There was a lot of pressure on Daniel Cormier's shoulders going into Saturday night.
The buzz regarding his eventual UFC debut was building solid momentum, but in the pre-fight lead-up to his bout with Dion Staring, the former Olympic wrestler remained tight lipped about his intentions for the next chapter. Rather than talk about what "could happen," Cormier was focused on talking care of what had to happen, and that was handling business with Staring in impressive fashion.
Despite being heavily outmatched in the fight, the Dutch special forces fighter came into the Strikeforce cage looking to give his all, but in the end that effort wasn't anywhere near enough as Cormier pounded out the second round-stoppage victory.
For all the high-drama moments the actual fight lacked, Cormier made up for it tenfold in his post-fight speech. He put an end to the speculation about his UFC path and told Pat Miletich exactly what he intends to do.
"I signed my UFC contract," Cormier said. "April 20, on Fox, Frank Mir let's do it. It was supposed to happen, and we were supposed to fight in Oklahoma, so he owes it to me."
The statement got a rise out of the Oklahoma crowd and sent the media cracking away on their keyboards, but the 33-year-old wasn't quite finished. He made one more declaration before exiting the cage by calling out one of the most dominant champions in the sport, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
"I'm going to let Jon defend his belt in April, and then I'm going to kick his ass in the fall."
Both were bold statements from Cormier, who over the past two years has been on a surge that has carried him from prospect to one of the world's best heavyweights. Now with his time in Strikeforce behind him, the former Oklahoma State wrestling standout is set to face the biggest challenges of his career.
The matchup between Cormier and Mir was originally slated to take place back in November, but the former two-time UFC champion was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Eventually the entire card was scrapped, and Cormier was forced to face an unknown in his final Strikeforce appearance. While the bout between Cormier and Mir has not yet been officially confirmed, all signs are pointing to an eventual showdown in San Jose.
On paper, the bout carries all types of intrigue.
Mir has defeated some of the best heavyweights in the history of the sport, and his submission skills are legendary. When the action hits the canvas, the Las Vegas native isn't the merciful kind. For proof of this, ask former champions Tim Sylvia and Antonio Nogueira how it feels once Mir locks in a hold.
Mir's style is interesting because the ground is exactly where Cormier is going to take the fight. While his striking is coming along with solid progression, wrestling will always be D.C.'s bread and butter. There is no doubt he is going to attempt to dump Mir on his back and look to grab victory where his opponent is the most dangerous.
The key to victory on Cormier's side is not giving up position while he looks to impose his will in the ground-and-pound.
In his fights with Josh Barnett and Staring, Cormier showed a disciplined approach as he set about his game plan. He had plenty of opportunities to go for a submission against Staring, but with that portion of Cormier's game still developing, he chose to keep position the No. 1 priority and continued to score with ground strikes.
Of course, those things won't come easily against a savvy veteran like Mir. The two-time "Submission of the Year" winner has made a career of turning the tables on his opponents when things appeared to be going heavily in their favor.
In bouts against Brock Lesnar and Nogueira, Mir was under fire after being rocked only to latch onto a limb. Once he grabs a tight grip on whatever limb is presented to him, Frank Mir sets about doing what Frank Mir does, and the results often make for gruesome, highlight-reel material.
Should Cormier come in and rag doll Mir the way he did Barnett in the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, the next step of his plan should be delivered on a silver platter.
A Grudge Match With Substance
Cormier may have called out Jones Saturday night in Oklahoma, but the two have been trading barbs for some time. With the talk of Cormier possibly dropping to light heavyweight, the UFC champion has been asked about the potential matchup and has dismissed Cormier as a serious opponent.
With Strikeforce's doors officially closed and Cormier's Octagon debut a reality, the Team Thirsty member is directly on Jones' radar. A scheduled bout against Chael Sonnen will no doubt be the priority for Jones, but you have to think Cormier has at least made it onto the young champion's agenda.
The matchup between Cormier and Jones presents a lot of interesting angles.
Jones uses his range and reach to batter his foe before finally putting him on the mat, but in a bout with a compact fighter like Cormier, Jones' length will be an even bigger advantage. The biggest fear when facing Jones is that he is eventually going to get a hold of you and put you on your back. Once that happens, it is only a matter of time before elbows rain down and end your evening in brutal fashion.
In his professional mixed martial arts career, Cormier has never given up a takedown. Jones may have a solid wrestling pedigree, but he is nowhere near Cormier's level.
Cormier has shown the ability to take the fight to the floor at will. It would be interesting to see how Jones would react to the smothering top game that Cormier brings to the table.
Another angle to pay attention to in this possible throwdown is the weight class. In interviews over the past two years, Jones has stated his intention to move up into the heavyweight division after he is done handling business in his weight class.
That being said, Cormier is issuing a challenge to Jones, and the MMA fighter is going to want the fight on his terms. That means Cormier is going to have to cut the weight and come down into Jones' world.
From everything Cormier has shown in his 11 professional fights, there is no reason to doubt his determination about dropping down to 205 pounds. While a heavyweight tilt against a veteran as dangerous as Mir is exciting, a potential scrap with Jones could be one of the year's best.
Whether or not Cormier presents the biggest threat to the dominant champion's reign remains to seen, but the buzz to make the fight happen will only grow from here.
In the week leading up to his final fight in Strikeforce, Cormier had to keep everything under wraps, but now that he is officially a UFC fighter, he's coming out of the gates with guns blazing.