With every passing fight, Daniel Cormier puts himself into more rarified air. After UFC 230 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, he is now the first simultaneous two-division champion in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship to defend both of the belts around his waist. However, does “DC” deserve better?
The answer is yes. UFC 230 was a shoddily composed card in which a one-handed legend took apart a viable challenger, but ultimately a challenger propelled by his social media presence and the fact that four weeks ago he earned the biggest win of his career and joked about the temperature of his testicles. To say the least, things could be better. We’ve all grown up imagining and pondering what it might be like to win the big game at MSG. With this, the UFC’s third foray to The Garden, “DC” deserved better.
UFC 230 was an up-and-down ride, for better and for worse, so figuring out how Cormier can slide into retirement isn’t our only case to consider. Remember UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman? Speaking of 185 pounds, how about Israel Adesanya? On the topic of action of fighting, can we discuss blood flow?
Yes, Daniel Cormier Deserves Better
One of the cruelest and inalienable truths MMA has to offer is that Cormier -- one of, at worst, the 15 best fighters to ever hop in the cage and probably the best ambassador this sport has ever had -- will be forever haunted by getting his clock cleaned twice against a recalcitrant ghoul like Jon Jones -- the ultimate enfant terrible of prizefighting. This is just an ugly reality that we all have to grin and bear.
It doesn’t mean that Cormier needs to be treated like this, though. Yes, Cormier, a dedicated family man, got to make a cool couple million for schooling Derrick Lewis in just over seven minutes. That almost seems like a happy story. Except for the fact that the main event of UFC 230 was supposed to be Valentina Shevchenko-Sijara Eubanks, only because the promotion tried to strongarm former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk into fighting before she felt appropriately able. The fight game has never been a business that necessarily treats its stars and legends with any modicum of dignity. However, the main event outcome of UFC 230 holds up two mirrors -- one that reveals the character, skill and ability of Cormier and one that reflects how desperate, craven and callow the UFC is at this point.
Sure, you can be a cynic and spout, “Oh, he got paid millions to tap out a guy who fought a month ago!” You’d be right, too. I can’t fault you there, but why are we even in this position? More crucially, why is one of the best fighters to ever step in a cage -- a man who will continue to grace us with his leadership in one of the most important MMA gyms in the world, his astute color commentary and his overall role as an emissary for the sport -- having to preserve his place, as his promoter rips one of his well-earned belts off his waist, all so he can retire before the age of 40 after beating up Brock Lesnar? Really? I thought this was “as real as it gets.”
How the Mighty Fall
Four years ago, I literally thought Weidman would be one of the greatest MMA fighters ever. I pat myself on the back for forecasting him twice over Anderson Silva. I thought his rivalry with Luke Rockhold would be, at bare minimum, a trilogy for the ages.
There would be no trilogy. With Rockhold sustaining multiple injuries and pulling out ahead of their slated rematch, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza ended up substituting for Rockhold in the UFC 230 co-headliner. Ultimately, he ended up laying waste to Weidman, owing to Souza’s obsessive and valiant dedication to his own standup and Weidman’s own repeated attempts to come back from damage and injury well before they ever had time to settle.
No one will ever be able to take away Weidman’s two wins over Silva. At the same time, we’re looking at a 34-year-old man with neck and back injuries who has now lost four of his last five fights. For the first seven minutes of his fight against “Jacare,” Weidman was able, capable and seemed alive. Then he indulged his worst physical instincts and ended up eating repeated punches, knees and ultimately getting socked by a right hand that had the Brazilian staring at referee Dan Miragliotta in disbelief about the fact that he had to keep pummeling his opponent.
I think it’s a difficult and nasty part of professional prizefighting that greatness is fleeting; one minute, you wear the crown, and the next, you’re disposed. Something about Weidman’s career seems especially savage, though. Weidman is uniquely talented and has both the striking and grappling skills to go on another five or six years. However, this five-fight run is what we are going to remember him for. We’re going to know, in the back of our minds, that he was the guy who took out Silva, twice, but we’re going to remember him as the man who was too proud, indulged in a bunch of striking exchanges and just consigned himself to being a part of the MMA history book.
Israel Adesanya is the Real Deal
This sport is in a perpetual search for the “next big thing” and the next hot contender folks think can set the sport alight. Adesanya might not be the next 185-pound king of the planet, but “The Last Stylebender” is here to stay.
Adesanya’s UFC 230 performance against Derek Brunson, a considerable step-up in competition, was nothing short of brilliant. It took him less than a round to polish off Brunson, and within two and a half minutes, he had already shown massively improved takedown defense, embarrassing Brunson by not even having to get underhooks, rather foretelling his takedowns in advance and mushing him in the face. Adesanya looked like a million bucks, but when does the UFC cash in?
Obviously, coming off “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 28, middleweight champ Robert Whittaker and contender Kelvin Gastelum are going to do their thing. However, the UFC would be wise to nurture and grow its most exciting contender in years in a stagnant division that needs him. By all means, conclude “The Ultimate Fighter,” and let’s get to Whittaker-Gastelum. After a career-defining win or major upset, let’s line up “Jacare” after that. That gives us nine to 12 months with which to play. Give Adesanya another fight or two in order to develop him as a fighter and a title contender. Be smart, be clever and figure out how to market one of the most exciting challengers you’ve ever had in a while. Everyone will be the better for it.
Every Bee Has His Day
Ben Saunders’ sun has set. For at least the eight last years, he has ripped up dudes from the double collar-tie and exhilarated us with violent action. However, those days are over.
I bet money on and wrote a column that revolved around the idea that Lyman Good was going to get clinch takedowns on Saunders and make good of it. You know what? “Killa B” threw a couple dozen knees from the clinch, and in past years, that would be that, but that’s not good enough anymore. Saunders ate several clinch uppercuts with all the precision of a prime “Kimbo Slice” and got enveloped inside, ultimately eating a right hand from Good and several hammerfists before referee Herb Dean could intervene.
The end was simply nasty -- one of those complicated moments where a well-regarded and beloved fighter who is nowhere near title contention is nastily broken down. This was the fourth loss in Saunders’ last five outings, all by stoppage. It’s something we just have to accept with MMA. When we embrace and oblige a fighter as a quote-unquote “action fighter,” more often than not, the ultimate ending is going to be something from which we want to cast our gaze away, even if we appreciate the highlights he gave us.
Sure, There Will Be Blood, but This is It?
In the second round of their fight, Sheymon Moraes opened two nasty cuts on Julio Arce, which not only made the man pour blood all over the Octagon but ultimately probably won him the fight by split decision, in spite of the fact that Arce had his back for over half of the first round and outslugged him in the final frame. Such is life.
What I find more curious is the fact that an experienced commentary team and fans wanted to depict this as the most bloody, gruesome and gory fight that has ever happened. Folks, Arce had two cuts; if there’s any credit to be given here, it’s that he sprayed his blood over the entire 750 feet of the Octagon and did it an artful manner. This is nowhere near the bloodiest UFC fight ever. B.J. Penn hacked Joe Stevenson’s head open, choked him out and licked his blood off his hands. Jeremy Stephens opened Estevan Payan’s head so badly in the opening fight of a card that the UFC mobilized multiple people to go paint over the canvas. Stefan Struve got his skull half-collapsed by Denis Stojnic and came back to win. This entire promotion denied Jonathan Goulet-Jay Hieron ever happened for a decade -- a fight where the winning party was swallowing so much of his opponent’s blood he was literally about to tap out.
I mean, this sport is gross sometimes, right?