It was a valuable stance Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic took with the UFC when the idea of Saturday’s super-fight of champions was proposed.
“I’ve always done and been exactly what the UFC needed me to be,” said Cormier, 39, the light heavyweight champion.
In a year of diminished pay-per-view fight cards — which continued with Saturday’s UFC 226 as featherweight champion Max Holloway withdrew from his co-main event due to concussion-like symptoms — Cormier stamped this event as his opportunity to cash in for a career of reliability.
“I’ve always been there,” Cormier said. “When you put in all that goodwill, it’s easy for people to stand by you when it’s time to negotiate.”
Nine of 14 UFC pay-per-views since last July have been disrupted by the loss of a main- or co-main event fighter or a former champion.
Two years ago, Cormier said his purse took a $1-million hit when Jon Jones tested positive for a banned substance and he accepted a last-minute replacement bout against former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, a bout dominated by the bigger Cormier’s Olympic wrestling skill.
Last year Cormier finally got his rematch with Jones, lost it, then had it ruled a no contest after Jones failed another drug test.
With Jones, the light heavyweight division’s biggest draw, out of action and Miocic, the heavyweight champion, having cleaned out his division, a bout between Miocic and Cormier made sense — it just had to make financial sense for both fighters, too.
“If we’re going to do this, we need to make sure we’re both taken care of financially and that we both can make big money doing it,” Cormier said. “It shouldn’t be that we’re fighting just for the sake of fighting. It was going to be us fighting for the heavyweight title and making money that was in line with two guys in a super-fight. It’s the biggest fight UFC can make now, and we got paid accordingly.”
Miocic had made no secret of his dissatisfaction with his pay, even as he established a record by winning three consecutive heavyweight title defenses. Now he says he’s “100% happy.”
“UFC is not trying to … underpay guys intentionally — it’s a business,” Cormier said. “When you can bring a fight that will make money, they are more than happy to work with you and pay you what you think you should get paid. It wasn’t that hard of a negotiation. It was, ‘This is going to sell. We’re going to do our job. We’ll have a massive gate. We are going to make money.’
“When you can say that and say it with confidence, the organization will pay you what you expect.”
The fight carries even more weight with the withdrawal of Holloway, whose team said he’s suffering from slurred speech, altered vision and drowsiness, from an anticipated showdown with unbeaten, No. 1-rated featherweight Brian Ortega of Harbor City.
The onus is now on Cormier (20-1), who weighed in Friday at 246 pounds — 41 more than his light-heavyweight limit — to back up his move up in weight and his promise of entertaining action that included a boastful taunt of Miocic (18-2) at Wednesday’s public workout.
“The heavyweights don’t move like us. They can’t go as hard as me,” Cormier said. “I haven’t lost a wrestling match, a fight or a round at heavyweight. And Stipe Miocic is the guy who’s supposed to do it? I’m your new champion, Daniel Cormier.”
Cormier stood as Strikeforce heavyweight champion, but when the UFC purchased and folded that operation, Cormier vowed never to fight his San Jose stablemate Cain Velasquez, who was the UFC heavyweight champion, and moved to light heavyweight, becoming champion with four title victories.
Cormier expects that to pay dividends in a five-round fight in which he plans to out-wrestle Miocic and dodge “the only way he can beat me,” with a power punch.
“The longer I wrestle, the more extended the grappling is, the better it is for me,” Cormier said. “Stipe’s fighting style will lend to me getting within range. He does a lot of work on the inside. He doesn’t land knockout punches at range, and because he’s had so much success doing that, he’ll try to do that to me and he’ll be vulnerable.”
Victory would make slight underdog Cormier the second simultaneous two-belt champion in UFC history after Conor McGregor did so in 2016.
“It’d mean everything, how something I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams came true,” Cormier said. “It would be unbelievable.”
Main event: Stipe Miocic (18-2) vs. light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier (20-1) for Miocic’s heavyweight belt
When/where: Saturday, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Television: Pay-per-view begins at 7 p.m. PDT; preliminaries on FS1 at 5
Undercard: No. 1 Francis Ngannou (11-2) vs. No. 5 Derrick Lewis (19-5), heavyweights; No. 14 Paul Felder (15-3) vs. Mike Perry (14-3), welterweights; No. 9 Michael Chiesa (14-3) vs. No. 12 Anthony Pettis (20-7), lightweights; Gokhan Saki (1-1) vs. Khalil Rountree (7-3), light heavyweights