Did Daniel Cormier make right choice facing Derrick Lewis at Madison Square Garden?

MMA


After much drama, fans finally know who will be headlining UFC 230 in November at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Daniel Cormier will put his heavyweight belt on the line against Derrick Lewis. Cormier, who also holds the UFC’s light heavyweight title, previously said WWE Superstar Brock Lesnar would be his next opponent. Now that’s no longer the case.

Did Cormier make the right move coming back to face Lewis?

We asked our panel — Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim, Chamatkar Sandhu, Phil Murphy, Max Bretos and Eric Tamiso — for their take.


Okamoto: That’s really only for Cormier to determine. Only Cormier knows the extent of the hand injury he’s been dealing with since his last fight in July, and only he knows how physically prepared he can be for a five-round fight that’s scheduled less than four weeks from now.

The reasons for taking this fight are pretty obvious, right? It’s a chance for Cormier to fight in a venue like Madison Square Garden before he hangs up his gloves next year as he’s said he will. It’s a payday, of course. And it’s against an opponent who, with all due respect to Lewis’s power and sterling record, he will be a heavily favored over. Cormier has never made it any secret how much he’d love to fight Brock Lesnar, so to risk that potential fight here — to me, it just shows how highly he values the opportunities that come with this one.

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Wagenheim: Normally, news that Daniel Cormier is fighting deserves to be punctuated by at least as many exclamation points as he has championship belts. Enjoy! Him! Before! He’s! Gone! Add the malicious sledgehammers and booming persona of Derrick Lewis, and you’re liable to use up all of the rest of the !!!!!!’s you’ve got. But this heavyweight clash is all about question marks.

How can Lewis be booked to exchange leather just 29 days after he absorbed 121 significant strikes, 78 to the head, got poked in the eye and dislocated a finger? How is Cormier available in early November when he said just last week that he had to turn down a December fight with Jon Jones because his slow-healing broken hand wouldn’t be ready? What about the light heavyweight belt, which Cormier last defended in January? Does that get stripped? Does DC’s planned dance with walking Brinks truck Brock Lesnar go away as well? How about Cormier’s scheme to fight both Lesnar and Jones before his springtime retirement? Is that now an either/or?

And then there’s the biggest question of all: Even though this (unlike the matchup with zero-wins-since-2010 Lesnar) is a legitimate championship fight — Lewis has won nine of his past 10 bouts, seven by KO, and is No. 3 in ESPN’s heavyweight rankings — why did the UFC not book the even more legit one? Stipe Miocic is the longest-reigning heavyweight champ in promotion history. He’s the only big lug ranked higher than Lewis. He’s earned a rematch. He offered to fight on short notice. And he wouldn’t be doing so less than a month removed from getting punched in the head more than six dozen times.


Sandhu: My instant reaction was shock. I’m totally surprised Cormier accepted this fight. I would’ve waited for the Brock Lesnar bout. The only other fight I would’ve been open to right now is Jon Jones. Those are the money fights. While I heavily favor him to defeat Derrick Lewis, anything can happen in MMA, especially at heavyweight. With retirement just around the corner, I’m shocked Comier didn’t just hold out for his final few big pay days. That being said, Cormier is the quintessential company man and I imagine the UFC sweetened the pot for him to take on the “Black Beast” on short notice. I guess it never hurts to headline a card in Madison Square Garden, which is probably a dream come true for DC, but he’ll be just one overhand right away from Lewis from this turning into a nightmare.


Tamiso: Taking any fight is a calculated risk and as we saw on Saturday night, Lewis can turn a fight around in no time with his power. However, after knocking out Volkov, Lewis said himself “I really don’t think I’m ready for a title shot. That’s five rounds, I can barely go three rounds.” Unless there’s a miracle cardio developing machine created before Nov. 3, that’s not going to improve. Neither will his wrestling.

DC can embrace the grind for 25 minutes and make a fat stack of cash while gaining some leverage for his pursuit of a bout with Brock Lesnar. There’s this other guy named Jon Jones that also expressed interest in fighting Lesnar in the past, so why not play the political game and make sure your name is at the top of the list?


Murphy: The reflexive answer is yes.

This fight wouldn’t happen if A-list paydays against Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones were on the table in the immediate future. Daniel Cormier has set a hard retirement date for his 40th birthday on March 20. Even if that were pushed back — and to fight both Lesnar and Jones, it would have to be — DC is not going to get a more winnable assignment against a viable heavyweight challenger than Derrick Lewis on short rest after a Hail Mary KO at UFC 229.

What better way for Cormier to build himself as a ‘face,’ foiling Lesnar or Jones as ‘heel,’ than to be the Huckleberry who immediately bolsters a pay-per-view in need of something “must-see” at The World’s Most Famous Arena?

If Vegas’ 8-to-1 opening odds are to be believed, it’s as safe of a bout as a heavyweight champ can secure. And it only goes to further demand for a megafight in the spring.


Bretos: First and foremost, as I am sure everyone else is here, I am relieved to see a heavyweight title fight featuring Cormier headline the UFC 230 card at MSG instead of what the promotion had as the main event previously.

This is a good fight for Cormier to take for many reasons. He is viewed as the Knight in Shining Armor by rescuing UFC 230, headlines at MSG (cannot undersell that enough) and faces a deserving opponent who fight fans and novices will know (which Cormier will be a heavy favorite against and will eventually beat).

I have to believe the super fight with Brock Lesnar will happen, but there are still USADA entanglements and remember, the WWE has been making lucrative television and content deals. They might be able to sway Lesnar back to pro wrestling with money, network access with FOX and the promise that he will not have to get in the Octagon in a non-predetermined fight with a man on a mission in Cormier.





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