shatti debated UFC 230’s main event and Tyron Woodley’s UFC 228 dilemma. This week, the two look ahead to New York and wonder what should happen if Daniel Cormier is victorious: With his career winding down, should the Double Champ ride off into the sunset with a money fight against Brock Lesnar, or should he take one last crack at the man who will forever be his rival, Jon Jones?


Mindenhall: Taking anything for granted in a completely unstable sport like MMA is akin to kicking yourself in the groin — it’s painful and foolish. But since 39-year-old heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier got booked into life preserver title defense against Derrick Lewis to save UFC 230 thus ruining everything we thought might be in store for Cormier, I feel we have no choice; it’s to the balls the old boot must go.

Before we get to such unpleasantness, though, let me start by saying that this is a dangerous way for the UFC to go about business. Lewis is a heavy-thumper who can knock any man on the face of the earth out with his right hand. That’s a proven fact. He did it again in Hail Mary fashion late at UFC 229 against Alexander Volkov, and he’s kind of always doing it against everybody. Dude makes people’s chins spin around their faces the way Daffy Duck’s bill used to upon being shot.

He is a live dog.

But Cormier beats everybody not named Jon Jones, and Lewis isn’t named Jon Jones. Cormier wins this fight because he’s smart and he knows how to identify and nullify trouble areas. We’ve seen him do it a million times. So what happens when he blasts through Lewis? Should his next (and possibly last) fight be against Jones, who has beat him twice, the second time so bad that little asterisks circled around his head? Or should it be against Lesnar, who is just one big asterisk?

I say Lesnar for a couple of reasons, some of them less rational than others. For one, we have never seen a Daniel Cormier versus Brock Lesnar fight. The idea of it is completely novel, and it’s a paradoxical square off featuring a kind of reverse David versus Goliath situation — you know, where colossus is David! Nobody expects the Sworded Thorax to beat Cormier, but then again he is a massive individual who charges at human shapes like he’s one of the bulls at Pamplona. Anybody tuning in who doesn’t follow the sport all that much will think that a behemoth is attacking a dad. This is a desirable setup.

As an extension to this setup, Cormier is going to end up working with the WWE at some point in the near future, and a Lesnar squabble in MMA carries over to the pages of those scripts. Wouldn’t it be better to see a literal fight first?

These are just a couple of selfish angles, but the main this is this: Cormier just had his light heavyweight title stripped so that Alexander Gustafsson and Jones could be booked at UFC 232 with a title on the line. The idea is to get things moving in simple ways again. Assuming Jones wins — and again, assumptions makes voices go high — Cormier would then be asked to venture back to light heavyweight as challenger in a division he has no intention of sticking around in. In fact, in a division that he would throw further into disarray if he were to win.

If Jones came up to heavyweight to challenge Cormier, that means he temporarily leaves the division he keeps winning titles in — and getting stripped in — which is a fairly futureless way to be.

And in either case, no matter how personal the Jones-Cormier rivalry has gotten over the years, to see the competitive aspect of a third fight would require either extraordinary romanticism on the part of DC fans or some serious imagination on behalf of the rest of the fight game public. Jones won the first fight at UFC 181 pretty convincingly and knocked Cormier out the second time. I realize the second fight was converted to a “no contest” after Jones popped hot, but the images remain. Watching Jones do that same thing a third time feels gratuitous, if not unnecessary.

Besides, judging from recent comments he’s made, Cormier himself doesn’t seem all that interested in the trilogy with Jones. I’m not sure I believe him, but if that’s even remotely true why would a third fight become compelling to a fight fan? The fight would hinge on vindication and justice. Without those things it loses something.

No, it should be Lesnar. He’s a mood fighter that turns bright pink when he’s angry. Cormier is mostly toying with the big galoot right now, just trying to stir the giant into bumbling after him so that he might stick an ornery foot out and make him fall. If they go at it, there will be plenty of ridiculousness to it. There will be fresh appeal. There will be the sound of harpsichords as Cormier finishes up one of the greatest careers in MMA, against a guy who so many people love to hate. It would be fun.

But notice the hypothetical there, “it would be…” That is, if Cormier gets by Lewis in New York, and Lesnar doesn’t foul-up the USADA pool, and all the pieces come together just right. The truth is, if Cormier doesn’t fight Lesnar and cash in while he can, he’ll kick himself later. (Not unlike me kicking myself now just for suggesting it.)


