The Fight Horizon
One of the marquee former Strikeforce fighters (along with Gilbert Milendez and Luke Rockhold) to transfer to the UFC is also the winner of the infamous Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Who would have imagined when the tournament was first announced that neither Fedor Emelianenko or Alistair Overeem would win the tournament, let alone make the finals? Instead, late substitute Daniel Cormier replaced Alistair Overeem midway through the tournament and the rest is history: Cormier ended up throttling Josh Barnett in the finals to win the Heavyweight Championship.
Strikeforce was famously purchased by the UFC and now we fast forward to Cormier making his UFC debut against former champion Frank Mir, who he was originally supposed to face before Mir caught the injury bug. Expectations for DC are high, possibly the highest of any recent addition to the UFC, right up there with Gil Melendez. Cormier famously trains at AKA with current UFC Heavyweight champion and friend, Cain Velasquez. Cormier has firmly stated that he refuses to fight his training partner, instead opening up the possibility of moving down to light heavyweight to eventually face reigning champion Jon Jones. What actually happens will depend on the results of his fight against Mir, who is no pushover.
The Matchup: Frank Mir vs. Daniel Cormier
UFC Rookie: Daniel Cormier – DC is 11-0 with numerous finishes in his career, but outside of Bigfoot Silva and Josh Barnett (and possibly Monson), most MMA fans would be hard-pressed to recognize the other names on his resume. The Silva KO is probably his signature win at this point, although his dominant performance against Barnett is what won him a title.
UFC Veteran: Frank Mir made it to the second round against Junior Dos Santos before succumbing to strikes. He was on an impressive win streak before that, defeating Mirko Cro Cop, Roy Nelson and then famously breaking Big Nog’s arm with that kimura. Mir is the perfect choice to welcome Cormier to the UFC, having more wins in the UFC alone than Cormier does in his entire career.
The Date: April 20, 2013 – UFC on Fox 7 in San Jose, California.
Weight Class: Heavyweight
What led to it: These two were supposed to face off before Mir got hurt. Cormier needs a big name and proven fighter to see where he stacks up. He’s ready for the UFC limelight and Mir is the tested veteran who has the honor of welcoming him.
Why it matters: This fight has a lot of interesting ramifications. A trend has been developing for a while now, where fighters train together with other guys in their weight class, and have to decide if/when they will fight one another.
Some guys end up burning bridges and throwing down a la Rashad Evans and Jon Jones, while others decide from the get-go that they will never fight each other (Fitch/Koscheck, GSP/Rory Mac). Cormier and Cain Velasquez have made it clear they fall in the latter. If Cormier beats Mir in any manner, he’ll be somewhere in the title picture. Odds are Cain Velasquez defeats Bigfoot Silva which leaves him in a dilemma. Cormier may take another fight at heavyweight in a title eliminator, but if Cain reigns as the champion, the road ends there.
The real key here is Cormier making the transition to light heavyweight. His speed is a huge advantage at heavyweight and will fit right in at LHW. But the famed story of his previous, near fatal cut as an Olympic wrestler leaves a lot of doubt as to whether he can 1. make the cut in a healthy way and 2. stay competitive and not lose his strength and conditioning as a result. He’s 33 years old and will turn 34 next month, so he’s no spring chicken. Moving to a smaller weight class at that age is no easy task. However, according to Velasquez, Cormier has room for improvement when it comes to his nutrition.
But before any of that, first he must defeat Mir. At this point in his career, Mir is serving as an avenue to the stars in his division, an elite gatekeeper. He’s like Urijah Faber, a former champion who is clearly better than most of the division, but not quite good enough to beat the champion. Mir isn’t likely to be fighting for the belt again anytime soon, but he’s still an elite heavyweight who has the goods to beat Cormier on any given night. He has a chance to throw a wrench in the machine and raise his status again, and if we learned anything from the Big Nog fight, we saw that Mir can do the impossible. No one predicted he would be able to submit Nogueira on the ground, let alone snap his arm from a kimura. This will be a great test to see how Cormier’s game translates to the UFC and on April 20th, he’ll have his chance to shine.