UFC 230 is now available on Amazon Prime.
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The Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title bout between Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis on Saturday at UFC 230 offers some obvious benefits for involved parties. For Lewis, it’s the biggest opportunity of his MMA career. He gets the chance to fight for the heavyweight title, something that might not have come along anytime soon otherwise. He gets to do so at Madison Square Garden, arguably the biggest stage in sports. If he wins, he might be able to wrangle himself into the sweepstakes for a big money fight with Brock Lesnar.
For all those reasons, it’s understandable Lewis jumped at the title shot despite it coming at a disadvantageous time. Lewis just fought less than a month ago, and returns that quick have not typically been kind to MMA fighters. Moreover, Lewis took a lot of punishment over the course of that fight and would have lost a wide decision were it not for a last-minute comeback. Lewis also joked about his own lack of conditioning after the fight, and there isn’t that much time to work on that issue. Still, in spite of all these issues, it makes perfect sense that an MSG main event was too much for Lewis to pass up.
The UFC likewise gains a lot from making Cormier-Lewis. This year’s MSG card has struggled to come together. Prominent fights like Nate Diaz-Dustin Poirier, Yoel Romero-Paulo Henrique Costa and Luke Rockhold-Chris Weidman fell through. There was also the Sijara Eubanks-Valentina Shevchenko debacle. With Cormier-Lewis, the card still doesn’t shine in the way the last two years’ MSG cards did. Without it, it may be the weakest pay-per-view of the year. The UFC needed something like Cormier-Lewis for the top of the card.
The risk to the UFC, just like the risk to Lewis, is also not that great. If Lewis loses, fans will understand that he stepped up on short notice, and he’s likely to gain prominence just by being in that position. Meanwhile, the UFC isn’t risking something of great value by making the fight. It gets an extra Cormier fight. If he wins, potential fights with Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones in the first half of 2019 are just as strong, if not stronger. If he loses, Lewis is a marketable figure holding the heavyweight title, and the UFC could potentially transition to the Lesnar-Jones fight it was targeting in the first place.
For Cormier, the dynamic is much different. Unlike with Lewis and the UFC, Cormier has a lot to lose. Cormier was in position for a big fight with Lesnar or Jones early in 2019. If he loses, there’s a significant chance that those two men face each other and Cormier misses out on a great opportunity, with his 40th birthday and planned retirement rapidly approaching. If Cormier is serious about that deadline, he might not get either fight.
There’s also the risk from a legacy standpoint. Following Cormier’s win over Stipe Miocic, some have discussed Cormier as a potential candidate for Greatest of All-Time status. That claim will be bolstered if Cormier wins another fight or two and gets out. It will be significantly diminished if not completely extinguished should he lose emphatically to a fighter seen as below his level. Cormier can’t afford to lose to Lewis.
Taking a fight you cannot afford to lose becomes even riskier when you’re taking it on short notice with a questionable physical status. Cormier wasn’t training for a fight and will have limited time to prepare for Lewis. He also has a significant hand injury that will affect his preparation. Cormier is compromised to some degree, and that poses a great risk for him.
Cormier’s decision to take the fight also raises questions of hubris. Cormier himself has acknowledged he wouldn’t have taken the fight on short notice if it was against Miocic -- a clear indication that Lewis does not concern him greatly as an opponent. That’s a bad mentality for any fighter to take into a bout. Cormier exhibits a natural humility that few elite fighters have, but the mistake of underestimating one’s opponent has been made by many great fighters over the years and will be made by many great fighters to come. The confidence needed to make it to the top of a dangerous sport naturally runs the risk of eventually backfiring.
In the end, none of this may come back to bite Cormier. He is the heavy favorite to defeat Lewis, at which point he’d likely be in even better position than he was before. The chances that this all goes south may not be that great. However, the downside if that happens is as large as it gets and Cormier is not in the best position to ensure calamity doesn’t ensue. It’s quite the gamble by Cormier, and we’ll soon be in a much better position to evaluate the wisdom of his choice.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.
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