Daniel Cormier has a deep and abiding love for professional wrestling, and he knows as well as anyone about the vagaries of crowds.
The UFC light heavyweight champion is beloved by most who know him. He’s a friendly, affable man who has no ego and is as accommodating as a person can get.
Since UFC crowds have chosen to make him the man they hate, Cormier has decided to roll with it.
After submitting Anthony Johnson with a rear naked choke at 3:37 of the second round Saturday in their light heavyweight title bout in the main event of UFC 210 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., Cormier opted to embrace the heel image the fans have chosen to give him.
After a tearful Johnson inexplicably announced his retirement, saying he’s taking a new job unrelated to MMA, Cormier did his best to antagonize just about anyone in his path.
“I can’t get cheered, so what if I say this might be my last fight? Will you cheer me then?” Cormier shouted to the crowd, which booed even more loudly. Cormier got a devilish grin on his face and said, “Boo me. I’m getting money and championship belts!”
Though the outcome wasn’t surprising — Cormier submitted Johnson in the third round of UFC 187 on May 23, 2015, to win the belt that had been stripped from Jon Jones — the way the bout was contested was nothing like had been expected.
Johnson is a slugger with arguably the hardest punching power in the division. But he spent much of the first round in the clinch with Cormier, grappling along the cage.
The more boring the fight, the better it was for Cormier, a two-time Olympic wrestler who would have been content to grind it out that way for 25 minutes.
The action picked up after the fight ended. Cormier taunted both Jones and Jimi Manuwa, who was ringside hoping for a shot at the title.
“Stop pretending you want to fight me,” Cormier said to Manuwa. “You don’t want none of this.”
Later, appearing on Fox Sports 1, Cormier said, “If Jimi Manuwa wants to fight me, it’s a one-round fight. I’d get him out of there in no time.”
He saved most of his venom for Jones, a brilliant talent and the greatest fighter in the sport’s history who has been short-circuited by a series of self-imposed problems.
Jones failed multiple drug tests, and is currently serving a year’s suspension issued by the United States Anti-Doping Agency after failing a random test prior to UFC 200, when he was supposed to fight Cormier.
He’s eligible to return on July 6, only two days before UFC 213 in Las Vegas.
The two have had a long and complicated relationship. They got into a brawl in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas after a news conference, and both were penalized by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
They nearly came to blows several times prior to their bout on Jan. 3, 2015, at UFC 182.
Cormier criticized Jones for all of his transgressions, and Jones repeatedly taunted him. But Jones has only fought once since defeating Cormier, and since that fight, got into a hit-and-run traffic accident in Albuquerque, N.M., that landed him in jail and saw him stripped of his belt, and then failed a random test prior to UFC 200.
So Cormier wasn’t in a mood to talk much about Jones, even though that’s the best title fight that could be made in the division and certainly the most lucrative.
“Don’t talk to me about a guy who is ineligible,” Cormier shouted, as Jones glared at him from cageside. “When you get your [butt], when you get your [crap] together and you’re ready to fight, I’m here waiting for you young man. You know it. You wasted two years. … As a fighter, I respect him. We just don’t see eye to eye. Locking me in here with him, that’s a favor.
“He’s a good fighter, but still not eligible. When he gets his academics in order, he can come back to the classroom.”
Cormier, though, has a few things to figure out of his own. Most significantly is how he’ll continue to make the light heavyweight division’s title fight limit of 205 pounds.
Cormier is 38 and missed weight on Friday on his first attempt. He weighed 206.2 pounds, but just four minutes later, almost miraculously, shed the excess 1.2 pounds to make the weight.
He was accused of cheating on the second try, as his hands were on the towel that was held up in front of him to protect his privacy. He stripped naked to give himself the best chance of making weight.
Some suggested that Cormier was pushing the towel in order to pull his feet up and not show his true weight. UFC bantamweight Aljamain Sterling put a joking video on Instagram showing how it was possible to pull that off.
How Cormier managed to lose that much weight so quickly remains a mystery that may never be answered. There was speculation that he either made himself vomit or he used the restroom, but many fans were adamant he cheated, and that only increased the animosity against him.
He said he touched the towel to protect his privacy and questioned the accuracy of the scale.
However he did it, the New York State Athletic Commission cleared him to fight, and he did a beautiful job of that.
Johnson stormed him early, firing punches and kicks, but most of the rest of the fight was spent with the fighters clinched against the cage.
Johnson oddly seemed content to grapple with Cormier, the two-time Olympian who excels at that type of fight.
Cormier said on Fox Sports 1 he took advantage of Johnson’s propensity to panic if his big shots don’t land.
“Anthony has done so well at knocking people out that when it doesn’t go his way, he kind of starts to panic,” Cormier said. “I think at the end of the day, he’s a wrestler, and when he panics, he goes back to what he knows.”
What fans know is that Cormier-Jones II is the fight that UFC president Dana White has to get done. Jones outclassed Cormier, but they’re still two of the top four fighters in the world and there remains plenty of tension between them.
If the bout happens, Cormier will undoubtedly continue the heel turn. He knows he’s not going to be able to make the fans like him, and it’s even worse now that many of them believe he cheated to make weight.
So he’ll play the heel and enjoy riling up the crowd and collecting more money.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and beg for cheers,” Cormier said during an interview on Fox Sports 1 with Karyn Bryant and Kenny Florian. “Cheer who you want. At the end of the day, I get the job done. Look, I am who I am. The people who know me, you guys, Karyn and Kenny, people who have spent time with me, they know who I am.
“I cannot change the opinion of people who know me from afar. They don’t know me. If they don’t like me, they don’t like me. Like I said, I get the job done.”