February 22nd and UFC 170 in Las Vegas is a mere six weeks away and with it, the much anticipated light-heavyweight debut of Daniel Cormier.
As fans know, Cormier is a powerful and athletic wrestler. He is a two time Olympian, having placed fourth in the 2004 games, as well as being a bronze medalist in the 2007 world championships. He is also a former two-time Pan American gold medalist, as well as having taken the bronze once. In short, he’s a world class wrestler.
Since migrating his wrestling skills to the sport of mixed martial arts, Cormier has won the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, gone 13 & 0 professionally, 2 & 0 in the UFC, made his ranked mark in the heavyweight division, and taunted light-heavyweight Jon Jones with verbal barbs of the champion’s imminent defeat at his hands.
On the last point it has become the point of Cormier’s career; to drop down to 205, run through one or two fighters and then batter Jones out of his championship belt. To all of it, Cormier speaks as if it will be nothing more than a walk in the park.
Although Cormier has developed other skills to go with his wrestling, namely Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing, Daniels confidence still finds its roots in his Olympic talents. That indeed, it’s his kryptonite for every fight he’ll be in. To this end, Cormier is convinced that no other wrestler in the UFC, and that includes his UFC 170 opponent Rashad Evans, will ever be able to take him down.
Today in Los Angeles, while speaking at a promotional luncheon for the upcoming Nevada event, Cormier commented on his conviction directly. As Daniel remarked:
"I'm not going to be taken down. I spent a lifetime developing that skill and I'm not getting taken down. When I look at a fight against another wrestler, this is how I approach it. In the sport that we all chose, I got to the top. People don't just quit wrestling. You stop because you hit the end of the road, whereas I just continued to go. So in the sport I chose, Rashad chose, Jon Jones chose, and the rest of those guys chose, I went to the top of that sport. So no, I'm not getting taken down."
In listening to him, he’s confident to be sure. However, Cormier has yet to face a solid wrestler in the UFC. His two victories in the brand have come at the expense of Frank Mir and Roy Nelson, with neither of them being particularly renowned for their wrestling skills. Further, his February opponent (Evans) is no slouch at wrestling himself and comes with his own high level (NCAA) wrestling credentials. Further still, “Suga” has defeated high level wrestlers such as NCAA champion Phil Davis, Greco-Roman wrestling superstar Dan Henderson, and UFC wrestling legend Chael Sonnen.
Perhaps, however, the issue in Cormier’s upcoming fight is not one of having to worry about being taken down, but rather taken out. Evans is not stupid and he probably knows that trying to take Cormier down might be a waste of his time and energy. As such, Rashad may well concede the point and execute a game of pure stand-up; using his wrestling in reverse, if need be, to keep the fight on the feet.
If this proves to be the case and Evans shows up in the same shape as he did for his November UFC 167 fight with Chael Sonnen, then he could prove to be a tough fight for Cormier and without ever trying to take “DC” to the ground. Suga is a very explosive, quick, high paced fighter who has KO power in both his hands and feet. He’s great at moving around and presenting different angles, and the only real knock on him throughout his career has been his motivation and cardio. Last time out Evans had both hitting on all cylinders and the net result was a first round TKO of a great wrestler; Sonnen.
Setting aside takedowns, fans might caution Daniel as to be wary of something else and that’s his ego. Cormier is an impressive fighter to say the least, but so too are a number of the fighters he thinks he’ll beat. As Evans is no joke, neither are the likes of Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, Phil Davis or Glover Teixeira. Of course, there’s also the wrestler killer Lyoto Machida; still ranked in the division at number 14.
All in all, it should be a great fight and if Cormier can beat Evans and particularly decisively, he may well be the next title contender. As Alexander Gustafsson has a tough fight coming up with Jimi Manuwa in March, a loss by the big Swede would remove him from the immediate title picture and leave Cormier in a great spot to pick up the pieces. Conversely, a loss to Evans, even a split decision, would knock him back a peg in the division and remove some of the shine from his armour.