Al-Shatti: To start, I must echo the sentiments here of The Man In The Hat. It would be absurd and borderline irresponsible to overlook Derrick Lewis’ chances at UFC 230. “The Black Beast” could be staring down the barrel of a 50-41 scorecard in the final seconds of the fifth round and still pull off a Hail Mary knockout with the C4 he packs in his hands. How many times have we already seen this from him? The fight gods are nothing if not mercurial, and in no other matchup of 2018 does the old puncher’s chance cliché mean as much as it does for UFC 230’s main event.

But for the sake of fun and discussion, let’s lay out a timeline where the odds are prophetic and Cormier does what he always does to any man not named Jon Jones and defends his UFC heavyweight title with a rout at Madison Square Garden. With his 40th birthday looming in March 2019, along with the self-imposed retirement date that accompanies it, that likely leaves Cormier with just enough time to squeeze out one last money-making endeavor inside the cage. We’ve long thought that opportunity would be handed to the muscle-bound embodiment of American capitalism, Brock Lesnar, but in light of recent developments, I propose an alternative route.

One with a much deeper significance to the fight game, one with far more historical stakes, and one with relatively equal levels of lucrativeness, which matters given that money is the entire reason Lesnar is even in the conversation in the first place.

I propose Cormier vs. Jones 3.

Now before you jump all over me with gripes about Jones’ dominance in the series (dominance that is accompanied by a big, bold asterisk) or Cormier owing nothing to the man who’s continually and exasperatingly screwed him over, let me explain the main ground rule for what I’m thinking: The trilogy fight must be at heavyweight.

This is the most important wrinkle. No ifs, ands, or buts — it’s a requirement. Cormier is a natural heavyweight who never should’ve whittled his bourbon-barrel body down to 205 pounds in the first place, and likely never would’ve had his good friend Cain Velasquez decided to travel down an alternative career path. At age 39, with a lifetime of combat sports achievement behind him, Cormier deserves to ride off into the sunset fighting in a weight class that allows him to compete at his full strength and full potential.

I also must note that I’ve never been one to fetishize the spectacle of Brock Lesnar standing inside an MMA cage. Even in an era where words like “fairness” and “deserve” have long become farcical, there’s no justification on Earth to gift-wrap a title shot for a man who hasn’t won a fight since LeBron James filmed “The Decision,” and who flaunted his obvious cheating ways with such impunity during his UFC 200 cash grab that it’s a wonder he bothered to take his drug tests at all. Lesnar may as well have peed on the inspector trying to collect his radioactive urine. Remind me again why a man like that is being rewarded with an opportunity that others have worked their entire lives to attain?

Because people would watch?

That’s fair, I guess. At least fair in the sense that anything is fair in today’s version of MMA. Money is the name of the game, after all, and Cormier deserves a monster paycheck on his way out. But it’s not as if Cormier-Jones 3 is Shevchenko-Eubanks. How long have we wondered and asked questions about Jones’ viability at the sport’s heaviest weight class? I guarantee you Cormier-Jones 3 with the added wrinkle of the extra poundage would sell nearly as well, if not just as well, as the freak show of the Sworded Thorax’s grand return. Seeing the fight take place in Cormier’s divisional domain, rather than Jones’, would be a genuinely new and intriguing storyline that could marketed with ease.

Most of all, though, the trilogy fight would simply provide a much-needed level of finality to the only non-McGregor rivalry that has defined our present era of mixed martial arts. The Cormier vs. Jones legacy is curious in that it is omnipresent but unsettled, hovering as both everything and nothing all at once — a historic game of one-upmanship between two of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, but a rivalry still riddled with cloudiness and confusion and questions that will forever go unanswered unless we run this sucker back without the asterisks of USADA casting doubt over everything our eyes witnessed.

It would be the ultimate roll of the dice for “DC”. The ultimate all-in from a man on an all-time Las Vegas heater. Hitting on a 16 and hoping to God to catch that last 5.

If Cormier turned down the guaranteed Brock Lesnar gravy train and instead risked it all for the chance to gallop off into the sunset having avenged his greatest defeat, having rewritten the story of his already brilliant Hall of Fame career, having proven with his final chapter that he was the better man all along, and that had he not made the concession to meet Jones at light heavyweight in a diminished state, he may very well have gone down as the greatest fighter to ever live, what a sight that would be.

An unsuccessful night and Cormier is forever cast as the tragic No. 2; but a successful night, and the Double Champ is forever sealed as an all-time icon of the fisticuff arts.

In a game where stakes are often the ultimate trump card, doesn’t that sound more fun than watching Brock Lesnar lose another predictable and fairly lopsided fight?


What do you think, which fight is bigger and better?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Cormier vs. Lesnar
    (985 votes)
  • 63%
    Cormier vs. Jones 3 at heavyweight
    (1713 votes)
2698 votes total Vote Now

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