You cannot over state Daniel Cormier’s importance to mixed martial arts.
The former Oklahoma State University wrestling All-American went 26-5 before going on to have a successful career in Freestyle Wrestling.
He was the senior U.S. national champion every year from 2003–2008, representing at the world level for each of those years.
At the 2004 Olympics, he came 4th after losing to Khadzhimurat Gatsalov in the semifinals but was also a member of the Team USA 2008 Olympic wrestling.
He inspired friend Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal to take mixed martial arts seriously which resulted in a solid career. His professional resume reads like a blueprint on How To Be Successful in MMA.
Cormier (22-2-1, 10 KOs) was the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion, King of the Cage Heavyweight Champion and eventually became a champ-champ in the UFC holding the light heavyweight and heavyweight belts at the same time.
Even his losses are epic as his two-fight series against rival Jon Jones is one of the most memorable in UFC history. He went 1-1 with Jones with each fight having a classic bad blood title match build-up.
This Saturday, he enters the Octagon for the last time to finish a trilogy with current UFC heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic. If successful, Cormier’s athlete career will be regarded in the same vein as “His Air-ness” Michael Jordan or QB great Peyton Manning and Cormier knows it.
“In mixed martial arts, yes – but then it can put you right alongside the greatest sports athletes of all time,” Cormier told press on Thursday at the UFC 252 pre-fight news conference.
“Michael Jordan won with the Bulls when they beat the Jazz. Unfortunately, he came back; I won’t come back. Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl in his last season. It would put me in that type of sphere with the greatest athletes that have ever competed across any sport. So, when I win on Saturday, I will retire in that way.”
At 41 years old, Cormier has done it all in a sport that has evolved in both athletic ability and hype. He took on MMA’s original “style bender” in Jon “Bones Jones and although he came up short, he was always dignified in defeat.
Cormier never used gimmicks or became a character to propel himself in sports. Just an old fashioned hard work ethic where he has always been known as the first guy in the AKA gym in San Jose, CA and the last one out.
Still, his quest to be the GOAT of MMA will always have a question mark when you look at it holistically and not just in the athletic prism.
For better or worse, Daniel Cormier is a UFC company man.
As one of its biggest stars, he has generated much revenue for the company and has reaped the financial and career propulsion awards from his loyalty.
Now, already fully into a UFC commentary career, Cormier laid the seeds for his retirement years ago and is cashing in while he is still healthy and popular as ever.
But his brand will always suffer the tarnish of Chicken-Gate and his lack of vocal support for the police brutality protest movement and abolishing systemic racism.
As one of the UFC’s most squeaky clean athletes, Cormier has always had the platform to be MMA’s Muhammad Ali. He is charismatic, likable and authentic but he has never stood for anything publicly except the purity of sports.
However, in a world where his boss, UFC President Dana White, is a vocal supporter of Donald Trump this is problematic. Cormier is from Lafayette, Louisiana, a place where the novel coronavirus pandemic hit African-Americans the hardest.
In North Lafayette, where 75% of residents are African-American, there was a much higher rate of COVID-19 cases per capita than any other part of Lafayette Parish, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
While it is awesome that the UFC has continued to employ fighters and staff during these times, it would have been a great opportunity to challenge the current administration for lack of leadership for communities of color in relation to the pandemic.
With athlete-activism now being in style in pop culture, MMA has been relatively silent. This is probably because when Tyron Woodley stepped up after the Michael Brown killing in his native Ferguson, Missouri, the majority-white MMA fans labeled him a race agitator.
His career was destined to fail with any missteps in the Octagon and without a large support base of color he was the lone voice in an already empty room.
Cormier never came to his aid or banded with other fighters of color to create a coalition of MMA brothers. He just sat by the wayside during an entire protest movement fueled by the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones lend a hand in community service in adopted home of Albuquerque, New Mexico, but aside from that, Black MMA was deafeningly quiet.
To have a near spotless, famed 21-year career and never publicly discuss your thoughts on U.S. race relations or lend your hand to the fight is abhorrent and a missed opportunity.
Gone are the days of the silent athlete who just shuts up and dribbles — or in this case — just laces up the gloves and throws down.
There’s a reason why Muhammad Ali will always be considered “The Greatest” and its because he risked it all to champion the causes of others. That was his greatest achievement alongside the titles and the KO’s.
Cormier didn’t go there, mush like Michael Jordan who only now after a becoming a billionaire decided to follow his original corporate sponsors lead and lend his voice and money to fight systemic racism.
The fact that Cormier has only focused on being the best is a selfish goal. His GOAT status as an athlete in this day and age will never be enough and he will forever be judged by one question: did he push the culture in MMA forward?