Saturday night, Daniel Cormier has a huge opportunity. Actually, he has several opportunities, all wrapped up in one nationally-televised package.
Cormier makes his UFC debut against Frank Mir, a veteran who has continually been one of the more marketable heavyweights on the UFC's roster. He's well-known to the kind of casual fan that the UFC is targeting with the FOX broadcasts, mostly thanks to a heated feud with Brock Lesnar that led to the largest pay-per-view buyrate in UFC history.
Cormier isn't stepping in the cage with a lower-tier unknown heavyweight; he's being thrown straight into the fire against a long-time top heavyweight, just like the time Lesnar made his UFC debut against Mir.
It's a perfect style fight for Cormier. Mir is a wizard on the ground, but he has trouble with powerful wrestlers, and Cormier's wrestling game is unmatched in MMA. Cormier is also a heavy-handed striker, and I suspect Mir won't be able to hang for very long on the feet, which means he'll resort to takedown attempts at some point.
The problem for Mir?
If Cormier doesn't want to go to the mat, he's not going to go to the mat. He's 100 percent thus far in his career in takedown defense. With that kind of ability to control where the action takes place, it's no wonder that Cormier is a heavy betting favorite despite never having fought in the UFC. Put simply, it's a terrible style fight for Mir, and he's overmatched in nearly every area.
Cormier isn't debuting on a preliminary card on Facebook. He's not getting his first exposure to UFC fans via FX or even the opening fight on a pay-per-view card. No, he's making his debut on FOX network television, in the co-main event of one of the most stacked events (on paper, anyway) that I can remember.
UFC on FOX 7 may be a free card, but make no mistake about it: This is a very big event for the UFC, and it signals to me that the UFC will continue treating the network events like they do their biggest pay-per-view cards.
In short, Cormier will make his UFC debut in front of the largest potential audience available to the promotion from a broadcasting perspective. Even if the show falls on the lower end of the ratings scale for UFC on FOX events, Cormier will still be seen by far more people than he would if he were debuting on a pay-per-view.
Remember that UFC 100—which featured the heavily anticipated rematch between Lesnar and Mir—pulled in 1.65 million buyers. The lowest average audience for any of the FOX events was the 2.4 million viewers that tuned in for UFC on FOX 3, and the last FOX event headlined by Benson Henderson in December scored an average of 5.7 million viewers.
So Cormier has the perfect opponent from a marketing and fighting perspective, and he has the best platform available. And if he beats Mir—and I suspect he'll beat him early and violently—Cormier should use that platform and his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan to issue a public challenge to Jon Jones.
Cormier's no dummy. He realizes that Joe Silva and Sean Shelby love it when fighters make their jobs easier by stating exactly who they want to face in their next fight. Cormier used his interview time after his last Strikeforce fight to ensure that he'd get this fight with Mir, and he got it.
This time around, Cormier should focus his attention on Jones, because there's a good chance he'll get that light heavyweight title fight if he does.
Cormier can make the weight. Yes, I'm fully aware of the weight-cutting snafu that ruined his 2008 Olympics experience and nearly did permanent damage to his body. But that was wholly different; like many in the sport of wrestling, Cormier tried to cut from a gigantic walking weight all the way down to 211 pounds. That's not good for your body, and Cormier's kidneys finally had enough of the drastic weight cutting he'd been doing for years.
Cormier has told me in the past that if he makes the decision to drop to light heavyweight, he'll do it the healthy way.
He'll diet down from his current weight to 218-220 pounds, and then cut the rest of the way from there. That's much healthier and more manageable than simply trying to cut from his current walking weight all the way down to 205, and it won't even be all that difficult; all Cormier would need is a few adjustments to his everyday diet. He'd have to lay off his favorite Cajun foods for awhile, but I dare say the end result would be worth it.
By calling out Jones on national television, Cormier could leapfrog Lyoto Machida and Alexander Gustafsson and the other tightly grouped contenders at the top of the division. History has shown that speaking loudly while also carrying a big stick is the perfect way to get what you want in the UFC; one look at Chael Sonnen facing Jones for the title at UFC 159 and you'll know that I speak the truth.
Gilbert Melendez is getting his long-awaited title opportunity at UFC on FOX. Jordan Mein has a chance to rocket up the welterweight ladder.
But there is no fighter who potentially benefits from UFC on FOX 7 more than Daniel Cormier. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, and I suspect he'll capitalize on it.