Daniel Cormier proved again Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 220 that he is one of the best mixed martial artists who ever stepped foot into the cage.
Cormier lived up to his bold pre-fight words, pummeling the heavy-hitting Volkan Oezdemir at TD Garden in Boston and stopping him at two minutes of the second round in a predictably one-sided fight to retain the UFC light heavyweight title.
Cormier took Oezdemir down seconds into the second round, then patiently maneuvered into position. From side control, he pinned Oezdemir’s left arm with his knee and landed punches from the top until referee Kevin MacDonald had seen enough and stopped it.
He had repeatedly said before the fight, “There are levels to this game,” in dismissing Oezdemir, who came into the bout off stunning early knockouts of Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa.
He was right, as he made Oezdemir look second-rate. But that is what Cormier has done to everyone but the suspended ex-champion, Jon Jones, whom he referred to as “my greatest rival,” in comments in the cage after the win.
Cormier, often the subject of ridicule from fans despite his stellar record, was cheered by the Boston crowd. He was beaten twice by Jones, though the second of those was changed to a no-contest when Jones failed his post-fight drug test in July after UFC 214.
But by defeating Oezdemir, Cormier added him to a list of victims that includes Anthony “Rumble” Johnson twice, Alexander Gustafsson, Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Cormier was humble, though, after the bout.
“I’ve lost to Jon Jones and I’ve said coming into the fight, I felt I was fighting for a vacant title again because [Jones] beat me last time,” Cormier said. “I fought for a vacant title and I got the job done so I’m a UFC champion again.”
Oezdemir roared out of his corner at the start throwing the big shots that had stopped both Manuwa and Cirkunov and led to his title shot. Cormier managed to stay away from the power and kept away until Oezdemir’s pace dropped after about 90 seconds.
The champion would have finished it at the end of the first round had there been a few extra seconds. He took Oezdemir down in the final 20 seconds and quickly got his back. Cormier sank in a rear naked choke that likely would have ended it, but the bell sounded and saved Oezdemir.
It was only a temporary reprieve, though, as Cormier quickly asserted himself. He proved he belongs at the top of the list, just a notch below Jones, as one of the greatest to have ever competed in this sport.