If Daniel Cormier is able to successfully defend his UFC light-heavyweight title against arch-rival Jon ‘Bones’ Jones on Saturday (July 29) at UFC 214 he will be well within his rights to go around calling himself the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet.
Until that has happened, though, Cormier is happy to place Demetrious Johnson, the UFC’s flyweight champion, above himself, Jones, Conor McGregor and Joanna Jędrzejczyk at the top of an imaginary set of rankings.
“I think Demetrious Johnson is pound-for-pound number one,” Cormier told Fighters Only. “I fought at UFC 210 in Buffalo and Demetrious fought the very next week and the difference in the way it looked was so revealing. This guy can do everything. He’s perfect in there, period. He’s perfect inside the Octagon. I love watching him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Wilson Reis looked like a rank amateur against him. He was outclassed. He knew he wasn’t going to win. Not only does he lose, he went out there and got beat in the one area where everybody thought he had an advantage. That shows you what DJ did to him mentally inside the Octagon.”
Johnson is a polarising figure, especially when it comes to the pound-for-pound debate, and refuses to make much noise outside the Octagon. He’s of the let-my-fists-and-feet-do-the-talking school of thought. Conor McGregor, on the other hand, has almost reinvented the art of self-promotion and used this ability to project, as well as his ability to destroy featherweights and lightweights, to stake his claim for pound-for-pound top spot. Cormier, an admirer of McGregor, respects the hustle and the achievements, but is reluctant to call the Irishman ‘king’ on account of a 2016 defeat to Nate Diaz.
“A lot of the time I get these questions about Conor, but I love Conor,” he said. “He’s a great guy. I have nothing against him. At number two, I get it. He’s a two-division champion. It feels like he should be ranked that high – if not number one.
“I just have a tough time putting him above me at this point. Last year he fought Nate (Diaz) and lost one of those two fights. When I was fighting heavyweight and was 235 pounds, I was still fighting guys who were 265 and 280 pounds.
“If we’re talking pound-for-pound, nobody is beating DJ, but two and three are changeable. Conor’s stock goes up because he won titles in two divisions but losing to Nate has to have consequences.”
Cormier knows that should he avenge his only pro MMA loss on Saturday, against Jones, he will possess as strong a case as anyone for pound-for-pound supremacy. Victory over Jones would, after all, not only deliver him bragging rights, and silence a bitter rival, but also cement, beyond any doubt, his position as the premier light-heavyweight in the world. For a man who also scaled the heights as a heavyweight, that’s a big deal.
“It feels like everything kind of starts and ends with this rivalry (with Jones),” DC said. “It’s easy to forget about stuff like me fighting ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, but the guy was ranked four in the world and had just beaten Fedor (Emelianenko). When I fought Josh Barnett, he was ranked top five in the world at the time. Even when I fought Roy Nelson, he was six, and Frank Mir was five. I’ve beaten all these highly-ranked heavyweights, but I feel because of how closely Jon and I are tied together everything gets lost to that rivalry.”
The rivalry is short-term; Cormier’s legacy is more of a long-term project. He makes that point clear. What Cormier also makes clear is how little the concept of pound-for-pound actually means to those directly involved in the debate.
“It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day,” he said. “It sparks conversation and we want conversation; any time people are talking it’s good for us as far as the sport.
“Pound-for-pound means you’re respected as one of the very best in the world, regardless of your division, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter all that much.”
Defeating Jon Jones on Saturday night, however, means absolutely everything.