Editor’s note: When Daniel Cormier walks to the Octagon on Saturday to challenge heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC 252, the MMA world will be viewing it through the prism of historical significance.
Cormier, 41, has said that this will be the last fight of his storied career, and he has a chance to cement his legacy as perhaps the greatest heavyweight — and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters — in the history of the UFC, if not all of MMA.
Cormier (22-2, 1 NC) is the second person to hold UFC titles in different weight classes simultaneously, having captured the heavyweight belt in 2018 while holding the light heavyweight championship. He was the first fighter to defend titles in two different weight classes. Ten of his 15 UFC fights were with titles on the line. Cormier is also a former Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix champion and Olympic wrestler.
Saturday will not only end a career that is destined for the Hall of Fame but also bring to a close one of the best rivalries in combat sports. Cormier knocked out Miocic for the belt in 2018, and Miocic took it back via TKO in 2019.
Here, in his own words, Cormier puts the magnitude of Saturday’s event in perspective.
When I was a kid and I would get excited about a person or an athlete, I would go into my room — or I would stay after school — and I’d write that person a letter. I would write fan mail with the hope that person would see the words I sent.
I wrote to Michael Jordan. I wrote letters to Walter Payton. I’m an older guy — I’m 41 now. I’m talking about athletes in the ’80s, guys like Lawrence Taylor. I wrote about five letters my entire life, and they were to guys like that, the guys I saw every day on TV being larger than life.
It’s kind of hard to look at yourself in that light, but when you put together the accomplishments, I feel like my accomplishments can stand next to those of anybody in any sport. Because of the time I’ve spent at the top of the sport — from the Olympic Games to the NCAA national championships to the U.S. championships to fighting at Strikeforce and the UFC and everything else I’ve done — I’m one of those guys who won everywhere that I went. That just means I’m very, very lucky.
There is one last thing to do, and that’s win back the UFC heavyweight championship from Stipe Miocic on Saturday. It just means everything to me. The fight, the rivalry, the trilogy, it’s crazy for a guy who has been in so many big things like this to have a fight like this one at the tail end of his career.
This fight allows me to have a chance to go out on top, a chance to be the champion again. I believe this fight is to crown the best heavyweight fighter of all time. But I do believe that any time they make a short list of guys they consider the greatest fighters of all time, I have to be in the conversation. That’s all you can really hope for — that your accomplishments stand tall next to anybody’s.
It’s all on the line here. If Stipe wins, he’s the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. If I win, I’m the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. These kinds of fights don’t happen very often. It’s a massive deal. It’s exactly where I want to be.
But I always say this: I’ve lived in these moments. It’s been big fight after big fight after big fight. It’s always the scariest guy staring across the Octagon from me. Right now, I get to once again prove that I’m one of those scary individuals, those people the world looks at and goes, “Wow, this dude is special.” Stipe and I are in a situation that we’ve created because we’ve been who we’ve been. The reason fights like this don’t happen very often is because guys don’t put themselves in that position. Stipe and I have done exactly that.
I always think about legacy. I think that my legacy today should already be pretty secure. But I think becoming the two-time UFC heavyweight champion would just be the nail in the coffin. I think that would be incredible.
I think I secured myself as an all-time great when I won the heavyweight belt for the first time and became the second simultaneous UFC double champion. I’m confident in that. It doesn’t matter what I do anymore because that night that I won those titles, that’s everything. You can’t take that away. You can’t take the visual of all those times Dana White wrapped those titles around my waist. You can’t change that. That’s always going to be a fact.
And yes, this is it. This is the swan song — my last fight. I don’t think that you usually look forward to what’s next. I find myself thinking about the day when I don’t have to be in those training camps. I look forward to the days when I’m doing more things in the mainstream media. I’m garnering a lot of opportunities right now, and I’m so excited about those things. I’m so excited about the potential life that I have outside of the Octagon. None of that was possible without my fighting career. But you can always tell whenever the chapter is about to close. I always say: All great champions have one great night. I don’t want to tempt fate. But I feel like Saturday is going to be a great night for me. I don’t know if that’s the last great night of my career. I guess we’ll just find out.
