One of the best wrestlers in the sport, Daniel Cormier, will look to grind down feared knockout puncher, Anthony Johnson, this Saturday night (May 23, 2015) at UFC 187 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Until he faced Jon Jones, Cormier looked nearly unstoppable. Indeed, the former Olympian had a pretty big following who believed he was destined to upset the light heavyweight wunderkind. Instead, Jones handed Cormier a dominant loss and sent him to the back of the line.
Or so we thought.
Cormier is back in the Octagon to fight for the strap once again in his very next fight. While his opponent does not possess the diverse set of skills that Jones used to control "DC," he's also the most dangerous knockout threat in the division.
Let's take a closer look at Cormier's skills and see how he stacks up.
While Cormier can occasionally be a bit awkward with his movements, he's a still rather effective striker. For the most part, he's just trying to do some damage as he sets up the takedown and is quite successful in that regard.
Cormier does a nice job measuring the distance with his jab before engaging. He'll lean into the punch a bit and reach for his opponent -- which is risky from a technical stand point -- but it allows him to get his weight forward and move into a takedown easily.
If Cormier decides to keep the fight standing, he'll soon be shooting out right hands, as well. When Cormier throws his right, he does a pretty nice job getting his head off the center line. Overall, the 1-2 and left hook-cross make up a majority of Cormier's combinations.
By leaning forward with his punches, Cormier is able to level change forward and easily get in on his opponent's hips, which is his usual reaction if his opponents keeps their hands high. Should his opponent appear ready to defend the shot, Cormier will extend his combination.
Cormier effectively uses his wrestling to open up punches, as he smoothly mixes takedown feints and level changes into his movement. Plus, much of his head movement while punching includes a slight dip, which can easily be confused as a potential takedown.
With that dip, Cormier keeps his opponent hesitant to counter and leave himself open to a takedown. Cormier can also turn this movement into offense, as he explodes upwards with an uppercut. In addition, Cormier will sometimes move out of this lowered stance with a long left hook.
After successfully landing a punch or combination off the threat of the takedown, Cormier will often follow up with an actual takedown. This style of threatening low-high-low is extremely effective, and there are multiple variations of it. Unless a fighter is extremely confident in his takedown defense or has particularly fast reflexes, it's a very difficult strategy to deal with.
And in a foreshadow of the final section in this article, it should be a major part of Cormier's strategy.
To further build off his wrestling, Cormier has become a very effective clinch striker. After pushing his opponent into the fence, he is very good at chipping away with dirty boxing. Early on, Cormier is content to just land small punches and dig to the ribs, which is exhausting and painful.
When his opponent attempts to break the clinch or land his own shots, Cormier gets more aggressive and effective. He'll either get a firm grip on the wrist and fire off uppercuts with his free hand or look to secure a double-collar tie. From there, Cormier picks his shots well, landing hard knees to the mid-section.
Most of Cormier's success against Jones came within the clinch. When Cormier was able to get a grip on "Bones," both fighters landed hard strikes. Cormier did his best work with the uppercut, but he also landed some nice knees.
Last but not least, Cormier has a decent kicking game. His round kicks are fairly powerful, and he often punctuates his combinations with a low kick. Recently, Cormier has incorporated front kicks into his game, which help stand his opponent up taller and make takedowns come easier.
Defensively, no one has been able to capitalize on Cormier's flaws just yet. However, that doesn't mean they do not exist. Most obviously, Cormier's hands drop as he exchanges, which makes it easier to counter the former Olympian. Additionally, Cormier's occasional shift punches and generally throwing strikes while off-balance can leave him in poor position to absorb blows.
While Jones didn't have the punching power to rock Cormier -- he also didn't pursue that style of fight -- "Rumble" most certainly does.
In addition, Cormier continually tried to close the distance against Jones by moving straight in. This caused him to eat quite a few punches on the way in, punches he likely can't afford if they come from Johnson.
While it's possible to pick out Cormier's tendencies and preferred positions, explaining precisely why Cormier's wrestling is so incredible is a more complicated task. At the end of the day, the best explanation is simply that "DC" does every seemingly minor detail -- be it posture, head position, or hip pressure -- perfectly.
With that out of the way, Cormier relies heavily on his single leg takedown. After rolling off a punch, Cormier will drive into his opponent's hips with his head on the outside. Additionally, Cormier will sometimes just drop down when his opponent moves forward with punches.
Once he's in position, Cormier is an expert at finishing the takedown and quite difficult to stop. However his opponent looks to defend, Cormier usually has an answer. After looking to run the pipe -- the standard high crotch finish that Cormier routinely hits -- Cormier will react accordingly to however his opponent attempts to defend.
For example, Barnett did a nice job keeping his balance when Cormier first attempted to dump him. However, Barnett did very little to break Cormier's posture or fight his hands, so "DC" was easily able to push his hips in and lift the heavyweight into the air.
In the closest Cormier came to landing a takedown, he used this exact technique against Jon Jones. Though he did lift and slam the former champion, he failed to complete the takedown by securing top position.
Cormier will also finish his single leg with a trip. Against Roy Nelson, he first attempted to step inside and trip "Big Country." As Nelson defended, Cormier moved a bit more to the side, allowing him to drive forward and land an outside trip on Nelson's remaining leg.
Outside of his single leg, Cormier will often work from the clinch. He's quite physically strong from that position and both controls and lands takedowns well. When in tight, Cormier uses a wide variety of takedowns, including inside and outside trips, lateral drops, and transitioning into the single from the clinch.
Defensively, Cormier was untouchable until he faced off with Jones, and even then he looked pretty good. For the most part, Cormier's hips are simply untouchable; takedowns just bounce off him. Even when Jones did put him on his back, Cormier was able to scramble back up fairly quickly.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
A brown belt in jiu-jitsu, Cormier is not very active with his submission attempts. When in top position, Cormier is largely focused on controlling his opponent with his wrestling and landing ground strikes.
However, Cormier will look to jump on his opponent's back and lock in the rear-naked choke. Usually, Cormier just looks to stay in the turtle position, but he will occasionally attempt to sink his hooks in. He's not exactly great at it -- Cormier has slid off his opponents' backs more than once -- but it can also result in a very quick finish.
Defensively, Cormier has not been put in many threatening positions, largely because he's shown good awareness. Whenever Barnett began setting up a submission -- and the catch wrestler has some very crafty set ups -- Cormier simply backed away and stood up. Cormier could land his takedowns at will, so it was a pretty smart strategy.
In addition, Cormier played it safe in regards to jiu-jitsu against Frank Mir. Rather than take down the submission ace, Cormier simply controlled his opponent against the fence and did damage from there.
Best chance for success
In order to defeat "Rumble," Cormier needs to blend his wrestling and striking perfectly. He does not want to end up stranded on his feet against Johnson, nor does he want to take an obvious shot into an uppercut.
Therefore, transitions are vital.
Due to Johnson's forward approach, he can leave himself open to punches while looking to defend takedowns. While his chin has held up just fine, if Johnson is kept guessing, landing both punches and takedowns will be much easier.
This is where the mix of level changes, actual shots, and punches comes into play. Cormier needs to mix together these offenses three or four at a time, forcing Johnson to constantly react to threat of punches AND takedowns. Not only is this tiring for Johnson, but it will allow Cormier to land clean punches on the superior striker and get in on his takedowns.
Will Daniel Cormier be more successful in his second chance for the title, or will Anthony Johnson score another violent knockout?