LAS VEGAS – Daniel Cormier is now the UFC light heavyweight champion after tapping out Anthony Johnson on Saturday in the third round of their bout in the main event of UFC 187 at the MGM Grand Garden.
But he’s definitely not the best 205-pounder fighter in the world.
That would be one Jonathan Dwight Jones, who decimated Cormier when they met five months earlier at UFC 182. But Jones was suspended indefinitely by the UFC and stripped of his title after an alleged hit-and-run accident last month in Albuquerque, N.M., and Cormier stepped in to fill his spot against Johnson.
Cormier’s ability to take a punch and his grappling skills led him to the win he craved for years, a championship that has eluded him at every level. He dominated Johnson with his grappling, wore him down and then submitted him at 2:39 of the third with a rear naked choke.
And it was clear that Cormier, one of the sport’s true good guys, knows it’s going to take one more win to cement himself as the best light heavyweight in the world.
His time in the cage was brief following the biggest victory of his athletic career. He looked squarely into the camera and said, “Jon Jones, get your [expletive] together. I’m waiting for you.”
He then quickly bolted the cage, ran to ringside to greet his family and then left to celebrate in his dressing room.
Though ring announcer Bruce Buffer called him the undisputed champion in announcing the verdict, there was and will remain plenty of dispute, particularly after the one-sided nature of the Jones-Cormier match in January.
But Jones had been through a series of incidents, including a DUI charge in 2012, a positive drug test for cocaine use in 2014 and the accident he’s charged with in Albuquerque in June.
That left the UFC with no choice but to strip him. Cormier was the natural fit to get the shot against the powerful Johnson.
Johnson almost ended it instantly. Only seconds into the fight, Johnson fired the massive overhand right that he’s become known for and it landed on Cormier’s chin.
The two-time Olympic wrestler went down, hard, and Johnson moved in looking for the kill.
Cormier, though, quickly recovered and never really was in jeopardy again. He didn’t fight an exciting fight – he essentially played it safe – but it was the wise thing to do considering Johnson’s power.
Johnson, who was cut by the UFC in 2012 after repeatedly failing to make weight, knew he landed hard, but figured it would take more than one good one to finish.
Asked if he felt he had Cormier, Johnson said, “Not at all. You see the size of his head?”
He was right. Cormier shrugged off the punch like it never happened and spent most of the rest of the night like a python, wrapping himself around Johnson.
That allowed him to neutralize Johnson’s power and use his own best asset, his wrestling ability.
Johnson knew what he was in for and said he wasn’t surprised by a thing Cormier did.
“Hell, he did everything I thought he was going to do,” Johnson said. “He’s a beast. He talked a lot and he backed it up.”
But now Cormier will have to back it up at least one more time, if and/or when Jones returns to the cage. Jones needs to straighten out his legal situation before he can think of returning – a pregnant woman was driving the car he’s alleged to have hit, and suffered a broken arm – but Cormier won’t gain universal acceptance as the champion until he gets past Jones.
Then, and only then, will he be the undisputed champ.
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