Daniel Cormier deserves this. He deserves a couple of monster paydays, to leave the sport he has done so much to build and to enrich, on his terms.
The “Champ-Champ” has made clear he plans to retire on or before March 20, when he turns 40. He has, at most, two fights left. On Saturday, he’ll defend his heavyweight title against Derrick Lewis in the main event of UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden. If he’s successful, he’ll face ex-heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in a massive pay-per-view next year.
Cormier is chasing the money on his way out of the sport, because he’s never going to be that broke guy coming back needing a check. He’s never going to be that one-time superstar you feel sorry for, and cringe when he takes punches and kicks that he’d never have taken before.
He’s preparing to conclude an extraordinary mixed martial arts career, which has by any reasonable standard exceeded an extraordinary amateur wrestling career, the way he wants to go out.
He’s fought everyone and ducked no one. He’s opened his heart and given you a look at what makes him tick, and not just in the good times.
When he lost to his most bitter rival, he didn’t hide his emotions. He didn’t leave the Octagon, find solitude among his friends and avoid the fans and the media. Cormier cried in the cage after he was knocked out by Jon Jones at UFC 214 in 2017, subjecting himself to mockery from a few small-minded people who love only to mock those who put everything on the line in pursuit of excellence.
He answered the questions, he took the abuse, he vowed he’d be back.
He’s 39 now and coming down the stretch of a remarkable career. He could have given Stipe Miocic a rematch on Saturday and then, if successful, given it a third shot against Jones.
Given how competitive Cormier is, he considered those options carefully.
Miocic is a more dangerous opponent than Lewis, though Lewis has won nine of 10 and has the kind of one-punch power that will give the second-guessers a field day if he clips Cormier on the chin.
Jones, of course, is Cormier’s unexcogitable problem. As great as Cormier has been, and he’ll retire as one of the five greatest fighters in the history of his sport, he’s not come close to finding an answer for Jones.
Cormier, though, has opted to go Lewis-Lesnar instead. The answer is not that he’s afraid or that he wants to cruise.
When he signed to fight Lewis, he explained why he took that fight when he had previously said his right hand was injured and he wouldn’t be ready in time to fight either Jones or Miocic at UFC 230.
“A few weeks ago, they called me [to ask about me] maybe fighting someone else [other than Lewis],” Cormier said. “They did not tell me who it was. I imagine it was Stipe, because Stipe’s been saying he was offered a fight. But they didn’t tell me who it was and I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure because of my hand. If you have any other options, go do that first.’
“Then, they called me with this fight [against Lewis in the headliner of UFC 230] and offered me double what I made against Stipe. I checked my hand. It held up well so I said, ‘All right, I’m going to go fight.’ ”
Cormier was guaranteed $500,000 plus a cut of the pay-per-view revenues for his fight with Miocic. He noted that the pay-per-view with Miocic was not a huge one and so he didn’t get the huge amount of money on the back end that he got in the Jones fights and that he would presumably get by fighting Lesnar.
A Cormier-Lesnar bout on pay-per-view would be a cinch to do a million, with a strong possibility of hitting 1.5 million or higher. Only two fights in UFC history have ever gone over 1.5 million — Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz II at UFC 202 sold 1.65 million and McGregor-Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 sold 2.4 million.
So Cormier would be looking at potentially getting a cut of the third-largest pay-per-view in UFC history by closing his career against Lesnar.
It’s hard to blame him after what he’s done. He’s not going to come back, as so many fighters do, because that’s not in his makeup.
“You see some of the greatest fighters ever go, ‘I’ve just got to get one more win,’ and then you get that win and you’re like, ‘You know what, I’m still here [and] I can still do this,’ ” Cormier said. “No. You have to accept when it’s over, win or lose. I just hope I’m not one of those guys that did something for so long at such a high level and then went out on his back. I don’t want to go out on my back.”
He’s done much for the sport outside of his competition. He’s advanced it with his brilliant commentary work and helped bring new fans to the sport by explaining it in a way that they could understand and that could get them interested.
Yet, like anyone with notoriety, he’s taken more than his share of abuse on social media. He’s a guy who has done everything right — he’s passed every drug test, done every interview, fought every challenger and always done it in a classy and humble manner — and it hasn’t been enough.
In 1962, after losing a bid to become governor of California, Richard Nixon angrily said at his election night news conference, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”
Soon, those fans who boo and abuse him won’t have Daniel Cormier to kick around any more.
What they’ll find is, the sport will be lesser without him.
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