Daniel Cormier will at least compete once as the UFC’s double champ when he defends his heavyweight title against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230, but even if Cormier is victorious on Nov. 3 at Madison Square Garden, the end of his two-division reign in the promotion is nigh.
“DC” is expected to be stripped of his 205-pound belt on Dec. 29 when two of his former foes, Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, square off for the light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 232. Doing so will end a 1,316-day reign as champion for Cormier, the longest current reign of any champion in the UFC today. And although Cormier is understandably unhappy with the UFC’s decision, he also understands the position the promotion is coming from.
“It sucks,” Cormier recently admitted on The MMA Hour. “It sucks, because I defended the belt in January. I do understand the promotion having to move forward. I’m not so stuck in myself that I believe that, ‘Hey, they could never — they would just wait for me as long as I needed them to wait.’ I understand, but it does suck. It does suck, but it is what it is at this point. I’m not going to change it, so it’s like, what’s the point in wasting the energy on complaining? So I’m like, you know what, I’m just going to go and do this thing and go into November 3rd as the double champion and compete, hopefully defend my title, and then I’ll be the heavyweight champ of the world and move forward to the Brock Lesnar fight.”
Cormier, 39, has promised to retire in March 2019 following his 40th birthday, leaving him just enough time to squeeze in one more fight against Lesnar after UFC 230. Though the stripping of his light heavyweight title seems imminent, Cormier told MMA Fighting that plans could change if he loses to Lewis at UFC 230. Without a heavyweight title to hold on to, Cormier said he would be open to dropping back down to 205 pounds and defending his light heavyweight strap if things go awry at Madison Square Garden.
In the interim, though, Cormier’s potential departure from the 205-pound division leaves the light heavyweight title picture wide open for Jones and Gustafsson. The two contenders are familiar with one another, having fought once before in a legendary clash at UFC 165, with Jones edging Gustafsson in a come-from-behind decision win that remains the most difficult fight of Jones’ life.
Their roads since have been quite different. Jones defended his UFC light heavyweight title two more times after beating the Swede before his career fell into shambles as the result of a hit-and-run accident followed by multiple drug-testing failures. Gustafsson, on the other hand, has only competed five times over the five years since UFC 165 due to injuries and a variety of outside circumstances, racking up a middling record of 3-2 in those contests. Strangely enough, Gustafsson has been so inactive that Jones has competed more recently than him despite the American’s pair of drug-related suspensions.
Cormier, of course, has fought both men. He is 0-1 with one no contest against Jones, and is 1-0 with a narrow decision win over Gustafsson. And when it comes down to it, “DC” believes history will repeat itself when his two former foes collide once more at UFC 232.
“I think Jones wins the fight,” Cormier said. “I’ve never once shied away from the fact that he’s a fantastic fighter. He’s a really talented guy. And it seems, I mean, obviously he can go with me and keep up with me, so he obviously has been putting in a lot of hard work, so he must be a hard worker in that sense. And I know that Alex, for as good as he is, too, because he’s a good fighter, the only thing with Alex is he’s struggled in those big moments and this is a really, really big moment, and he’s going to have to fight to his level or above his level to try and win. The major issue is that Jones … he fought, I think, maybe more recently than Gustafsson did. That’s a crazy factor.”
Cormier explained that he doesn’t believe ring rust will be a factor for Jones. He pointed out that Jones was coming off another long layoff — more than 14 months — when the two rematched at UFC 214, and Jones of course ended up winning that fight via third-round knockout until the contest was overturned due to another PED failure.
“He’s a very smart guy,” Cormier said of Jones. “He works and he makes adjustments very well in there, and obviously it showed with him landing that kick. And it wasn’t even the kick. I mean, the kick hurt, it really put me on beat street, but it wasn’t even the kick. It was the finishing sequence. He’s one of those guys that, when he gets an opponent hurt, he has a really, really good ability to go find the finish.”