Before walking out to fight Dan Henderson at UFC 173, Daniel Cormier had one last talk with American Kickboxing Academy head trainer Javier Mendez. It was a simple conversion but one that cemented a strategy that would produce one of the most jaw-dropping shellackings in Ultimate Fighting Championship history.
“I said we can fight this fight three ways,” Mendez said he told Cormier in the locker room. “I go, ‘You can do it the toughest way, stand in front of the guy and just give him what he wants, wait for that big bomb to come; you can stay on the outside, pick him apart with your speed and win an easier decision there; or you can wrestle the hell out of him.”
Mendez chose number three. He figured it was the easiest path to victory against a future hall of famer who is never out of a fight.
“And I asked him, what do you want?” Mendez said. “And he goes, ‘I’m gonna wrestle the [expletive] out of him, Jav.’”
By the end of Cormier’s 14-minute rout -- he punctuated it with a rear-naked choke that rendered the legend unconscious for the first time in his career -- of Henderson, UFC analyst Joe Rogan was using the “like a man and a boy” analogy; and it was appropriate. Cormier wrested Henderson to the ground time and again, riding the former Greco-Roman wrestling Olympian in a way that offered absolutely no quarter. In the 13:53 bout, Henderson was only able to land 12 strikes, the smallest amount in any of his 42 career fights that saw a second round.
Cormier had a distinct size advantage on May 24 in Las Vegas, as Henderson only weighed in at 199 pounds for the light heavyweight affair. However, size was hardly the only factor that made Cormier’s triumph over Henderson Sherdog.com’s “Beatdown of the Year” for 2014. Cormier bullied Henderson with craft as much as anything else.
In a sequence that will forever be a part of Cormier’s highlight reel, the 35-year-old smacked an exhausted Henderson in the face with a pair of head kicks in the third round before putting out a left-right combination that masked a single-leg shot. With Henderson’s left leg ensnared in the crook of his right arm, Cormier pushed forward, latched his left arm to Henderson’s hip and used the destabilizing momentum to lift, rotate and dump Henderson like an oversized plush toy he had won at the carnival.
“The first time I saw him do something like that was with Cain in practice,” Mendez said. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s anybody that Daniel couldn’t do that to, given the right circumstances.”
After going for the ride, Henderson quickly tried to regain his faculties and get back to his feet, but Cormier sucked him back in. Already halfway on Henderson’s back as he rose, Cormier stayed glued to his retreating foe and -- just like so -- flicked out his left leg, completing a brilliant trip that put Henderson right back down and allowed him to secure back control. From there, Cormier achieved mount twice, rode Henderson’s back, landed punches, set his hooks and pulled Henderson down into a rear-naked choke that put him to sleep. The former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder came to with widened eyes, wholly unfamiliar with having medics flashing lights in his eyes and no real sense of what just happened.
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