Daniel Cormier wanted history, and wanted it accomplished appropriately and classically at Madison Square Garden: His way.
In a dominant display of the wrestling talent that made him an Olympian, a Strikeforce champion and a UFC double belt-wearer, Cormier on Saturday night became the first fighter in organization history to successfully defend his title in two divisions by submitting heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis by rear naked chokehold in the second round.
“It’s history, baby!” Cormier, 39, exclaimed in the octagon afterward. “Daniel Cormier is one of the best of all time.
“A lot of people have to understand I’ve been doing this for nine years. There’s no surprises with me.”
Lewis (21-6) knew what was coming, and the power-punching challenger from Houston who’d won nine of his last 10 fights and had 18 knockouts still couldn’t handle the energy of the man who also stands as light-heavyweight champion too.
Cormier (22-1) took Lewis to the canvas by grabbing his left leg one minute into the first round, pummeling the challenger with fists and elbows to the head as the champion successfully contorted himself while holding Lewis, who weighed nearly 15 pounds more at Friday’s weigh-in.
Lewis smartly sought to stand early in the second and landed a kick and punch to the face that hurt one of Cormier’s eyes, but the San Jose-trained Cormier grabbed the left leg again and took Lewis down.
Lewis sought to squirm loose, but he stumbled backward and Cormier was in a dominant position again before positioning to apply the defining chokehold that brought Lewis to tap out 2 minutes, 14 seconds into the round.
The victory moves Cormier to a likely date in March against former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE “champion” Brock Lesnar.
“Brock Lesnar, bring that WWE title with you because I feel like being a WWE champion too,” Cormier said.
Cormier set the tone by taking Lewis to the canvas one minute into the fight and pounding him with fists to the head and ear, adding in hurtful elbows.
“Derrick is good, but he’s not at this level yet,” Cormier said.
In the co-main event, Brazilian Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza endured a thrilling slugfest with former middleweight champion Chris Weidman of New York by flooring and severely dazing Weidman with a hard right hand to the temple, finishing him after referee Dan Miragliotta hesitated before stopping the fight at 2:26 of the third round.
Weidman, his eyes glazed over, desperately grabbed at Souza’s leg like former champion Anderson Silva did to a referee after Weidman knocked him out to end Silva’s extended title reign.
“It’s sport,” Souza said of the long wait. “We have to follow the rules … this was a real fight.”
Souza, the fifth-ranked middleweight, survived a bloodied nose and shrugged off several power punches from Weidman in a bout that surprisingly remained upright throughout.
The third-ranked Weidman, hoping to return for a 2019 title shot that now looms for Souza, absorbed hard body blows in the first round and was backed by a few straight rights, including one that jarred him earlier in the third. He had thrilled the crowd by entering the Garden again to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
The action was a gripping confirmation of each man’s fortitude. Souza said, “I love Chris; he’s a hero, a great guy.”
Unbeaten middleweight Israel Adesanya (15-0) opened the pay-per-view fighting with a complete fulfillment of the massive hype that surrounds him by scoring a first-round technical knockout of sixth-ranked veteran Derek Brunson at 4:51.