Daniel Cormier looked stellar in his unanimous decision victory over former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett on Saturday night.
The American Kickboxing Academy standout used a well-balanced attack to consistently beat Barnett to the punch in Strikeforce’s titular headliner at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., capturing the company’s heavyweight grand prix championship and extending his unbeaten streak to 10 fights in arguably the best performance of his two-year pro career.
Cormier (Pictured, file photo) emerged as the tournament champion despite not even being included in the eight-man draw when it was designed. The 33-year-old joined the bracket in the semifinals, stepping in for an injured Alistair Overeem to knock out Antonio Silva this past September.
According to the two-time freestyle wrestling Olympian, capturing the Strikeforce grand prix title ranks among his greatest accomplishments.
“It feels amazing. I look down at the names on this belt, and it’s a complete honor to actually be wearing it. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Cormier told Showtime Sports shortly after his unanimous decision victory over Barnett. “This ranks right up there with making my Olympic teams. This is the most important thing that has ever happened to me outside of my children. Thank you, Strikeforce and Showtime, for giving me the opportunity.”
Cormier continually took “The Warmaster” to the canvas over the course of their five-round affair, even elevating the Pride Fighting Championships veteran with a textbook high-crotch and slamming him to the mat at one point. Though Barnett attempted to return the favor on several occasions, Cormier stifled each of his opponent’s takedown attempts.
“It’s more technique than anything. I wrestled at a really high level, so when I get to a leg, I know the majority of the time I’m going to finish [the takedown],” said Cormier. “I wanted to fight him everywhere but on the bottom. I really wasn’t going to give him a takedown. I take a lot of pride in my wrestling, and I’m not going to let anybody take me down.”
Cormier also generally dictated the standup exchanges, connecting on a variety of accurate punch combinations before busting up Barnett with elbows on the ground. Despite breaking his left hand early in the contest, Barnett soldiered on and showed great resilience, though his high spots would come sparingly as the bout progressed.
For a moment in round four, however, Barnett appeared to catch Cormier in an ideal position. Known for his submission expertise, the catch-wrestling specialist scooped Cormier’s foot and tried to crank a heel hook. Though it appeared Cormier might have been in jeopardy for a brief moment, he soon slipped out the the attempt and regained top position. The attempt thwarted, Cormier cruised for the remainder of the contest, riding out the final frame with his controlled offense to cap his tournament-winning performance.
“I wanted to secure takedowns to score rounds, but then I started grappling with him and realized that I could actually hold my own in that position,” said Cormier. “I got in that one leg lock position, but I just didn’t panic and kept doing the things that my coaches taught me. [Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt] Leandro Vieira worked with me extensively in that position. I just did what I was trained to do.”