Split Decision: Who should be Daniel Cormier’s next opponent?
Daniel Cormier is one of the top light heavyweights in the UFC, but he’s currently in no-man’s land. Champion Jon Jones fights next month against Glover Teixeira and if he wins he’ll likely meet Alexander Gustafsson.
So where does that leave Cormier, the former wrestling Olympian? Good question.
Our FOX Sports UFC writers Damon Martin and Marc Raimondi have very differing opinions on whom he should fight next. Read their opinions and then form your own down below in our comments.
Marc Raimondi: Daniel Cormier is undefeated as a pro MMA fighter with an Olympic wrestling pedigree. He’s just about unanimously thought of as one of the top light heavyweights in the world, especially after proving he could make 205 pounds in a healthy way before his last fight. So, which opponent might he get next? Nope, not a fellow title contender. Talks are that Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante could be Cormier’s foe at UFC 175 in July. "Feijao" is 1-1 with one no contest in his last three fights and that no contest came after he failed a drug test. Pitting him against a top guy like Cormier doesn’t make sense.
Damon Martin: It’s not a done deal yet, but Daniel Cormier is expected to return at UFC 175 in July for a fight against former Strikeforce champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, and given the current landscape of the light heavyweight division and where he stands right now this is the perfect fight for the two-time Olympic wrestler. Cormier is fresh off a first round massacre over late notice replacement Patrick Cummins, and given Feijao’s particular set of skills this is a massive upgrade in the level of opponent. It’s also good timing for the July card, and the fight stands to put Cormier right in the crosshairs of becoming another contender in line for a crack at the light heavyweight title.
Martin: First of all, let’s talk about the timing. Cormier basically walked to the Octagon for his first fight at light heavyweight, threw about eight punches, and walked back out again. It was the definition of a drubbing, and this was after Cormier prepared for 10 weeks to face one of the best light heavyweights in the sport. Following the fight people pointed out that his opponent Patrick Cummins took the bout on extremely short notice, he had never fought in the UFC before and as far as anyone knew at the time his most dangerous weapon was a double shot of espresso. Cormier wins, but why sit him out for several months just to wait and see what happens? Get him into a fight as quick as possible, and with so many champions sidelined, Cormier has a chance to really get in the spotlight as the co-main event of one of the biggest cards of the year on July 5.
The fact is Cormier was supposed to face Rashad Evans, but he got injured. Now, Cormier facing the winner of Phil Davis vs. Anthony Johnson would seem like the perfect scenario, but can anyone really bank on the winner of that fight competing on April 26, and then fighting again two months later? You have to remember their fight is at the end of April, and the Cormier bout would be at the very beginning of July so whoever wins would have to be healthy and willing to fight, take maybe a week off, get a six week fight camp in and then go face one of the best fighters on the planet. Seems like a no-brainer why Davis nor Johnson were in the running for this one.
Now, Cormier facing the winner of Phil Davis vs. Anthony Johnson would seem like the perfect scenario, but can anyone really bank on the winner of that fight competing on April 26, and then fighting again two months later?
Is Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante the fighter that’s going to convince everyone that Cormier is ready to fight for the UFC light heavyweight title? Probably not. The fact is, however, Cormier was the No. 1 contender at heavyweight when he left the division. Sure his wins at heavyweight don’t mean he’s going to be a great 205-pound fighter, but you can’t completely discount them either. "Feijao" laid an egg in his UFC debut getting knocked out by Thiago Silva, but outside of that lone, awful performance, he’s gone 5-1 with 1 no contest with his only other loss coming to Dan Henderson, and that’s not a bad defeat to have on your record no matter what your name happens to be. I don’t remember hearing this much complaining when Anthony Johnson — with a 4-0 record at light heavyweight and his biggest win over Mike Kyle — landed an even bigger fight on paper against Phil Davis, who is ranked No. 4 in the world — one spot ahead of Cormier. Oh and by the way, "Feijao" is currently ranked No. 13 so technically if we should complain about any fight, it’s Davis vs. Johnson.
Raimondi: With a match up with "Feijao," the UFC is basically saying Cormier wants to stay busy, but we’re going to protect him as a light heavyweight contender by giving him a guy down in the rankings. That strategy almost never works. What if Cormier gets caught? And that’s possible, because Cavalcante has power in his fists and his knees. Then you have one of your top next opponents for Jon Jones — and maybe the guy who will sell the most pay-per-views with Jones — getting knocked out by a veritable journeyman.
How do you avoid something like that? You actually give Cormier name challenges. He’s already fought a tomato can (Frappucino bottle?) in Patrick Cummins his first bout at 205 pounds. It has to be time for a significant step up. Ideally, you would want Cormier to face the winner of the April match up between Phil Davis and Anthony "Rumble" Johnson. Now, that would be a legitimate No. 1 contender battle. The victor would have serious credibility and juice coming into a fight with Jones. And if Cormier beats one of those guys, combine that with his rivalry with Jones and you have a serious draw at the box office.
If you really want [Cormier] in July, then how about someone like Ryan Bader? At least he’s more well-known to the UFC fan.
However, I do get the timing aspect of it. The UFC wants Cormier on its Fourth of July weekend show. The amount of big stars on the roster is dwindling and Cormier is a name — maybe not a headliner yet, but at least a co-main event type of guy. If you really want him in July, then how about someone like Ryan Bader? At least he’s more well-known to the UFC fan. Both he and "Feijao" are coming off devastating knockout wins, but at least Bader hasn’t failed a drug test in his last three fights. Bader is a bigger name, has had a longer run in the UFC and is a former contender for the light heavyweight title. He also has the wrestling and power to be a challenge for Cormier. If Cormier beats Bader, then maybe he takes on the Davis/Johnson winner, because, let’s face it, the Jones/Teixeira winner is going to fight one more time before Cormier gets a crack at the belt — against Alexander Gustafsson. Cormier’s title shot is most likely to come in 2015.
Raimondi: If the UFC is trying to "build up" Cormier by pitting him against guys he’s likely to be a huge favorite against, we know from past experience that it won’t work. "Feijao" is a pretty tough guy, though undeserving of a top contender fight. If he beats Cormier, it reduces Cormier’s stock drastically. Having Cormier meet the Davis/Johnson winner next is by far the most logical match up. A loss to either one of those guys is passable. But if the timing is off — the UFC apparently wants Cormier to fight in July — the next best option is Ryan Bader, a bigger name who has not tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs within his last three fights like Cavalcante has. Cummins was enough of a tune-up for Cormier. It’s time "DC" gets in there with the elite guys in the division.
Martin: The UFC needs stars right now especially with Cain Velasquez, Johny Hendricks and Anthony Pettis all out due to injury and Ronda Rousey’s summer is filled battling old men during a promotional tour for "The Expendables 3." Cormier’s not a star yet, but he’s starting to fill those shows and he would be a great co-main event for Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida. Look at the top 10 in the light heavyweight division and outside of Ryan Bader, who is still battling back from a broken hand, who is even available to fight on July 5? Cormier needs an opponent, "Feijao" is available, and it appears we got ourselves a fight. I’ll tune into watch, that much I know for sure!