LAS VEGAS — Daniel Cormier does sprints before every fight backstage to get his heart rate up. On Saturday night, he was coming back from those when he noticed a conspicuous guest going to ringside: Brock Lesnar.
Cormier felt like Lesnar’s presence at UFC 226 was obvious. Lesnar, he figured, wanted to fight the winner and heavyweight champion next. In other words, either Cormier or incumbent titleholder Stipe Miocic. But it wasn’t something “DC” could really think about at the time — he had a fight to attend to.
Less than an hour later, it was all anyone wanted to talk about, for better or worse.
Cormier, the UFC light heavyweight champion, knocked out Miocic in the first round to win the UFC heavyweight title in the main event of the card at T-Mobile Arena. In his post-fight interview, he called out Lesnar, who entered the Octagon and shoved Cormier hard. A mini scuffle ensued and both men exchanged some trash talk on the microphone.
“I guess Brock Lesnar is here to pick a fight,” Cormier said afterward at the post-fight press conference. “So I called him out. I’ve been knowing him for a long time. I told him I was gonna kick his butt. And I will kick his butt when we fight.”
Lesnar will apparently be Cormier’s first heavyweight title defense, once he re-enters the USADA drug-testing pool (which he is in the process of doing) and gets tested for a little more than six months. The whole scenario in the cage Saturday, though, felt an awful like pro wrestling. Which should come as no surprise, as Lesnar is the WWE Universal champion and a star in that medium before ever coming to the UFC and winning the heavyweight title in 2008. Cormier, too, is a huge pro-wrestling fan going back to when he was a kid.
The criticisms popped up on social media quickly, including from fellow fighters.
What a farce. Diminished the moment significantly. #UFC226— Sean O'Connell (@realOCsports) July 8, 2018
That was the lamest fake confrontation ever..— Brian Camozzi (@BrianCamozzi) July 8, 2018
That was a wrestlemania 2018 promo on steroids! Lol what is going on in MMA today ♂️People night forget that we actually play for keeps on that octagon! Ain’t no scripts for the fights!! #UFC226— Aljamain Sterling (@FunkMaster_UFC) July 8, 2018
WWE ♂️.— JIMI MANUWA (@POSTERBOYJM) July 8, 2018
To those fighters, Cormier had a few words. And they weren’t all too friendly.
“‘Staged, they’re idiots’ — fine,” Cormier said. “Stay broke. You’ve got a guy like Brock Lesnar in front of you and you don’t go crazy on him? Are you crazy? Brock is a pro wrestler, he does fake fighting. So I will do fake fighting with you until I put my fist upside your face. I’ll do fake fighting with you, Brock. And then I’ll punch you upside your head.
“So yeah, yeah. You guys call it fake online. I see a bunch of fighters. ‘Oh, it’s so fake, I don’t want to watch this.’ Tune in and keep lacing my pockets. You’ve guys gotta get on board. These guys get on the microphone after their fights and say, ‘Yeah, it’s whatever the UFC decides.’ OK.”
Cormier, 39, said none of it was scripted and he was very surprised when Lesnar pushed him. He was even more surprised when his boxing coach Rosendo Sanchez got in Lesnar’s face. Lesnar has probably more than a foot on Sanchez.
“When Brock was wrestling in WWE, he was always great to me and my family,” Cormier said. “We’d go to the matches, he’d take pictures with my kids. I guess when you step in the Octagon, your emotions are raised a little bit and Brock pushed me. And then Rosendo pushed him, which was absolutely crazy. Because Rosendo is like 5-foot-nothing. But that’s what my team does for me.”
Cormier did admit to enjoying the exchange with Lesnar as a long-time wrestling fan.
“You know me, I love wrestling,” he said. “I watched some WWE stuff this weekend. I watched WrestleMania back in the day. I love it. I think it’s great. But look, Brock Lesnar is the champion of the WWE. So, when he comes over here, there’s no script. There’s no Vince McMahon saying, ‘Hey DC, easy on the punches.’ There’s no [WWE star] Braun Strowman where if Brock punches him hard on purpose he isn’t gonna respond. The moment Brock Lesnar punches me, I’m gonna get in his ass. And we’re gonna have him running across that Octagon like a lot of other dudes did. So he can be big and bad and tough right now. But once that cage door closes, he’s gonna have to answer for his words. And he’s definitely gonna have to answer for that shove.”
Lesnar was at UFC 226 with his longtime wrestling and MMA coach Marty Morgan. Cormier has known both men for decades from amateur wrestling. “DC” said he first met Lesnar in 1997 and their respective college teams — Cormier at Oklahoma State and Lesnar at Minnesota — met in dual meets. Cormier was 197 pounds and Lesnar was a heavyweight, so they never wrestled each other individually
That is something Cormier said he’d be interested in doing, though. Perhaps, he proposed, in WWE.
“If they wanted me over there, I’d go over there,” Cormier said. “I’d go beat Brock in a wrestling match. Maybe they do us a shoot match. Put us in singlets and see who wins. Then go major decision him or something, maybe pin him.”
With Cormier turning his attention to Lesnar after the fight, he didn’t get a proper post-fight speech. He said if he did, he would have thanked the UFC, his family, team and friends. But a big part of Cormier is glad things happened the way they did — and not just because he probably sold a lot of pay-per-views for a future Lesnar fight.
“So in that sense, Brock Lesnar stopped me from crying in the Octagon again,” Cormier said. “He kind of distracted me from saying all that stuff and that would have made me cry again. I don’t need to be another meme.”