Why Daniel Cormier is an all-time top-five fighter ... even with the Jon Jones losses

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

The story of Daniel Cormier is not a complicated one. The UFC light heavyweight champion is, unquestionably, one of the five greatest fighters in the sport’s history.

He’s faced elite competition at both heavyweight and light heavyweight and has repeatedly come out on top.

But – and with Cormier, the but will dog him until the end of his career – his story cannot be written without acknowledging Jon Jones.

Cormier has come up short on back-to-back occasions against the sport’s one-time king. Jones dominated the then-undefeated Cormier at UFC 182 on Jan. 3, 2015, winning a one-sided unanimous decision.

Jones was stripped of his belt shortly after that fight and Cormier defeated Anthony Johnson at UFC 187 on May 23, 2015, to once again become the light heavyweight champion. And then, after choking out Johnson in the second round of a rematch at UFC 210 on April 8 in Buffalo, New York, Cormier faced Jones once again.

And Jones took advantage of an acknowledged weakness by knocking out Cormier with a kick to the head at UFC 214 on July 29, 2017. That should have been the end of it, but with Jones, it seems there is always another twist. Jones failed his post-fight drug test, was stripped of the belt again and the result was changed to a no contest.

Daniel Cormier (L) hasn’t been able to beat his nemesis, Jon Jones, in their two fights against one another. (Getty)
Daniel Cormier (L) hasn’t been able to beat his nemesis, Jon Jones, in their two fights against one another. (Getty)

So, Cormier is once again the light heavyweight champion with a record of 0-2 against Jones and 19-0 against everyone else as he prepares to face Volkan Oezdemir on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 220 in Boston.

Oezdemir earned the shot against Cormier with a fantastic 2017 in which he went 3-0 with a decision against Ovince Saint Preux in February and then first-round knockouts of Misha Cirkunov in just 28 seconds in May and Jimi Manuwa in 42 seconds in July.

He’s given every indication he’ll be as big a threat to Cormier as Johnson was, yet as much of the pre-fight discussion with Cormier is about Jones as it is about Oezdemir.

And while Cormier would prefer to never have to deal with Jones again, he gets the fact that he’ll never receive credit for his greatness – anyone with lopsided wins over Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett and Antonio “Bigfoot Silva” is unquestionably great – until he faces and defeats the talented but troubled Jones.

If Jones isn’t in the picture, and Cormier is 19-0 with those major wins, he’s right alongside flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and two-division ex-champion Georges St-Pierre in the debate for greatest fighter of all-time.

With Jones, though, Cormier must accept that he’s not even the best in his division. And while he’s derided Jones for all of his out-of-the-cage troubles and his failed drug test, he’s open to fighting him again because of the need to prove himself.

“I don’t know that [my feelings toward him] have changed,” Cormier said. “I’m just a competitor. He beat me. He actually finished me. Nobody has been able to do that. Nobody has been able to hurt me in that way before, so it’s just me being a competitor.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get a fair shake when it comes to him because I don’t know if it’s in the cards. But if competition means I’d have to fight him again, I’ll fight him again.”

He’ll have to live with those devastating defeats until he gets another shot. He is fighting Oezdemir, who has taken the UFC by storm with his punching power.

Cormier has shown he can deal with huge punchers, and was low-key about Oezdemir until Oezdemir posted what Cormier considered a cheap shot on Twitter. Oezdemir tweeted a photo of Jones walking away after knocking out Cormier and himself walking away after knocking out Manuwa.

Cormier retweeted it with the hashtag #BUM.

“He’s not on the level yet,” Cormier said of Oezdemir. “Maybe he will be, but he’s not on the level yet. He started this. I was trying to be very nice to him, but when he went and put that picture up, that’s on him. He opened the floodgates for this. The reality of this thing is he could be super tough and a really good fighter, but I’d like to say this:

“They’re coming with the same coaching staff, same team, same training partners [they had when I fought Johnson], but this time, they’re bringing the other guy’s training partner. They’re bringing Anthony’s training partner to try to get the job done. Honestly, that’s like me saying, ‘I can’t beat Jon Jones, so I’ll send one of my guys that I’ve been beating to go try to beat him.’ Hey, same team. Same coaches. Same type of game plan because all they’ve been doing is knocking people out but this time they’re bringing the B-team instead of the A-team.”

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