MMA's Heavyweight GOAT? Daniel Cormier Puts His Legacy on the Line at UFC 252

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterAugust 14, 2020

Daniel Cormier
Daniel CormierJohn Locher/Associated Press

Many athletes studiously avoid giving any inkling that they are thinking beyond the task in front of them. That's especially true in a particularly pivotal bout like, say, the one Daniel Cormier's going to fight this Saturday at UFC 252. Not only does he face Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight championship rubber match, he does so in what he insists is the final fight of his storied career.

So, you might not expect Cormier to be looking past this fight, no matter how green the post-retirement pastures. But Cormier isn't your average fighter. He'll look.

And to hear him tell it, he's looking at a little bit of everything, including expanding his already-robust media presence. But he's perfectly open about his desire for some real, actual R&R—and something that can be difficult to come by when the rigors of high-level combat sports are all you've really known as a professional adult. As always, he tells it just the way you'd expect, one of those personalities who is the same in person as on the airwaves.

Cormier (left) and Miocic
Cormier (left) and MiocicJohn Locher/Associated Press

"I'd like to travel," Cormier said in an exclusive interview. "When the world goes back to normal. I've wanted to go golfing more. I played it for a while, and then I kind of got out of it, but lately, I've been reintroduced. Take the family back to Hawaii, maybe Guam. Go to Miami for a few days, then hit up the Bahamas, then Puerto Rico."

Of course, though, there is the small matter of Cormier-Stipe III. Both have worn the gold before and are surefire Hall of Famers. This one takes place for the UFC heavyweight title currently held by Miocic, who won it via a fourth-round knockout of Cormier last August. Cormier himself won it by defeating Miocic in 2018—a win that made Cormier the second fighter ever behind only Conor McGregor to hold two division titles simultaneously. Miocic had reigned for two years at that point, having shocked Fabricio Werdum to win the strap back in 2016.

You get the idea. It goes without saying that there's a lot of space between these guys and everybody else. Some have said this fight will determine the greatest heavyweight ever, but that may be a bit of a stretch with Fedor Emelianenko and others forever towering over that discussion. But at the very least, it could settle the debate on the best heavyweight of this generation. That's no mean feat either, recalling that Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem and many other greats belong to the same era.

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"This is the greatest heavyweight fight of all time," Cormier said. "This is for legacy. We are both fully aware of what's at stake. On Saturday, I'm the one who's destined to wear it again."

To do that, and to put it in admittedly simple terms, he'll need to get past the boxing of Miocic. The body shot was particularly effective for Miocic in their last fight—and that's something Cormier says he's been working on.

"Absolutely, we're going to be more prepared for those shots," Cormier said. "He'll land some anyway because that's the way he wants to fight and that's the way the fight will work, but I'm going to counter and I'm not going to let him land 13 like he did last time."

Cormier (right) after defeating Miocic
Cormier (right) after defeating MiocicJohn Locher/Associated Press

Cormier also has long had the benefit of good coaches, thanks to his longstanding membership at California's vaunted American Kickboxing Academy. But for this camp, he brought in extra help in the form of Mark Henry, who has worked with ex-champ Frankie Edgar among a slew of others.

"We have new things we're going to implement," Cormier said. "I always want to get as much help as I can get. My coaches have taught me so much over the course of my career. Adding Mark Henry allowed me to pick up new things too."

Win or lose Saturday, Cormier has said repeatedly he'll hang up his gloves for the final time. It would be hard to imagine an MMA world without Cormier, except we don't have to. Cormier plans to continue his TV work with the UFC and perhaps even branch out into other sports (basketball and football would be his preferences). He said he might go beyond sports altogether and into things like hosting events or shows.

"I don't know what my career path looks like in terms of the UFC, but I do want to continue to break out as a TV personality," he said. "And for me, that means not just MMA and not just sports."

Cormier also said he wants to spend more time post-retirement with his children and maybe do some coaching to help the next generation along.

"Spend time with my children, with my family," he said. "Help young fighters. You can be remembered for the people who follow behind you."

Cormier remained in a reflective mood when asked to think back over his career highlights and lowlights. For Cormier, the former far outweigh the latter, but there is a big one he wishes he could get back.

Those who know DC's past know about his decorated amateur career in freestyle wrestling, including for Division I Oklahoma State. Cormier made Team USA for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games at 96 kilograms (about 212 pounds), finishing fourth. However, his bid to represent Team USA at the 2008 Summer Games in China was cut excruciatingly short when Cormier's kidneys failed during his weight cut.

When asked for his biggest career regret, Cormier doesn't hesitate.

"I'd want to wrestle in the Olympics in 2008," he said. "I missed it. I'd go back and manage my weight better and have better discipline."

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Fortunately, he has more options on the positive side of the ledger. For his second-most memorable moment, Cormier goes back to May 2012, when he defeated Josh Barnett to win the heavyweight grand prix for the defunct but respected Strikeforce promotion. Cormier credited that tournament—which also contained the likes of Emelianenko, Overeem, Werdum, and others—with introducing him, still relatively new on the MMA scene, to a wider audience.

However, Cormier's top moment is one that's hard to argue with. It was the first time he fought Miocic—the one that won him the UFC heavyweight title to go with the light heavyweight version already over his mantel. A win Saturday over that same opponent could certainly result in a nice bookend.

"The best moment of my career was sitting on top of the Octagon after I became the double champ," Cormier said. "That image of me sitting up there can never be taken away."