The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 241 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
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All-time great boxer Bernard Hopkins in the prime of his career famously vowed that he would retire before the age of 40. He would get out healthy and still at his best, as he had promised his mother. He repeated this time and again, leaving no doubt as to his intent. By the time he reached 40, he was still boxing. Given the history of combat sport retirements, this wasn’t the biggest of shockers. Of course, in the case of Hopkins, he was still fighting past the age of 50. He overshot his target like a Blake Bortles spiral downfield.
Hopkins, like so many great individual athletes, was drawn by the allure of one more big payday and one more moment of glory. He was also devoted to his training and preparation, with that remarkable work ethic tempting him to put it to use. It’s something many of the all-time best fighters have gone through, and it’s something Daniel Cormier is grappling with now. Cormier was vocal about wanting to retire by the age of 40, but on Saturday, he returns for the first time since passing that age, and no one should be shocked if he ends up fighting a number of additional times still.
In a number of ways, Cormier’s decision to continue at UFC 241 is perplexing. In 2018, he won the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title to go along with the UFC light heavyweight title, which could have been the perfect capstone for his career. His push to continue made sense at the time because the next fight he was targeting was against Brock Lesnar. That had the potential to be the highest profile and biggest money bout of his career. It was also a fight he would have been a strong favorite to win. Cormier continuing to stay active while waiting for that fight to materialize made all the sense in the world.
Cormier-Lesnar, of course, doesn’t look like it will ever happen. Instead, Cormier is returning for a rematch against Stipe Miocic. It’s a dangerous fight against an opponent he already defeated, and it won’t generate close to the revenue the fight with Lesnar would have. It’s a logical next fight for a competitor in the middle of a career but doesn’t jump out as a major temptation preventing someone from following through on a firm plan to retire. That’s not to mention that Cormier has dealt with injury woes in recent years and has plenty of options outside the cage as a popular and effective commentator.
It’s easy to rationalize why Cormier should have followed through on his original plan to retire at 40, but fighters in his position continue on so often for many of the same reasons. Cormier likes to train, and he likes to compete. He has spent most of his life as an elite athlete and no matter how satisfying other aspects of his life are, they don’t have the same urgency as fighting in the sense that they will be around after his ability to fight at an elite level is gone.
There is also the elephant in the room with the 84.5-inch reach. Only Cormier himself knows how much another fight with Jon Jones means to him, whether it’s something that will always eat at him or whether it’s a fight he has mentally moved past. However, great athletic rivalries can cause the athletes involved to do strange things. Chuck Liddell knocked out Tito Ortiz twice in their primes, and yet, he was still compelled to fight Ortiz again at age 48 because of what that rivalry meant to him. If Liddell were offered the opportunity to fight Ortiz again at age 68, it’s not hard to imagine him jumping at the opportunity. Cormier’s career will always be linked with Jones, and if they fought again, “DC” could forever change the narrative of the feud.
If Cormier is hanging around because he wants a third fight with Jones, then that seems like a natural ending point for his run. If, on the other hand, the Jones fight is not what is keeping Cormier going, then, like Hopkins, Cormier could end up fighting quite a bit longer still. After all, all the other reasons driving Cormier to continue now will remain after the Miocic bout. Pretty much every reason Cormier might give for stopping after the Miocic fight he could give for stopping before the Miocic fight on the timeline he originally planned.
Ultimately, the decision on Cormier’s future will rest with the man himself, as it should. The financial and competitive benefits of continuing will go to him. Likewise, the physical risks of continuing too long and the disappointment that can come with emphatic late-career losses are his to bear. Regardless of whether or not Cormier is better off continuing to fight for years to come, absent a serious injury, there’s plenty of reason to believe he may have a significant number of fights left still. There are forces pulling him towards retirement, but that was the case for Hopkins, Liddell, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and so many others. Cormier hasn’t let those forces pull him away yet, and it may be some time before he does, even if he’s thinking otherwise right now.
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.