If nothing else, Daniel Cormier earned his championship stripes.
Cormier successfully defended the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title with a five-round split decision over Alexander Gustafsson in the UFC 192 main event on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston. The judges saw it 48-47 and 49-46 for Cormier and 48-47 for Gustafsson.
The champion bucked popular thinking, eschewed the advice of his coaches and elected to stand with Gustafsson. After a first round in which he hoisted the 6-foot-5 Swedish kickboxer skyward and dumped him on his head, Cormier did not execute a single takedown and attempted only one over the final three frames. In the end, he beat Gustafsson at his own game. According to preliminary FightMetric figures, Cormier outpaced “The Mauler” 140-120 in the significant strike department and 219-130 in total strikes, out-landing him in every round but the fourth. He did the majority of his damage from the single collar tie, as he wrecked Gustafsson’s face with right uppercuts, leaving him with swollen eyes and a gash across the bridge of his nose.
Gustafsson knocked down “DC” with a lightning-strike knee and follow-up punches in round three but spent far too much of his time retreating, often with his back turned, in a clear attempt to prevent the Olympic wrestler from closing the distance. The additional effort cost him valuable fuel and led to a noticeable decline in his output, particularly in the fifth round, where Cormier threw 36 more strikes than his challenger.
In wake of UFC 192 “Cormier vs. Gustafsson,” here are six matchups that ought to be considered:
Related » UFC 192 By the Numbers
Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones: Their rematch is the only fight that truly matters in the light heavyweight division as it is currently configured, but Jones’ legal issues outside the cage have left their rivalry in a state of limbo. Provided the UFC lifts his suspension and allows “Bones” to return sometime in the first quarter of 2016, a showdown with Cormier would seem like the next logical step. Jones took a five-round unanimous decision from the American Kickboxing Academy ace on Jan. 5, only to be stripped of the title following a hit-and-run incident in New Mexico. He has not fought since. Whenever Jones touches down inside the Octagon again, he will do so on the strength of 12 straight wins, eight of them finishes.
Ryan Bader vs. Anthony Johnson: Bader did his part in trying to lock down a shot at the light heavyweight title, as he spoiled the return of Rashad Evans with a unanimous decision in the co-main event. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner picked apart Evans in the standup and mixed in a few takedowns to keep him off-balance. Bader has now rattled off five consecutive victories, all of them decisions, and would almost certainly emerge as the next No. 1 contender at 205 pounds if the UFC chooses to keep the aforementioned Jones on the shelf. That scenario seems unlikely. Johnson has won 10 of his past 11 bouts and last fought at UFC 191 on Sept. 5, when he disposed of Jimi Manuwa with second-round punches.
Ruslan Magomedov vs. Stefan Struve-Jared Rosholt winner: A young heavyweight with well-rounded skills, Magomedov is something of a rarity in today’s MMA. The 28-year-old Russian improved to 14-1 with a unanimous verdict over Shawn Jordan, pairing clean, accurate punching combinations with well-disguised, high-velocity kicks at various levels. Magomedov, who trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy, has pieced together a nine-fight winning streak since his ill-fated encounter with Konstantin Gluhov in May 2011. Struve and Rosholt will lock horns at UFC 193 on Nov. 15 in Australia.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Kyoji Horiguchi: Benavidez cleared yet another hurdle at 125 pounds in banking a unanimous decision over Ali Bagautinov. The Team Alpha Male mainstay controlled much of their 15-minute encounter with kicks, as he dictated the rules of engagement and frustrated the two-time combat sambo world champion. Benavidez, 31, has won 11 of his past 13 bouts, losing to reigning flyweight boss Demetrious Johnson on two occasions. A Norifumi Yamamoto protégé, Horiguchi last competed at a UFC Fight Night event on Sept. 26, when he claimed a unanimous verdict against Roufusport’s Chico Camus at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Julianna Pena vs. Sarah Kaufman-Germaine de Randamie winner: She may not yet be Evander Holyfield to Ronda Rousey’s Mike Tyson, but no one can deny Pena a place among the top women’s bantamweights in the sport. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 winner outhustled Jessica Eye over three rounds, withstood a few harrowing exchanges with the Strong Style Fight Team rep and pocketed a well-deserved decision. The 26-year-old Pena has fully recovered from the knee injury that derailed her career in 2014 and remains unbeaten in three appearances inside the UFC’s Octagon. Kaufman will confront de Randamie at UFC on Fox 17 in December.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Glover Teixeira-Patrick Cummins winner: Twice Gustafsson has fought for the UFC light heavyweight championship and twice he has been turned away in decisions, first to Jones and now to Cormier. Whether or not the Swede ever gets over the hump at 205 pounds remains to be seen, but at 28 years of age, he still has plenty of high-profile fights ahead of him. Teixeira will tangle with Cummins at a UFC Fight Night event on Nov. 7 in Brazil.