Daniel Cormier wasn’t planning on a third fight to close out 2018. And that was understandable, considering that his previous two bouts saw him successfully defend his light heavyweight title against Volkan Oezdemir in January before taking Stipe Miocic’s heavyweight crown in their July SuperFight.
In other words, he earned a vacation.
But a visit to Las Vegas earlier this month got that competitive fire burning again, as he watched his teammate and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov score the biggest win of his career over Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 229. Now Cormier will headline his own event before 2018 closes, as he faces Derrick Lewis at UFC 230 in Madison Square Garden.
“It was such a tremendous environment,” said Cormier of UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena. “Being in that arena was insane and I was like, okay, if I fight again this year, it will never match a Conor McGregor main evented card, but if there’s an opportunity, obviously the Garden card will be electric.”
And if he’s looking to secure his Fighter of the Year award for 2018, a third win could get him past his friend and teammate.
“I get three, and also, I won that second belt, so beating one guy better not take my Fighter of the Year,” Cormier laughs. “If I can get this one done – a light heavyweight title defense, a heavyweight championship and a heavyweight title defense, yeah, Fighter of the Year better cease to exist if I don’t win it.”
Given the year – and career – he’s had, Cormier is going into UFC 230 as a favorite to leave New York City with his belt, and the always candid Louisiana native knows this, saying that he is in there with an “opponent that kind of has one way to win a fight.”
That one way has worked pretty well for the power-punching Lewis, but rest assured that “DC” isn’t going to let that one way become a factor, and it made accepting the fight a no brainer for him.
“When something makes sense, it makes sense,” said Cormier, who will be competing in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” for the first time since he was a 24-year-old battling it out in the 2003 freestyle wrestling world championships.
“I remember wrestling there and just having this level of excitement that I haven’t really felt in many arenas,” he said. “Historical stuff means something to me, and the opportunity to main event Madison Square Garden is one of those things and I had to jump on it.
“I remember walking from the hotel to the arena to compete and being on fire thinking I’m competing at Madison Square Garden,” Cormier said. “It was just tremendous. And it was at a time when I hadn’t experienced New York many times, so everything felt so big and so massive and it was jitters everywhere. It’s just one of those places that really does leave a lasting impression on you.”
After a stellar wrestling career that saw him earn a place on two U.S. Olympic squads, Cormier is now leaving a lasting impression on the world of mixed martial arts as he prepares to walk off into the sunset around the time of his 40th birthday on March 20, 2019. For only the second fighter in UFC history to hold two world titles simultaneously, there’s nothing left to prove, but even he admits that with Brock Lesnar presumably in his future and longtime rival Jon Jones about to make his return later this year, things are a lot more interesting now than they were perhaps six months ago. And hey, future boxing hall of famer Bernard Hopkins told his mom he was retiring by 40 but wound up fighting until 52. Did Cormier leave himself an out when it comes to this retirement?
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“Things are very interesting, but I earned the right to be in this position by having both these titles,” he said. “I’ve put myself in a very unique situation. But the reality is I still want to stay as close to that date as possible. I don’t want to fight much longer. This one fits perfectly because it gives me time to get back in the Octagon before my birthday and get two fights. I’ve always said I wasn’t retiring because I can’t compete; I was retiring because it was something that we talked about as a family, and I still want to stick to that.”
Again, he’s got nothing left to prove, but what will take the place of the competition that drove him and made him a superstar in two sports?
“I think television,” Cormier said. “I started to look at television as a means of trying to replace fighting, because that’s all I can do. All I can do is compete as hard as I can in my day-to-day life. I’ve got some big opportunities coming up once I’m done, and I believe that will more than allow me to be okay. It’s gonna be tough to go completely cold turkey from competition, but I’ll have outlets to do it.”