Daniel Cormier, two-time Olympian and Oklahoma State All-American wrestler, captured the vacant Ultimate Fighting Championships Light Heavyweight crown with a submission victory over Anthony Johnson at UFC 187 “Johnson vs. Cormier” at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Saturday night.
Cormier, who replaced the suspended champ Jon Jones on short notice, submitted Johnson with a rear-naked choke at 2:39 of the third round of the top-of-the-card event. The new light heavyweight (205 pound) champ is now 16-1 overall, and 5-1 in UFC, while Johnson falls to 19-5, and 10-5 in UFC.
In the opening moments, it looked as if Johnson would make short work of the former Cowboy mat star. “He floored Cormier with a searing right hand in the first round and clobbered him with multiple head kicks, but the American Kickboxing Academy export walked through his best shots,” is how the mixed martial arts website Sherdog.com described the opening of the title bout. Thomas Myers of MMAMania.com wrote, “Johnson came out pumping his jab early and Cormier responded with an eye poke. After a brief stoppage, Johnson began to go to town, dropping ‘DC’ with a clean right cross. It looked like another early finish for Johnson before Cormier closed the distance and wisely dumped him to the floor.”
In describing the turning of the tide, MMAFighting.com wrote, “Cormier survived the initial onslaught, then worked his game plan to perfection, as he grinded his way to a victory at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Cormier outwrestled and outstruck Johnson before earning a third-round submission victory to claim the vacant UFC light heavyweight title.”
In continuing Sherdog.com’s summary of the title match, “’DC’ took control with a dominant round two, as he grounded Johnson and tore into him with punches and elbows from the top. Battered and bloodied, the Blackzilians rep returned to his corner a shell of his former self. Cormier offered him no respite in the third round, as he again drove Johnson to the canvas, slid to his back and set the choke for the tapout.”
Two of the MMA websites provided succinct-statement summaries of the match. MMAMania.com wrote, “Cormier more or less broke Johnson in that second round with his world-class cardio and relentless aggression”… while MMAJunkie.com said of Cormier, “He made the most of his second chance, too, rebounding from an early knockdown to slowly squeeze Johnson’s will to win out of him the way you might extract that last little bit of toothpaste from a nearly empty tube.”
If the bout itself didn’t provide enough drama, Cormier added some post-match theatrics of his own. First, the new champ called out the former UFC light-heavyweight champ, saying “Jon Jones, get your s–t together. I’m waiting for you.” Jones, a former amateur wrestler himself, handed Cormier his only loss in his professional MMA career at UFC 182 in Las Vegas in January 2015. Jones was later suspended by UFC for legal issues outside the Octagon, having been arrested in New Mexico for an alleged hit-and-run accident, then stripped of his title. Also at the after-fight press conference, Cormier then did some verbal sparring with Ryan Bader, who was his scheduled opponent at UFC Fight Night in New Orleans in two weeks until Saturday’s UFC 187 title match with Johnson opened up. Cormier pointed a finger at Bader, a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler for Arizona State, who was at the back of the room, saying, “There’s somebody else that needs his ass kicked, too. Ryan Bader’s ass, I’m going to beat the s–t out of him next time,” Cormier said. “You keep talking, Bader! This guy’s so disrespectful. I’m trying to fight Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader is writing me stupid messages on Twitter because he wants people to think that he deserves a title shot.” The war of words escalated to the point where the former Sun Devil charged the stage where Cormier was conducting his press conference. Security kept the two separated.
Prior to launching his MMA career in September 2009, the 36-year-old Cormier was a two-time NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) champ at Colby Community College in Kansas, who then transferred to NCAA Division I powerhouse Oklahoma State. The Louisiana native earned All-American honors by making it to the 184-pound finals of the 2001 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, where he lost to Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson, 2004 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle, now head coach at Penn State. In addition to his college credentials, Cormier earned a place on the US freestyle team for the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. In addition, Cormier competed in Real Pro Wrestling, a 2005 pro-amateur wrestling venture (similar to today’s Agon Wrestling Championships or Flo Premier League) where he won the 96 kilos/211 pound weight class by defeating Tommy Rowlands, two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Ohio State, in the finals.