UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will defend his belt against former champ Stipe Miocic at UFC 241 on Saturday.
But Cormier said he thinks there is far more at stake in the main event at Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
“I think every fight for me everything is on the line because I’m still building on my legacy,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m a guy who wants to be remembered, and every single time I walk to that cage to defend the title, it just further solidifies my place in the history of mixed martial arts.”
The fact that he’s in position to leave such a mark is remarkable in its own right.
Cormier finished fourth in the 2004 Olympic wrestling competition, then made the 2008 U.S. team but couldn’t compete after a poor weight cut led to kidney problems.
But he had faced far more adversity off the mats.
His birth father was shot and killed when he was 7, and Cormier’s first daughter was killed in a car accident at 3 months old in 2003.
Cormier, who finished second in the 2001 NCAA wrestling championships, was left to face the prospect of dealing with his real life again with no more competitive outlet before he walked into an MMA gym in 2009 at age 30.
“It’s a fairy tale that I made it in this sport,” said Cormier, who now is married with two children. “A kid who started with nothing and ends up where I am today, it’s the definition of the American dream. I was done after the Olympics in 2008. There was no value left in Daniel Cormier’s name. I was done. I was the guy that went to the Olympics and didn’t get to compete because I mismanaged my weight cut. This story could have been so different, but luckily I was able to have a second chance in a completely new sport. It’s so crazy that it worked out this way.”
While he’s perhaps best known for his rivalry with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, it’s at heavyweight where he started and staked his claim as perhaps the best fighter in the history of the division.
He quickly rose through the ranks with a 13-0 run to start his career only to drop to light heavyweight at a time when his close friend Cain Velasquez was firmly entrenched as the UFC heavyweight champion.
Cormier rarely has been tested, except for his two fights against Jones. He eventually became light heavyweight champion when Jones was inactive after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and indiscretions outside the cage, then made UFC history by becoming the second fighter at the time to simultaneously hold belts in two weight classes when he moved up and knocked out Miocic in July 2018.
He since has vacated the light heavyweight title and successfully defended the heavyweight belt and now has a chance to continue fortifying his status as the best heavyweight ever.
It’s not enough for the 40-year-old.
“I want to be the greatest fighter of all time,” Cormier said. “When I’m done with everything in my career, I want to be in that conversation. If they were to build a Mount Rushmore, I want to have done so much that they could never do it without me up there. I want to leave a legacy so strong that it will always be remembered.”
Cormier doesn’t think he needs to defeat Jones to do that.
“I don’t need to beat a guy who doesn’t have the confidence to fight me without stuff always happening,” Cormier said. “We’re not talking about a guy testing positive once. You don’t get to test positive ever. You don’t get one chance. You don’t get one mess up. I’ve been tested by USADA over a hundred times, and there’s never been one mistake.”
Saturday’s main card bouts at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The main card is available on ESPN Plus pay-per-view starting at 7 p.m.:
— Daniel Cormier (22-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Stipe Miocic (18-3), for Cormier’s heavyweight title
— Anthony Pettis (22-8) vs. Nate Diaz (20-11), welterweights
— Yoel Romero (13-3) vs. Paulo Costa (12-0), middleweights
— Gabriel Benitez (21-7) vs. Sodiq Yusuff (9-1), featherweights
— Derek Brunson (18-7) vs. Ian Heinisch (12-1), middleweights