Daniel Cormier won't be remembered for his losses. He'll be remembered for being great. But for the former dual-division UFC champ who retired Saturday night, defeat is an inextricable part of his success story.
If he follows through on his plan to retire, the 41-year-old Cormier's (22-3-1) MMA fight career ended in bitter disappointment as Stipe Miocic (20-3) retained his heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 252 in Las Vegas. Miocic took a 49-46, 49-46, 48-47 unanimous decision following an entertaining back-and-forth battle. Like their previous bout, this fight, too, was affected by an eye poke, although this time Cormier wasn't on the giving end.
Before we get into the fight, though, one key fact must be acknowledged: This was a bummer. It wasn't the sendoff the MMA community was hoping to see for its star-crossed everyhero.
"It just sucks. Being on the losing end of big fights and trilogies, it's a very sad position to be in," Cormier told broadcaster Joe Rogan after the fight. "But I will deal with it as I have dealt with things in the past ... I'm not interested in fighting for anything but titles, and I don't imagine there's going to be a title in the future, so that'll be it for me. I've had a long run."
Cormier is beloved in and out of the cage for his encyclopedic combat sports knowledge, general exuberance and affable dadness. But his comments show he knows the truth as well as anyone: Big defeats have followed him throughout his sports career. This was just the latest example.
So, UFC 252 was a torrential downpour on the going-away parade. Some air out of the mylar "Good Luck" balloon. A fly in the sheet cake frosting. Something sinister in the punch bowl.
The action was solid throughout and contained several momentum swings. The first round started slowly but picked up down the stretch. Both set up big shots to the heads in the later moments, with Miocic faking to the body and Cormier feinting takedowns. Both men landed significant blows, with a huge right hand from DC providing the exclamation point in the round's closing moments.
Similarly, the second round was likely swayed by late offense, but this time the champ was dishing it out. After a fake to the solar plexus, Miocic went upstairs with a swarm of right hooks that sent Cormier collapsing to the mat. Referee Marc Goddard was on the verge of stopping the action as Miocic mounted the challenger and the final seconds ticked away. But the challenger survived, wobbling back to the stool but still hanging on.
"I need you to get your head back in this game," a DC cornerman told him between rounds.
The third round played out mainly in the clinch, with Miocic in control and DC seeming to go along for the ride. That changed toward the end when Miocic's finger found the deep insides of Cormier's left eye socket. Goddard didn't see it in real time, though Cormier told Rogan afterward that Goddard acknowledged after the fight that he'd missed it.
Cormier told his coaches "I can't see" while on his stool between rounds, and his eye was visibly compromised from then on. He couldn't detect Miocic's right hook, ie the champ's most powerful weapon. That's not ideal. (Miocic's seven-inch reach advantage was definitely evident at this point.) But DC summoned himself and outworked Miocic over the five minutes in the fourth to make the round close. The fifth saw a diminished and exhausted Cormier fade down the stretch as Miocic retained the title going away.
But that eye poke appeared to impact the action.
"I can't see anything out of my left eye," Cormier confirmed afterward to Rogan. "It's black."
Take nothing away from Miocic, who used clinch work and boxing to great effect again. As it stands, Miocic is the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. But he's not a star. He knows that, and so does everyone else. It is what it is. Cormier is a star. And that's why this fight was more about him than the champ.
Cormier also has an all-time great resume. He was only the second UFC fighter after Conor McGregor to simultaneously hold two belts when he did it in 2018. He's a surefire UFC Hall of Famer. He's a two-time Olympic wrestler.
But for Cormier, glory always seemed to come hand in hand with disappointment.
It goes all the way back to college, when during his days wrestling for Oklahoma State he was unfortunate enough to share eligibility years and a weight class with the legendary Cael Sanderson. Sanderson never lost a college match, to Cormier or anyone else, if that gives you a sense of his skill level.
So, Cormier didn't break through like he could have. He made the 2004 Olympic team and came in fourth—a remarkable achievement, but not the one you hope for. That goes double for 2008, when a weight-cutting calamity forced a devastating last-second medical withdrawal. When I spoke with Cormier earlier this week, he didn't hesitate to call 2008 the biggest regret of his career.
Fast forward to his dominant years in the UFC, when he had the double-edged luck of picking a feud with the greatest MMA fighter to ever walk this planet. Cormier lost both of his light-heavyweight title fights with Jon Jones (the second became a no-contest after Jones failed a drug test, but you know what I mean) and essentially was forced to move on after the second loss despite the fact that doing so caused him real, actual pain. Cormier's anguished tears after the second loss were hard to take.
And, of course, for those few who may not be aware, Cormier's personal life has contained so much grief and tragedy that it's difficult to even ponder.
But that's the point. You can't fully fade Cormier because a big part of his appeal is himself. Perhaps people can relate to someone who has met tragedy and found a way to persevere and maybe find new life on the other side. Maybe there's no elegant algorithm guiding the way, and it might get downright ugly at times, but there are solutions, somewhere.
Even with all of Cormier's setbacks and adversity, does anyone think of him as a failure? No. Why? Because Cormier simply won't let you do that. There's a lot of bad in his career, but the good outweighs it, solidly. Defeats make up just one chapter of his book, no matter how many there are or how resounding they seemed.
And that's why his retirement-party misfire isn't really that bad. Cormier's not even actually retiring. He's got big plans for broadcasting, coaching and doing pretty much anything else he wants to do in between family vacations. He'll just get in the cage wearing a shirt from here on out.
Here's guessing this defeat does nothing to dim public opinion of Cormier. That's what's unique about Cormier in today's MMA landscape. It's not about wins and losses for Daniel Cormier. It's about Daniel Cormier.
Despite the tough and sadly familiar end to his fight career Saturday, we won't forget the name any time soon.