Since before he even arrived in the UFC, we’ve been spinning intricate yarns about the future of Daniel Cormier.
In a sport as wily and unpredictable as this one, we should probably know better than that by now, but Cormier has always seemed like a special case.
There is no one in the current MMA landscape who better reminds us of watching the ascendance of fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and—yep—Jon Jones than DC.
Before they were champions, we had a feeling about those guys—that special inkling that they would achieve greatness. Cormier has that too, in buckets.
The script we’ve written for the 35-year-old former Olympian reaches the end of its second act on Saturday at UFC 173, where he’ll batter considerable underdog Dan Henderson and assume the mantle as No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title.
You know, unless he doesn’t.
After dispatching Henderson, Cormier will wait to see who emerges from Jon Jones’ late summer rematch with Alexander Gustafsson.
By the end of the year—or maybe Super Bowl weekend—his chance to win MMA’s marquee championship will finally come around.
Unless it doesn’t.
Every tangible factor casts the UFC 173 co-main event as nothing more than the final, perfunctory hurdle between Cormier and top contender status.
However, perhaps the strangest thing about this sport is the way it so often takes a hammer to the surest things. It routinely makes fools of us for pretending we know what happens next.
Henderson is a universally respected MMA legend, but at 43 years old, he’s essentially on his farewell tour, slumping to a 1-3 record during the last 15 months. Two of those losses were admittedly split decisions, but the one victory—over Shogun Rua in March—came after 11 minutes of Henderson looking like he already had one foot in retirement.
Meanwhile, Cormier has jetted to a 14-0 overall record (3-0 in the UFC) more or less unchallenged. His 205-pound debut against replacement opponent Patrick Cummins at UFC 170 told us next to nothing about how he’ll fare at this weight, but only because he stomped Cummins with exactly the ease and effectiveness we expected.
He’s younger than Hendo, more complete and the better athlete. So, why worry?
Because this is the guy. We want to see him challenge Jones for the belt. We know it. We feel it. We crave it.
Yet this is MMA, so there’s still a chance things all go horribly wrong for Cormier this year.
Henderson may be one-dimensional, but he packs hand-grenade power in his punches and retains the cowboy confidence to throw them without conscience or concern for the consequences.
If he catches Cormier slipping in the early going, then the farewell tour we mentioned a moment ago could end with Henderson getting that title shot instead.
In addition to that, this matchup smacks of one Cormier never wanted. He told USA Today (h/t MMA Junkie’s Steven Marrocco) that he’s not looking forward to fighting Henderson, a professional role model of his. He really only took the fight rather than spend 12 months on the shelf waiting for Jones and Gustafsson to finish their business.
I wasn’t exactly happy about it. I would much rather not fight Dan Henderson. He’s a guy that I’ve looked up to for a long time.
Dan is the first guy I can go into the cage with and say this guy’s done everything that I’ve done, and he’s actually done things at a much higher level than I have.
We know Cormier is as mentally tough as they come. He’ll trudge out there and go to battle with one of his heroes, but if you’re looking for a reason to draw this as a dangerous fight for him, maybe you just read it.
Even if everything goes according to plan—his and ours—this weekend, Cormier will still have an excruciatingly long wait before he gets the opportunity to fulfill his promise.
Eight months may as well be an eternity in MMA time, and a couple of major factors still have to fall into place before he would fight for the title.
Namely, the Jones-Gustafsson fight has to go off as scheduled, result in a conclusive finish, and the winner must emerge free of any injury serious enough to cause a delay. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either the standard run of play for MMA or a very tall order considering the current state of things.
On a personal level, we like Cormier. We want the best for him. If you don’t, well, that’s your right as a paying customer, but there’s probably something wrong with you.
On the professional side, he seems like the sort of talent that simply must not be wasted. The analysts in all of us want to see how high he can fly.
A lot of dominoes still have to tumble to make the year we’ve scripted for him in our heads become a reality. For the good of the sport—and the sheer fun of it—we hope it does, though even the best among us are merely guessing at the ending.