2018 Fighter of the Year: Daniel Cormier

January 1, 2019

Three title fights including two defenses as well as becoming the first ever simultaneous heavyweight and light heavyweight champion in the history of the UFC.

With accomplishments like that, it’s easy to understand why Daniel Cormier is the 2018 Fighter of the Year.

While Cormier has definitely had stellar years throughout his career including his run through the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix when he wasn’t even in the tournament when it started, 2018 may be the year that he’ll hold in the highest regard when his career is over.

Of course, 2018 started with a light heavyweight title defense in January at UFC 220 and that helped him move past an abysmal end to the previous year.

At UFC 214 in July 2017, Cormier suffered a third round knockout loss to Jon Jones, costing him the light heavyweight championship. By all accounts, Cormier had come up short in his two meetings with Jones and the heated rivalry had come to an end.

Everything shifted a couple of weeks later when a drug test showed that Jones had Turinabol — an anabolic steroid — in his system during the fight with Cormier. Not long after that, the California State Athletic Commission overturned the victory to a no contest and the UFC returned the light heavyweight title to Cormier.

It wasn’t an ideal circumstance by any stretch of the imagination but the former two-time Olympian wasn’t going to hand back a belt, especially with evidence that his last opponent had been caught cheating.

So Comier forged forward at the start of 2018 with a matchup against heavy-handed striker Volkan Oezdemir, who had earned his title shot with a perfect 3-0 record in the UFC including back-to-back knockouts against Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa. Oezdemir was a huge underdog going into the fight but still there were questions if Cormier could still put on a strong performance after such a tumultuous end to the previous year.

He answered that question in emphatic fashion as he dominated Oezdemir from start to finish, eventually putting away the Swiss light heavyweight by second round TKO.

Cormier was back on track and with Jones out of action on suspension, he was ready to move ahead in his career while no longer concerning himself with the former light heavyweight champion.

That’s when the UFC came calling with a unique opportunity.

Cormier was offered a chance to move to heavyweight to challenge Stipe Miocic — who had just become the longest reigning champion in that division on the same night at UFC 220 — as well as coach an upcoming season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. In the history of the UFC under Zuffa as well as the new owners at Endeavor, only one fighter had managed to win two different divisional titles at the same time and that was Conor McGregor, who did it the previous year with the lightweight and featherweight championships.

Even getting the chance to compete for a second world title while currently serving as champion in a different division was incredibly rare. It had never even been attempted between the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions so that temptation along with a paycheck that happened to have a couple extra zeroes at the end was all Cormier needed to accept the challenge.

He coached the reality show against Miocic but more importantly was preparing to return to heavyweight, a division where he had never previously lost. In fact many believed Cormier could have already been a UFC heavyweight champion if not for dropping down to 205 pounds to avoid his teammate and close friend Cain Velasquez.

Unfortunately for Velasquez, he has spent a ton of time over the past few years on the sidelines dealing with various injuries and he gave his blessing to Cormier to move up to heavyweight and challenge for the title against Miocic.

The super fight finally took place at UFC 226 in July and what could have easily been a five round war between two champions actually ended at just 4:33 into the opening round.

After a few exchanges on the feet where Cormier and Miocic had traded punches, the former Oklahoma State wrestler started to look for shots on the inside where he had noticed in film study that the heavyweight champion left his chin open on more than a few occasions in his career.

Cormier took full advantage as Miocic was headhunting for his own knockout and he didn’t see the punch coming from the light heavyweight champion that ultimately blasted him on the chin and sent the Cleveland native crashing down to the canvas. The short punch put Miocic down and Cormier quickly swarmed on him until the referee saw enough to step into stop the contest.

With the win, Cormier was crowned the first ever simultaneous heavyweight and light heavyweight champion in UFC history.

“Never been done,” Cormier told MMAWeekly earlier his year about his historic accomplishment. “Very few guys have attempted it in any weight division much less at heavyweight and 205 [pounds]. It is a really, really big deal.

“I’m glad that I was the one to accomplish it. I’m a lucky guy.”

Following that win, Cormier was dealing with a hand injury that was likely going to keep him out for several months and with a potential showdown against former heavyweight champion and current WWE superstar Brock Lesnar looming in the distance, he wasn’t in a rush to come back.

Cormier had said earlier in the year that he planned to retire by age 40 and that date was rapidly approaching in March 2019. With time running out on his career, Cormier saw the fight with Lesnar as a chance to defend his heavyweight title and cash in with a massive payday thanks to his opponent’s tremendous drawing power.

But the UFC was stuck in a bad position ahead of the upcoming UFC 230 card scheduled for Madison Square Garden in New York after making several attempts to secure a high profile main event came up short.

The event was just around the corner and there was no headliner.

To make matters worse, the co-main event between Dustin Poirier and Nate Diaz had also been scrapped, which left the UFC in dire straits after promises were made to deliver in the latest card at the famous arena.

Once again, Cormier’s phone was blowing up with a request from the UFC to step back into the cage — this time on short notice — to defend his title against Derrick Lewis.

Cormier wasn’t 100-percent healthy and he knew accepting the fight would be a tough test considering he hadn’t really been training while Lewis was just weeks removed from a third round knockout at UFC 229. On the flipside, Cormier knew he would be favored to win the fight just based on his skill set matched up against Lewis but it was still an inherently dangerous fight because the Houston native packed such a serious punch.

Cormier accepted the challenge so he could defend his title, add some more money to his bank account and check off another bucket list item by headlining a card in Madison Square Garden.

It ended up taking him less than two rounds to then put a checkmark next to another bucket list item — winning in the main event at Madison Square Garden.

Cormier wrapped up a rear naked choke at 2:14 into the second round to hand Lewis a defeat while also defending his heavyweight title for the first time. It capped off a crazy year for the ‘double champ’ and cemented Cormier’s status as the clear cut choice to become the 2018 Fighter of the Year.

As Cormier approaches 2019 there are a lot of unknowns awaiting him right now.

He has said numerous times that he still plans on retiring sooner rather than later but he does have that potential fight with Lesnar dangling out in front of him. Cormier could also offer Miocic a rematch after he was the longest reigning champion in UFC heavyweight history before he suffered the first round knockout.

There’s also a possible third fight against Jon Jones that could happen in 2019 that would give Cormier the chance to exorcize those past demons.

Regardless of what he chooses, Cormier can look back at 2018 with a lot of pride as he did what has never been done before and once again etched his name in the history books as one of the greatest fighters of all time.