’s 2018 Fighter of the Year

By Brian Knapp Jan 5, 2019

Daniel Cormier was never going to be a run-of-the-mill mixed martial artist. His amateur career told us as much. Cormier was a three-time state wrestling champion at Northside High School in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he finished his prep career with an absurd 101-9 record. He went on to win two national championships at Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas, before transferring to Oklahoma State University, where he was an NCAA All-American, finished with 53 victories in two years and reached the national final as a senior before losing to the great Cael Sanderson. “DC” went on to qualify for two Olympic teams, placing fourth at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

Cormier made the transition to MMA in September 2009, captured the King of the Cage heavyweight championship in just his fourth professional appearance, won the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix in 2012 and went on to win his first 15 fights while excelling in two weight classes. He struck Ultimate Fighting Championship gold in the 205-pound weight class May 23, 2015, and though he seems destined to remain in archrival Jon Jones’ shadow -- “Bones” was responsible for the only loss on his 22-1 ledger -- Cormier has cemented himself as one of the all-time greats.

To that end, his latest campaign was one for the history books and allowed him to sneak past Amanda Nunes and Khabib Nurmagomedov in the nip-and-tuck race for’s 2018 “Fighter of Year.” The nuts and bolts of Cormier’s run across the last 12 months speak for themselves: He went 3-0 with three finishes, completed six of his seven takedown attempts and, per FightMetric, outlanded his opponents by a 157-76 margin.

“DC” took his place among the immortals on July 7, as the American Kickboxing Academy captain knocked out Stipe Miocic to claim the undisputed heavyweight title in the first round of their UFC 226 main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Cormier brought it to a close 4:33 into Round 1, becoming the second fighter in UFC history -- Conor McGregor was the first, and Nunes later joined their exclusive circle -- to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously.

Miocic threw power punches in combination but moseyed too willingly into the clinch against the two-time Olympic wrestler and reigning light heavyweight champion. After a brief pause in the action due to a blatant eye poke from Cormier, the Strong Style Fight Team cornerstone again engaged “DC” at close range. Cormier fired a right hook on the break that folded the Ohio native where he stood. A burst of hammerfists followed, knocking Miocic unconscious before a stunned crowd.

Cormier’s decision to return to the heavyweight division paid immediate dividends.

“I felt like I was faster,” he said during a subsequent appearance on The MMA Hour, “because at 205, I think my speed, it doesn’t jump out at you as much, because all of these guys that I fight are pretty fast. So I think I felt faster, I think I felt faster at heavyweight, and then just not having to do that weight cut, it makes such a big deal, man. That weight cut can really, really -- it can really brutalize you.”

The upset of Miocic was the centerpiece of Cormier’s tear in 2018, which was bookended by two successful title defenses, one as a light heavyweight, the other as a heavyweight.

Volkan Oezdemir was his first victim, as Cormier retained his undisputed light heavyweight title in one-sided fashion and disposed of the Swiss upstart with punches in the second round of their UFC 220 co-headliner on Jan. 20 in Boston. Oezdemir wilted 2:00 into Round 2 before a crowd of 16,015 at the TD Garden.

Cormier withstood an early assault from the challenger, slowed the pace and cracked him with a left hook that resulted in significant damage to the Henri Hooft understudy’s right eye. He followed with a takedown, advanced immediately to Oezdemir’s back and cinched a rear-naked choke in the closing seconds. The bell saved the challenger but only prolonged the inevitable. Cormier struck for another takedown in Round 2, moved to the mounted crucifix and cut loose with short punches until referee Kevin McDonald had seen enough.

The setback was Oezdemir’s first in nearly four years. For Cormier, it was a slice of post-Jones vindication.

“You dream of doing everything you did in training camp, and it works to a T. Today, it did,” he said. “I felt like I may have had that submission at the end of the first round but ran out of time, and I was able to get him back down and get right to the crucifix position and just start to punch -- and not get too excited to where he got out but also just holding him there and really just beat on him until the referee had no choice but to stop the fight.”

Cormier closed the book on his historic 2018 with another sensational performance on Nov. 3, as he submitted Derrick Lewis with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their UFC 230 main event and retained his heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in New York. Lewis, who had never before been submitted, checked out 2:14 into Round 2.

“DC” executed multiple takedowns, buried Lewis with suffocating top control and tore into him with short bursts of punishing ground-and-pound. In the second round, Cormier tripped “The Black Beast” to the mat, attached himself to the monstrous 6-foot-3, 264-pound Texan’s back and cinched the choke, cutting of all possible means of escape. The tapout followed soon after.

“I’ve had a big year, probably one of my more active years I’ve had in a long time,” Cormier said, “and it just feels good to get my hand raised.”

It is a feeling to which he has grown accustomed.


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