When I think of what I’m most proud of in my career, it’s just everything. The fact that I’ve won a title in every organization I’ve ever fought in. It’s the fact that I was the second UFC simultaneous double champion. It’s the fact that I trained kids in wrestling over that whole time that I fought. I always went back to practice and trained those kids. It’s the fact that I was able to build my family, marry my loving wife and have three children, and provide for them a life that I never thought imaginable.
I’m so proud of the guy who walked into [the American Kickboxing Academy in] San Jose, California, in 2009, uncertain and unsure because there wasn’t much value in my name after [he withdrew from the 2008 Olympic Games because of a bad weight cut]. I thought to myself, “I’m gonna do this MMA thing, and I’m gonna try and be as good as I can be.” And I believe that when I look back at that guy 11 years ago, I couldn’t have even dreamed of any of this.
When Jon Jones kept getting into trouble during his title run after beating me [on Jan. 3, 2015], I was a stabilizing force for the UFC. I was the guy who continued to win and defend that light heavyweight belt. I went up to heavyweight when most people were afraid to do it and try it. And I beat the guy in Stipe Miocic who defended the title more than anyone else. I beat him. And I put myself in another great rivalry. These big rivalries don’t just happen. I was able to do things that were so grand, so big that I found myself in three massive rivalries over the course of my career: two title fights with Anthony Johnson, two title fights with Jon Jones and now three with Stipe Miocic. I’m a very, very lucky guy.
More than anything in this one, I hope I can fight to my full potential. I don’t think I did last time. I was still kind of injured after back surgery [in December 2018]. I didn’t get to train effectively. There were a number of reasons that I didn’t get to show the best Daniel Cormier. I just want to be able to fight the way I did my entire career, and I think I’m on track to be able to do that.
Right now, I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been. I’ve never felt so motivated for something. I think there was some comfort in my training before the last fight. Don’t misinterpret that I didn’t respect Stipe Miocic. That’s not true. Me and my team made it a point to get to the fight. Because I was still injured, if something started to get a little tight, we’d stop. If the back started bothering me a little bit, we’d stop.
This time, I have made a conscious effort to train myself to fight, and if I don’t make it because I’m not healthy enough, I just won’t fight.
I believe this is the healthiest I have felt since the second Jones fight [on July 29, 2017]. If I’m being honest, I don’t know if I’ve completely detached myself from the Jones rivalry because of the amount of bad blood there was involved in those fights. I’m still not proud of some of my behavior during that time, but I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful for everything.
The Jones fights brought some bad vibes, and even with all I’ve done, I still bear the brunt of criticism. I think with certain guys, they’re just remembered more fondly as they go. I think that’s just my place in this game, it’s just the way it works for me. I don’t know why the respect has been hard to come by. But it has been kind of my thing. Some respect me. Some don’t. And I can’t really change that. But I still believe as time goes, people will respect what I’ve done a lot more than they do right now. I’m OK with that. As long as I keep doing my work and I have the people who support me, the people who love me, everything is going to be OK.
I think that a lot of fighters spend far too much time worrying about the perception of who they are that they get lost in it. That’s not something that I want to do to myself or to the people who love and care for me. It can hinder you.
When I was a kid writing letters to my favorite athletes or getting a chance to see them in person, I could never imagine bringing to them something negative. I love it when I get fan mail at the gym, and it’s from a kid, and there’s a picture of him in the envelope, and he’s telling me how he wants to wrestle because he’s seen me wrestle. Or how his dream is to become a UFC fighter because he’s seen me be a UFC fighter.
I love winning championships and being successful in fighting. That means something to me. But the past two years I’ve been coaching at Gilroy High School in Gilroy, California, we’ve put 13 kids into college. That’s massive. That’s not just good for me. It’s good for my son, Daniel — to see kids going to college from that same wrestling room that he trained in. It’s good for my daughter, Marquita, to see these young women who are in the wrestling room going off to wrestle in college. Those are the things that matter. Being the captain of the American Kickboxing Academy, that means something to me because it makes me a leader, a person who is supposed to guide all these young fighters as they go on their journey to try and be something special.
Everything works together. I don’t value one over the other because they all kind of go hand in hand. But this one, this final one? I won’t lie to you: It’s a big deal. I’ve been lucky enough to have the rivalries and accomplishments that I’ve had. And this one stands on top of all of them: The chance to again become the heavyweight champion of the world.