Dual-division champion Daniel Cormier was headed toward the biggest payday of his career with Brock Lesnar on the horizon for early 2019. So why did Dana White convince him to risk that to fight Derrick Lewis at UFC 230 in New York?
The short answer is the simple one: White was in dire need of a worthy main event for the promotion’s Nov. 3 return to Madison Square Garden, and there were almost no other options.
The UFC has tried to put a championship fight at the top of every one of its pay-per-view fight cards. It’s a very rare instance that a UFC pay-per-view headliner isn’t a title fight.
In trying to make a UFC 230 championship headliner, fight after fight fell apart before it could even get announced. Officials had finally cobbled together a bout between Valentina Shevchenko and Sijara Eubanks for the vacant women’s flyweight title, but reception to that as a possible headliner fell flat.
With nowhere else to turn, White turned to the one man he knew he could count on: Daniel Cormier.
Cormier wasn’t willing to take the UFC 230 headlining spot at all costs, however, as he readily admitted that he wouldn’t have accepted a rematch with Stipe Miocic on short notice like he did the bout with Lewis. As he has explained, while Lewis is legitimate contender and a dangerous opponent, his skill set is limited, making Cormier’s fight preparation much easier than it would have been for Miocic, who has many more ways to win in the Octagon than does Lewis.
Considering Lewis’ limited range and the UFC likely throwing a massive amount of money his way, Cormier couldn’t refuse the offer.
“I didn’t think I was going to fight on this card, but the deal I got was so good,” Cormier told ESPN recently. “There was no way I could say no, honestly. Especially with a guy like Derrick, who is not known for the best cardio. I’ve got to start fast and hope I can push harder than him, even with a short camp.”
White sees it as an exciting match-up for almost all the same reasons that Cormier sees it as a limited risk. Cormier has the skills, the accomplishments, the likelihood of winning… but Lewis can bring all that crashing down with one well-timed punch.
“Obviously, Derrick Lewis is a tough guy, durable, keeps coming no matter what happens; has an unbelievable chin; and has the ability to knock anybody out with one punch. He’s very exciting and fun to watch,” White said in an interview with ESPN.
“What can I say about Daniel Cormier? Daniel Cormier is one of the greatest athletes ever in the history of this sport. He’s got two belts right now; the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles. I think it’s gonna be a fun fight. It’s a fun, heavyweight fight. Cormier has never lost at heavyweight and Derrick Lewis is the No. 2 ranked heavyweight in the world.”
White obviously thinks much like Cormier does, that there is minimized risk as far as losing the heavyweight belt is concerned, although he is still charged with promoting it as a competitive match-up.
At the end of the day, White is just thankful to have a champion like Cormier on the roster; a fighter who is willing to risk it all to save the day.
“Cormier is one of these guys – it’s like I always talk about (Conor) McGregor – Cormier is one of these guys, he’s willing to put everything on the line. It’s what I like so much about Cormier too as a fighter,” said White.
“I told Cormier, if you’re my champion for the rest of my career, I’m good. He’s a great guy, well spoken, love the way he breaks down fights and does his thing with (Joe) Rogan. As far as fighting? He’s lost to one guy his entire career: Jon Jones. That might drive Cormier crazy, not a bad stat, because you know how I feel about Jones. Jon Jones is probably the best to ever do it.
“I love the fight with Cormier vs. Derrick Lewis. It’s gonna be fun. You’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth out of that fight, and those are the type of fights that I love.”