Daniel Cormier is not listed among the UFC light heavyweight top ten rankings, regardless of his impending debut against the third name ranked on the same list in former UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans at UFC 170 in the co-main event. To place the undefeated Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix winner and former Olympic candidate on the list would probably infer hype should be weighed against proven track records.
But to consider what Cormier has accomplished in the cage against the upper limits of the 265lb division, he doesn’t need a place on a list to provoke a strong sense of competitive respect from anyone at 205.
His wrestling pedigree that saw him qualify for Olympic competition and his unlikely run through the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, gave the undefeated mixed martial artist immediate UFC contendership status, even before he stepped in to the cage at UFC on FOX 7 against Frank Mir.
At this point Cormier was an enigma. How was he going to fair against the UFC elite? Well even though he won by decision, the moment felt like a flop since many felt the ordeal should’ve been more one sided in favor of the new contender, since Mir is considered widely on his way out of the sport after a very successful and long career.
At the post-fight presser, Cormier stated he had just experienced the Octagon jitters and would perform at the level which he was capable of, going forward into future bouts. After that he met Roy Nelson at UFC 166 last October.
Coincidentally prior to UFC 166, both Nelson and Cormier had claimed they would be dropping to light heavyweight to compete after their bout and the notion was self-evident by how close both competitors weighed in the night prior of the event.
Ironically he was fighting on the same card before his team mate and fellow heavyweight competitor and the current UFC heavyweight champion in Cain Velasquez.
Cormier’s decision to leave the heavyweights was to avoid competing against his friend and training partner in Velasquez for the heavyweight championship. Earning another decision against Nelson, he was simply too much for Big Country in the striking or wrestling departments.
Now he’s poised on climbing the 205 ladder and with a shot against ‘Suga’ Rashad guaranteeing him a strong candidate for a title shot in 2014, Cormier may be the first man to put a decisive loss on Jon Jones’s record.
But if he thinks characteristics such as speed and wrestling that have always been there for him at heavyweight, will aid his assault on the lighter and faster division at 205, Rashad Evans is the perfect matchup to get to the bottom of his chances at becoming the next UFC light heavyweight champion.
Where Rashad struggled in the striking department against Jones at UFC 145, he wasn’t completely out matched. It was still a very competitive ordeal and since then, Evans was too quick for Dan Henderson and too strong for Chael Sonnen after that. The later he finished with ease by out grappling the grappler and finishing him with ground and pound from the mount within one round.
I think it’s safe to say Cormier’s biggest test won’t be whether he’s fast or strong enough, it will be decided by how long it takes him to feel comfortable at 205, and rest assured Evans will give the former heavyweight contender much time to adjust.
But Cormier won’t step in to the cage at 205 without having trained close to that weight for months. Considering all his issues with cutting weight since his Olympic days, combined with how low he weighed in for his final weight cut at the 225 limit against Nelson, it’s safe to say he has planned out his path carefully. There’s nothing like combining lessons from the past with preparation for the future.
Rashad will struggle to take Cormier down and struggle even further with asserting his dominance on the feet as well. If Cormier forces Rashad in to a shootout or grappling match, it’s difficult seeing either of those scenarios working out for the former TUF winner and UFC champion.
In my opinion, it’s merely a matter of timing. Rashad is at the place in his career in this fight, almost in the same way Chuck Liddell was when they met. In that fight, Liddell was heavily favorited, but Rashad’s youthful speed saw his straight right beat Liddell’s upper cut and finish the former light heavyweight champion and longtime knockout artist himself.
It’s rare in the UFC’s 205lb division that your chin won’t be tested. In this case, Evans struggles to stay intact these days and Cormier has yet to get seriously tested in his young career.
The real test for Cormier will be against Jon Jones. He will struggle with Jones’s speed and strength. He’ll also be facing the most unorthodox opponent yet in his career. Plus don’t forget that by the time Cormier has earned his shot, that will mean that Jones has defeated Glover Teixeira at UFC 172 in April and possibly Alexander Gustafsson again.
Those are two opponents who just like Cormier, were extremely dominant contenders in the division. If Cormier is going to be learning from fights against the likes of Frank Mir and Roy Nelson, he’s sadly mistaken if he thinks Jones won’t be learning from fighting the likes of stiffer competition against Teixeira and Gustafsson.
Of course if just one fight fairs differently between now and later this year, we will never see Cormier vs. Jones. But most likely it’s inevitable and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Jones, he’ll take this thing where his opponents like to go and dominate the match from there. I expect nothing less from him in the foreseeable future, even at Cormier’s expense.