Heading into Cormier’s heavyweight championship trilogy bout with rival Stipe Miocic at UFC 252, the assumption was that Cormier, who in March turned 41, would compete for the last time. After losing a unanimous decision to Miocic, Cormier said in his post-fight interview that he’s only interested in competing for world titles, and without another championship opportunity on the horizon, “That’ll be it for me.”
Cormier’s MMA accomplishments include holding both the UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight titles, as well as winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament in 2012. White reflected on Cormier’s 11 years in the sport while answering questions from the media following the conclusion of UFC 252.
“The funny thing about Cormier is that he’s one of those guys that doesn’t look like he could be the light heavyweight and heavyweight champion, but man, that guy is tough, gritty, he’s got a really good fight IQ,” White said. “He’s tough, he’s a tough guy. He stood in there-Look how much bigger Stipe was than him tonight, and he stood in there toe-to-toe and banged it out with Stipe. This time, the second time, and the first time they fought.
“When I really realized how good Cormier was and that he was real was when he was in Strikeforce. It’s hilarious because I don’t watch any of the competitors’ stuff, I usually never watch the stuff unless it’s a fight that I’m interested in. But I ended up watching that.
“I remember where I was and what I did the night that I watched that fight. It was the Josh Barnett fight. The way that he beat Josh Barnett [in the heavyweight grand prix final] and the way that he beat Josh Barnett and what he did to Josh Barnett is when I said, ‘God damn, this guy is really, really good.’ That was when I first noticed Daniel Cormier and thought that he was real.”
Saturday’s main event was closely contested, with Cormier staggering Miocic with a punch at the end of round one and Miocic returning the favor at the end of round two. The last three rounds were more grueling, with heated striking exchanges mixed in with lengthy stretches of exhausting clinch work against the cage.
Though Cormier’s left eye was swollen shut by the end of the fight, White chose not to dwell on the eye pokes that both fighters suffered (White believes that Cormier’s eye was injured by a legal strike before the poke happened) and instead on how competitive the historic bout was.
“It was an awesome fight,” White said. “I had it 2-2 going into the last round, and it was the fight I think everybody thought it was gonna be. It was exciting. How tough are both of those guys? Both guys got poked in the eye. Both guys got rocked. They fought their hearts out. It was an incredible heavyweight championship. People were texting me saying that they were in bars and the bars were packed and going crazy.
“My son, who’s going to [University of San Diego], has a place down there on the beach and he said people were lined up on the boardwalk looking in his window watching the fight. It was one of those heavyweight championship fights that felt big and everyone was watching, it was fun.”
Earlier this week, White said he wasn’t entirely convinced that Cormier would stick with his plan to retire on Saturday, win or lose. He reacted in amusement when told of the possibility that Cormier could come back for a title fight, but otherwise he declined to comment on what Cormier’s plans might be.
White didn’t have the chance to speak to Cormier after the main event due to Cormier being taken to the hospital, but he had nothing but praise for “DC” and his seven-year relationship with the UFC.
“The best,” White said. “The guy’s been the best to work with. He’s easy, he wanted to fight everybody. He’s willing to do anything. He’s a great guy, he’s a great ambassador to the sport and it’s been fun.
“I think my saying he won’t retire is me kind of hoping he doesn’t retire. Whatever he wants to do, I’m happy for him. If he wants to fight, I’m happy for him. If he wants to retire, I’m really happy for him too.”