Daniel Cormier manhandled a sizable heavyweight challenger Saturday, and his reward is a more imposing man, former UFC and current WWE champion Brock Lesnar.
“Can you imagine the visual? Me versus Brock Lesnar?” Cormier, who’s generously listed at 5 feet 11, said of facing the 6-3 Lesnar. “I’m here to test myself. Brock Lesnar is a test.”
Cormier (22-1) was basking in the afterglow of his second-round submission of No. 2-ranked contender Derrick Lewis in the UFC 230 main event at Madison Square Garden. The 39-year-old Cormier, who earlier this year announced he will retire before his 40th birthday, said he plans to face Lesnar in the main event of UFC 235 in Las Vegas on March 2, in what could be his last fight.
Lesnar, 41, reigned as UFC champion from 2008-10 but took a five-year break from mixed martial arts before returning at UFC 200 with a victory over Mark Hunt that was overturned by a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Lesnar hasn’t fought since, but should still be a big draw.
“That could be the retirement fight for old D.C. Talk about the opportunity to go out on an all-time high … Lesnar in Las Vegas,” Cormier said. “It looks like March 2, 2019 will be my last time in the octagon. Brock is a beast, man, a real-life beast, a guy who’s really going to press me.”
Cormier has stopped all three beefy foes he’s confronted this year, including former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic by first-round knockout, to become the first fighter in UFC history to successfully defend belts in two divisions. He still holds the light-heavyweight belt — for now.
“It means everything,” Cormier said. “I wanted to be remembered when I left the sport. When you do things that have never been done before, doing it in Madison Square Garden, it’s amazing.”
UFC President Dana White praised Cormier for his startling run of success. “The guy is all-around incredible … he can do anything. I was so blown away and impressed,” White said. “He’s a beast and is better than everybody right now … everybody includes Brock.”
That run of success, however, has coincided with the absence of Cormier’s bitter rival Jon Jones, who is set to return from another drug suspension Dec. 29 in a rematch against former light-heavyweight challenger Alexander Gustafsson. White said Cormier will vacate the light-heavyweight title, given his interest in fighting Lesnar next, and Jones (22-1) will get a chance to reclaim the belt he held from 2011 to 2015.
Jones handed Cormier his only loss by unanimous decision in 2015, then stopped him with a vicious head kick last year in Anaheim, however that win was ruled a no-contest after Jones tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
“If he wants to come back to light-heavyweight, he can fight one of the contenders. He got knocked out last time we fought,” Jones said of Cormier at Friday’s news conference. “I wouldn’t fight D.C. at heavyweight. I’ve beaten him twice. I have nothing to prove.”
“Giving me a shot? Seriously? When it comes to Jones, it’s hard for me to take anything seriously,” Cormier said. “I’ve always said he won that fight. ... I told him that was a heck of a kick, but that ‘You can’t use that, dog, you were on steroids.’...
“I’m the guy who’s been here the whole time because he can’t stay out of trouble. They gave me the title back without winning a fight. They know it’s safe. With this dude? We don’t know what he’s going to do.”
Should both Cormier and Jones win their next fights, it’s hard to imagine Cormier walking away without trying to conquer his demon one last time.
Saturday’s main event was preceded by Brazilian Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza closing a slugfest with former middleweight champion Chris Weidman by knocking him out in the third round in the fight of the night.
Souza is primed to meet the winner of February’s title bout between champion Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum in Australia.
“I knew if I could connect, I could end the fight,” said Souza, whose nose was bloodied. “I tasted the blood and thought, ‘Let’s keep doing this.’”
Although he’s lost previously to both Whittaker and Gastelum, Souza insists, “I never lose a rematch. Every time I’m under pressure, I excel.”
Unbeaten middleweight Israel Adesanya (15-0) won for the fourth time this year, stopping sixth-ranked Derek Brunson by a first-round knockout. Adesanya revealed he suffered knee inflammation in the days before the fight and will undergo minor surgery, dampening his interest in standing as a possible backup for a shot at Whittaker if Gastelum gets hurt in training.
“Jacare has lost to Kelvin and Robert. Who wants to see that again? Come on,” Adesanya said, pressing to face the Whittaker-Gastelum winner.