Daniel Cormier hung both of his UFC belts over his shoulders Saturday night and proclaimed the long-awaited ownership of something more.
“I hold all the cards now,” Cormier said.
At 39, after being tortured by two losses to former champion Jon Jones — one ruled a no contest after Jones failed a drug test last year — Cormier claimed the signature victory of his career at UFC 226 by knocking out heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in the first round.
By adding that belt to his light-heavyweight title, Cormier joined Conor McGregor as the only UFC fighters who’ve worn two belts at once. Now Cormier (21-1) is armed to dictate the terms for the remainder of his career.
He could have another lucrative super-fight coming against former heavyweight champion and current WWE star Brock Lesnar next year. First, he will decide if light-heavyweight challenger Alexander Gustafsson, whom he beat by split decision in 2015, is impressive enough Aug. 4 at Staples Center to merit a title shot at the marquee Nov. 3 card at Madison Square Garden.
“Last time Gustafsson fought me, we made no money, so this guy’s going to have to do something very special,” Cormier said.
And he will ponder whether he wants to fight Jones again, who defeated Cormier in 2015, caused Cormier to take a purse reduced by $1 million when he failed a drug test two years ago before a planned fight, then beat him again last July, only to have it overturned over another failed test.
Either way, Cormier said, retirement is waiting on his 40th birthday, March 20.
“I can fight in November, and I can fight in March and then I’ll be done,” he said.
Asked how he could fight Lesnar, who has to wait out his own U.S. Anti-Doping Agency-mandated six-month testing period after a 2016 positive test, Cormier said: “We’re living in my world now, so I dictate the rules. Plus, I really don’t like Jones.
“Brock’s got to be clean, man. I’m not going to fight him unless he’s clean. We’ll do testing above USADA to make sure … I’m not going to fight him if he’s cheating. I’ve done that on a number of occasions already.”
Cormier basked in his evening and was celebrated accordingly by admiring UFC President Dana White.
“One of the best of all time. He moves back to heavyweight [against] the best heavyweight ever in UFC history and knocks him out decisively in the first round,” White said. “It gives him the respect he deserves. Now he has a big fight in front of him, a big pay day and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.
“He’s an incredible ambassador for the sport. I told Daniel a long time ago, ‘If you’re my champion for the rest of my career, I’ll be a very happy man.’ I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Inside five minutes, Cormier measured Miocic’s power, plotted a way inside and landed a right hand to the jaw that dropped the champion, and finished him with two more blows on the canvas.
After seeing Lesnar give him a “grumpy, smirking” look from ringside before the fight, Cormier quickly improvised a post-fight speech to summon the former college wrestler he’s known since 1997 into the octagon. Lesnar answered the call, shoved Cormier and the ticket-selling theatrics were launched.
“I watch the WWE, I love it. Brock Lesnar is the champion of the WWE, but when he comes here, there’s no script, no Vince McMahon saying, ‘Hey, D.C., lay easy on the punches ….’” Cormier said. “When Brock punches me, I’m going to get in [him]. He can talk big and bad now, but when that cage door closes, he’s going to have to answer for his words.”
Cormier’s stablemate Cain Velasquez knocked out Lesnar in Anaheim in 2010 to win the UFC heavyweight title, and can provide valued training as he did for eight weeks before Saturday’s fight.
“I never would’ve done this without Cain. What Velasquez has been to me is unmatched. He showed me becoming a champion is possible,” Cormier said.
Cormier recounted coming up short in a national amateur wrestling meet, NCAA competition, the Olympics and the Jones fights.
“All those situations were earned,” he said. “I wasn’t able to cash in then. Tonight, I was and it almost feels like destiny … like the culmination of an athletic career that lasted forever.”
Miocic (18-3) was in a hurry to leave Las Vegas for Cleveland as his wife awaited the birth of the couple’s first child, a daughter.
“It was D.C.’s night. I lost. No excuses. He was the better man tonight,” Miocic said. “All I care is about getting home. I’ve got my daughter waiting.”