No matter what Daniel Cormier, no matter the breadth of the accomplishment, there was one thing hanging over his head.
Finish the fearsome Anthony Johnson twice? Still couldn’t beat Jon Jones. Win a back-and-forth war over Alexander Gustafsson? Jon Jones defeated him, too. Defend the UFC light heavyweight title three times? Jones did it eight.
Over the last three years, Cormier has established himself as one of the greatest mixed martial arts fighters to ever grace the UFC Octagon. But the knock on him as always been that he couldn’t even be the best light heavyweight ever, because he unable to beat Jones in two tries. Critics would say that Cormier was only the 205-pound champion because of Jones’ lengthy absences due to two doping suspensions and legal issues.
In 2018, Cormier finally broke free from the reins that tied him to Jones. “DC” knocked out Stipe MIocic at UFC 226 in July to capture the UFC heavyweight title. Cormier beat Miocic, regarded as one of the best heavyweights ever, with such efficiency — a short right hand out of the clinch — that people wondered what would have been the 39-year-old’s legacy had he just remained at heavyweight throughout his career.
The victory over Miocic put Cormier in rarefied air in MMA. He separated himself from Jones by doing something that Jones has never done — becoming a UFC double champion. Only Conor McGregor has held two UFC titles in different weight classes at the same time. Cormier joined McGregor, Georges St-Pierre, Randy Couture and BJ Penn as the only UFC fighters ever to win titles in two different weight classes.
Jones knocked out Cormier to regain the light heavyweight title at UFC 214 in July 2017 and at the time seemed like some kind of finality in the saga of the two rivals. Cormier cried in the Octagon after the loss while being interviewed by Joe Rogan and the photo became a meme.
But a few weeks later it came out that Jones had failed a drug test — for a second time in relation to a fight with Cormier — and the victory would be overturned by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) to a no contest. The UFC took the belt off Jones and put it back on Cormier. About 11 months later, Cormier was standing in the Octagon at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with not one, but two titles.
“I’m 39 years old, and I’ve been second many times,” Cormier said after beating Miocic. “But today, I have accomplished everything I ever wanted. From crying in this octagon almost a year ago, to leaving as the heavyweight champion.”
In November, Cormier made even more history, becoming the first UFC fighter to ever defend a title while being a double champion. Cormier defeated Derrick Lewis by second-round submission in the main event of UFC 230 in November at Madison Square Garden. That now sets him up for a big payday against Brock Lesnar in early 2019 before his planned retirement in March, though the door might be open for more.
If Cormier does hang up the gloves, he’ll have plenty of opportunities awaiting him. Aside from winning a second UFC title this year, he established himself as an excellent mixed martial arts color commentator on broadcasts. He was already known to be a very good studio analyst, but has become a go-to guy for the UFC alongside primary play-by-play man Jon Anik for pay-per-view events. Cormier figures to be a huge part of the UFC’s broadcast move to ESPN in 2019
In addition to that, Cormier, a huge pro-wrestling fan, is being sought for his commentary ability by WWE. He also alluded to another potential project after UFC 230 that could set up his future financially, though he didn’t go into specifics.
Whatever that bright future might hold for Cormier, his legacy in MMA is set and now it’s no longer completely tied to Jones. Nay sayers will still point to his inability to defeat Jones and complain there won’t be a third fight (which there still might be), but Cormier has branched out on his own journey of excellence in the UFC now that does not run parallel to Jones. In 2018, Cormier firmly established himself as one of the sport’s all-time greats.