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Daniel Cormier will have the chance to join Conor McGregor as the second fighter in Ultimate Fighting Championship history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously, as the 205-pound champion challenges Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight crown in the UFC 226 headliner on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The latest installment of The Film Room puts the American Kickboxing Academy captain’s exploits under the microscope.
King of the Grind
Cormier did not start training in MMA until he was 29 but entered the sport with a wrestling mastery few others can tout. He was an NCAA All-American at Oklahoma State University, a four-time medalist at the Pan American Games and a two-time member of the United States Olympic team -- a squad he captained in 2008 despite withdrawing from the competition due to kidney failure brought on by weight cutting. Despite lifelong adversity and breaking into MMA at an age when most fighters are hitting their prime, Cormier dominated Strikeforce and won the promotion’s 2011 heavyweight grand prix just three years into his career. A year later, he signed with the UFC, continued to hone his skills and developed into one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
Early in his career, Cormier relied on his wrestling expertise but rapidly became one of the best inside boxers in the sport. As a short and stocky fighter, “DC” knew he had to develop his inside boxing to compete with the long and rangy strikers of the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. The inside game is something of a lost art in boxing and MMA, but Cormier has adjusted and perfected it for MMA. His go-to move is a leaping lead hook to a single collar tie -- a position from which he then fires off uppercuts and hooks to the body.
Cormier went five rounds with two of the best distance strikers in the division and was still clever enough to routinely grab the clinch and land uppercuts. He achieves this with constant pressure, cage-cutting ability and his lead-hand attacks to grab the single collar tie. With the threat of his grappling and inside boxing, opponents are liable to retreat, which allows Cormier to use his cage-cutting skills and grab the clinch against the cage.
Ring-cutting is a key skill in boxing, but it is scarcely analyzed in MMA. The Octagon is more circular than a boxing ring, making it much harder to trap your opponent in one of the many short corners. Against a distance striker like Alexander Gustafsson, Cormier had to learn how to vary his pressure and keep one step ahead of the Swede to trap him against the cage or keep him circling the perimeter and denying his bids to retreat to the center.
His rematch with Jon Jones at UFC 214 showed just how far Cormier has come with his striking. The first two rounds saw “DC” walk down Jones with lead hooks and overhand rights. He utilized improved defense, along with the prowess to strike at a distance, and still managed to leap into the clinch and land uppercuts.
In one exchange with Jones, Cormier showed some of his improved distance striking, as he used hand fighting to push down his archrival’s lead hand and land right hooks over the top.
Just when it seemed “DC” was besting the former champion, Jones exploited a defensive lull in Cormier’s game and landed a left head kick as the American Kickboxing Academy ace dipped to his right and attempted to block the strike with his forearms. This is the same defensive tendency that had him in trouble in his second fight with Anthony Johnson.
When Cormier cannot obtain the clinch, he can use the threat of his lead hand to set up his overhand right. He throws filler lead punches that his opponents bite on before coming over the top with the right hand. In the second fight with Jones, Cormier feinted the lead hand as to initiate the clinch. Jones retreated backward to defend but was met with an overhand right above his outstretched hand.
Although Cormier has chosen to strike in most of his UFC fights, you can never underestimate his grappling. He is still one of the most accomplished wrestlers to ever step inside the Octagon, and at 39 years of age retains the ability to dominate the division’s best on the ground.
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