Since making the decision to drop down a weight class at the end of 2013, Daniel Cormier has been aiming at the light heavyweight throne. And he's wasted no time in establishing himself as a major player in the 205-pound fold.
While his first two showings under the UFC banner came as a heavyweight, the Louisiana native changed courses at the end of 2013—determined to begin this year's campaign in the competitive waters of the 205-pound division. The AKA staple made his divisional debut back at UFC 170 back in February, and two fights and four months later, he's hovering within distance of a title shot in the UFC's "crown jewel" division.
Yet while the former Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner has built solid momentum toward a championship opportunity, an unresolved situation in the realm of title contention served to make him the "odd man out" at the top of the light heavyweight mountain. With champion Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson putting on one of the year's best scraps in 2013 at UFC 165 last September, a potential rematch between the pound-for-pound phenom and "The Mauler" quickly became a highly anticipated affair.
Both would go on to face and defeat another opponent in the interim, but their respective victories in those showings only served to stoke the buzz on their forthcoming rematch. That said, it was during this stretch that Cormier burst onto the scene and, in the process, carved out his place among the elite in the 205-pound division.
Where Jones vs. Gustafsson II had the spotlight and focus, suddenly, Cormier stepping in against the 27-year-old star started to gain traction of its own when the light heavyweight champion went public with his wishes to face the former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout rather than the rangy Swedish striker. Nevertheless, all the "call outs" eventually fell silent, as Jones agreed to face Gustafsson later this year on September 27, with the location yet to be determined.
With the rematch official, the attention turned to Cormier and whether or not he would decide to wait for his title shot to materialize or jump back into the fray to take another fight. It appears the surging contender will travel an entirely different path.
On Wednesday's edition of UFC Tonight, Ariel Helwani reported Cormier would opt for knee surgery to repair a damaged lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in July. According to Helwani, the injury was initially suffered in preparation for his bout with Dan Henderson at UFC 173 back in May, but the undefeated wrestling standout decided to press ahead and step in with the former two-divisional Pride champion anyway. The end result was one of his most impressive showings to date, as he manhandled the MMA legend en route to a third-round submission finish.
The victory over "Hendo" thrust him into the heated mix at 205 pounds, but due to the situation at hand, there was no clear road to the title, and he decided to focus on getting his knee repaired. On that note, Helwani also reported Cormier says he is confident he'll be ready to face the winner of Jones vs. Gustafsson II when the opportunity presents itself.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.