Is UFC 241 the Final Act in Daniel Cormier's Storied MMA Career?

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterAugust 15, 2019

Daniel Cormier reacts after defeating Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 226, Saturday, July 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Daniel Cormier was going to walk away when he turned 40. That was the plan. Had been for a long while. He would fight one last time, right before the big 4-0 landed in March, and then he would hang 'em up. Done. The game's busiest fighter would go home, breathe a huge sigh of contentment and spend more time with his family.

But when March rolled around, well...the timeline Cormier had crafted in his head? It was all out of whack. The uncertainty started back in November when the UFC needed a main event for UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden. They called and said they wanted D.C. to fight Derrick Lewis on short notice; he was healthy and didn't see Lewis as much of a threat, so he took the fight and mopped the floor with Lewis.

The fight Cormier wanted, the one he really wanted, was against the gargantuan former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, now plying his trade as "Buuurrrrrrroccccck Lessssnar!" on WWE television 30 times a year. Cormier thought he had to fight Lesnar, because after D.C. beat Stipe Miocic in July 2018, Lesnar came in the ring and went face-to-face with him. 

The UFC rarely does in-cage confrontations unless there's a guaranteed fight they want to start promoting. They didn't even have a deal signed with Lesnar. They let him in the cage to hype a fight they hoped would become a reality. You can see how much Cormier wanted that fight just by his expression when he sees Lesnar. It's a look of pure glee. Not because he had the chance to hurt or embarrass Lesnar; the two men had been friends going back years. It was the look of a pro wrestling fan who was about to promote a fight with the sport's biggest draw; it was the look of a man who knew he was about to make more money than he ever had.

But Lesnar had no intention of returning to the Octagon. He was dangling the idea of leaving WWE for UFC to get a better contract out of Vince McMahon. Again. While Cormier was waiting for Lesnar to make the decision he'd already privately made, D.C. opted to undergo back surgery.

Amidst the waiting and the recovery, he turned 40 years old, and not with the big finale he'd hoped for in the Octagon.

While he recovered from surgery, Cormier thought about just how much he wanted to make the walk to the Octagon again, and how much he wanted the chance to go through a full training camp one more time. He didn't get to do that for the Lewis fight, and he wanted to. He thought about how good he felt after the surgery; he knew he could still go. And still, those things didn't confirm his decision to extend his timeline. They played a part, sure, but they alone weren't enough to get him back in the game. They weren't the clinchers.

Stipe Miocic was. 

Cormier had already beat Miocic. In July 2018, he knocked the then-heavyweight champion of the world out cold in one round, ending Miocic's record run of UFC heavyweight title defenses. It felt definitive on that night, but not to Cormier. Fans still viewed Miocic as the greatest heavyweight of all time. Cormier wanted to be remembered as the GOAT—the best fighter to ever enter the cage—and knew he'd never hold that mantle without beating Miocic again. He wanted to leave no doubt as to who was the true king of the heavyweights.

"Stipe is a guy that many people consider the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time. But once I beat him twice, that title should belong to me," Cormier says. "I always talk about legacy and being the greatest fighter of all time. But how can you be the greatest if you're not even the greatest in your own division?" 

The thinking seems to be that, if Cormier beats Miocic again—and he is the favorite to do so on Saturday night, per Caesars—he'll seek out one more fight with Jon Jones before he walks away. People assume Cormier has an innate need to fight Jones again, that he needs to finally beat Jones to prove himself.

This used to be the case. Not anymore.

"Everything I did was with the idea that I had to go beat him," Cormier says. "And then I won the light heavyweight title and defended it three times. I won the heavyweight title and defended it twice. I became a two-division champion. I've solidified my legacy outside of Jon. It has nothing to do with him. The crazy thing is our rivalry has been so big that everything is tied to it. But imagine if we never fought. Not even once. Nobody would ever ask me if I needed to fight someone else to cement my legacy, because of all the things I've accomplished elsewhere.

"So no, I don't need to fight Jones again," he says. "That would be doing him a favor."

Cormier vs. Jones III is unlikely to happen, according to the UFC heavyweight champion.
Cormier vs. Jones III is unlikely to happen, according to the UFC heavyweight champion.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If Saturday night is it for Cormier, if it's the last time he walks to the Octagon as a competitor, he'll be OK with it. He wants to spend more time at home with his wife and kids. He'll continue to do broadcasting for UFC events, lead his kids' wrestling school at the American Kickboxing Academy and coach wrestling at Gilroy High School. He has no intention of following Ronda Rousey or Cain Velasquez to in-ring pro wrestling work. He knows just how hard it is for a young man to enter that world; imagine how it would feel for a 40-year-old?

"It's just not easy, man. Don't be crazy and think that because you're doing professional wrestling, you're not getting beat up," Cormier says. "You're getting beat up, man. Professional wrestling has always interested me, but the reality is it's more time-consuming than anything I do in my life right now. And I couldn't possibly be able to do that."

A more likely scenario is expanding his broadcast career to cover pro wrestling. He met Paul "Triple H" Levesque on the ESPY's red carpet recently, and they talked about doing something together when the time is right. Sources with WWE confirmed the company's heavy interest in using Cormier in a broadcasting role, and there is no doubt Cormier himself is interested. 

But only when the time is right. And if Saturday night is it, Cormier is satisfied.

"I'm content with everything that I've done over the course of my career and if this is it, then I'd be OK with it," he says. "If I was to be done right now, like this week, next weekend, I'll be fine with it. Because I get to make this walk one more time."