Walking away from the sport after UFC 252 with his second heavyweight title win, Cormier said the air around him will be even rarer.
“In MMA, yes, but I think it puts you right alongside the greatest sports athletes of all time,” he told reporters at the pre-fight press conference for UFC 252, which takes place on Saturday at UFC APEX in Las Vegas. “Michael Jordan won with the Bulls when they beat the Jazz. Unfortunately, he came back. I won’t come back.
“Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl in his last season. It would put me in that type of sphere, with some of the greatest athletes that have ever competed across any sport. When I win on Saturday, I will retire that way.”
UFC President Dana White said Cormier would be “neck and neck” with former welterweight and middleweight champ Georges St-Pierre for grateful exits, adding the winner of Saturday’s trilogy could also be considered the heavyweight GOAT.
It’s the heavyweight title that motivates both Cormier and Miocic. With the bulk of his legacy already written, Cormier covets the status symbol of the belt. Miocic, on the other hand, is still in the middle of his career, so the benefits of being champ are the most appealing.
Cormier said his rivalry with light heavyweight Jon Jones likely would never be eclipsed in terms of the impact on his career, but a little extra gold would go a long way toward providing a proper sendoff.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve never held a portion of the UFC championship, and I’ve never touched that belt that Stipe holds over there,” he said. “So for me, it’s about getting the belt, and beating a very good fighter.”
White and Cormier’s team believe the 41-year-old standout could continue on if he wants to. And there are many in the fight game who believe the financial incentives might prove too irresistible to stick with retirement. The competitive ones, Cormier said he can handle.
A glorious win over top-level opponent might convince other athletes to test to “tempt fate.” Cormier keeps things in perspective.
“That’s the problem with most athletes,” he said. “When you do that, you feel like, I’m the best in the world. Most of the guys in my position when they’re talking about being done, they’re down on the prelims somewhere. They’re there for some young guy to beat and elevate their name.
“That’s not me. I’m fighting to be the best in the world. So on Saturday, when I win, I’m the best in the world. But you’ve got to be comfortable walking away as the best in the world, or eventually, you’re going to end up on the prelims for somebody to beat you and build off your name. It’s just the way the game works.”