Daniel Cormier’s victory party took but a moment to really kick off. Instead of dancing to music in the wake of his UFC 226 knockout win over Stipe Miocic, the newly minted two-division UFC champion listened to the sound of a clanging cash register as he invited former heavyweight king Brock Lesnar into the Octagon to challenge him. This isn’t how it’s really supposed to work. The champ is supposed to be the one that has others calling for his head, but Lesnar is forever the UFC’s golden goose, and Cormier didn’t waste a moment in calling next, even though Lesnar never officially un-retired and has several months remaining on his 2016 USADA suspension.
In some ways, a Cormier vs. Lesnar fight is a farce. Since the start of 2012, Lesnar has fought exactly one time, and in that bout, he tested positive for the banned drug clomiphene, which helps stimulate testosterone production. So, in the last six-and-a-half years, he has zero wins and one drug test failure. When that résumé equals a title shot, we’re dealing with an unquestioned level of absurdity.
And yet ...
This is a sport that is so unforgiving on its athletes, there is abundant happiness for Cormier, who earned the most consequential victory of his career, and will be rewarded with what will undoubtedly be the biggest payday of his career when he faces Lesnar in the future.
Cormier deserves the reward.
Lesnar does not.
But this is a sport that needs two ingredients to every dish, and this is Cormier’s best money-making recipe, cynics be damned.
“People are going to criticize us no matter what we do,” UFC president Dana White said in the post-fight press conference. “Brock came in, he popped for that thing but he beat Mark Hunt who is one of the top guys. [Brock] is a former champion and it’s a fight people want to see, and it’s definitely a fight that Cormier wants.”
That he does. It was Cormier who invited the big man into the cage, where they engaged in some impromptu pushing, shoving and trash talk that will no doubt be seen thousands of times in the next few months as the UFC attempts to build a blockbuster show around them. Never mind the fact that the two could barely wipe the smiles from their faces as they tangled, unable to genuinely sell the manufactured beef between them that White later tried to explain.
“They’ve known each other a long time,” he said. “They talk a lot of shit to each other, who would’ve won against the other in wrestling. There is a thing between them. Now they’re going to find out.”
It isn’t really that at all though, not for either one of them. It is just about the money. It’s always been that way for Lesnar, a gun-for-hire that has ping-ponged around the sports and entertainment worlds for the highest bidder, and now it’s that way too for Cormier, who at least admitted it when he explained he would only be taking big-money fights before hanging up his gloves in March 2019.
“Do you want to go to war and make so much less money?” he asked rhetorically. “If I fight Brock Lesnar, I’m getting paid.”
Leave it to Cormier to wallop us with some perfectly solid logic.
Sometimes, we need that reminder that this is prizefighting, that fighters like Cormier and Lesnar would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t demand to fight each other.
We want there to be structure to the matchups, for the athletes to advance on merit. But the human side is one we can’t stop disregarding, and frankly, the athletes’ voices are minimized enough as it is. Cormier has done enough to earn a break-the-bank kind of night, even if he can’t explain how a Lesnar callout can come from the same guy who has trashed Jon Jones for his drug test failure.
“Maybe,” he smiled, “we’re living in my world now, so I dictate the rules.”
Every story can be framed and re-framed, and perhaps this Cormier vs. Lesnar one needs to be viewed as a feel-good story. After a long and storied career in high-pressure combat sports that began when Cormier first represented U.S.A. Wrestling at the age of 15, the perennial hard-luck contender who always seemed to fall short has finally done something no one else has ever done. He has the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight belts at the same time. Jon Jones can’t say that. Brock Lesnar can’t either. For Cormier now, there’s nothing left to do but cash big checks and celebrate.