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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 230’s Daniel Cormier

Current double-champ, Daniel Cormier, will put his Heavyweight title on the line opposite always-dangerous brawler, Derrick Lewis, this Saturday (Nov. 3, 2018) at UFC 230 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

What a year it’s been for Daniel Cormier. After getting beaten for the second time by Jon Jones, Cormier was left in limbo when Jones failed (again) for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Technically, the champion but coming off an unofficial loss, Cormier felt the need to prove himself.

Mission accomplished.

First, Cormier ran through Volkan Oezdemir like the hard-hitting kickboxer wasn’t even there. Then, he jumped back to Heavyweight. Taking on a very decorated champion in Stipe Miocic, Cormier quickly melted his foe in the very first round. This time, his greatness was undeniable, and now Cormier jumped at the opportunity to defend that crown on short-notice.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Cormier’s last three fights have very clearly showcased serious improvement in his kickboxing. Not just in the clinch — where Cormier has always been a miserable man to fight — but at range, Cormier is now hurting opponents and doing greater damage.

In all three fights, Cormier did a better job of landing his jab. While reaching out and hand-fighting with his opponent, Cormier would suddenly spring forward into a jab. Just by establishing that threat, Cormier did a better job of competing with those lankier opponents.

Miocic’s jab was particularly sharp against Miocic. The setup was the same — Cormier repeatedly reached out to hand-fight with both hands before stepping into a very fast jab. The jab bruised and split Miocic’s face, and later in the fight Cormier began to switch it up by using the initial clinch feint setup but into harder punches (GIF).

The other notable improvement is an extra focus on low kicks. Cormier’s kicks have never been technically beautiful, but you don’t have to be a perfect technician to throw a damn hard low kick if you weigh well over 200 pounds. In his bout with Miocic, Cormier did a nice job of helping to eliminate his range disadvantage by kicking out Miocic’s lead leg as the boxer stepped toward him.

Opposite Jon Jones, many of those kicks came at the end of his combinations — which is great — but he also countered kicked. For example, after Jones attempted to stomp on Cormier’s lead leg, “DC” would immediately return with a hard low kick while Jones was out of position (GIF).

On the whole, Cormier works with a high volume of jabs and crosses, mixing in shots to the body as well. Cormier doesn’t often throw extended combinations, largely sticking to two punch combinations. To help himself land these shots, Cormier does an excellent job of mixing level changes into his offense. Frequently reminding his foe about the threat of the shot, Cormier disrupts timing and causes hands to drop before crashing forward with hard punches.

Perhaps the best part of Cormier’s striking is his clinch work. The clinch in wrestling may be a bit of a different position, but Cormier’s expertise on posture control definitely carries into the cage. It’s difficult to describe without actually having experience opposite a truly great wrestler, but there’s a different level to their push and pull at close distances.

In Cormier’s case, this most often results in a wickedly effective uppercut. Particularly in his fights with Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, Cormier would hang on the neck of his opponent with a single collar-tie. It’s a horrible wearing technique that breaks posture and saps energy, but Cormier will also be bloodying his opponent with the other hand using uppercuts (GIF). Against Miocic, Cormier built on that wonderfully by catching Miocic circling out with his head leaned back, which was likely an adjustment by Miocic to avoid the uppercut (GIF).

Alternatively, Cormier can look to grab the double-collar tie and land knees. At any point in the clinch — from the double-collar tie to a single underhook — Cormier is likely to yank on his opponent’s head and start throwing uppercuts. He’s also aggressive on the break, looking to leap forward with a heavy left hook and catch his foe being lazy.

Though Cormier largely relies on his hands, he’s a capable kicker as well. His roundhouse kicks are fairly powerful, and they often punctuate his combinations nicely. In the last year or two, Cormier has worked more with the front kick, which can help force his opponent to stand up straighter.

Defensively, there are definitely holes in Cormier’s game. His hands often begin to dip when he throws in combination, which leaves him vulnerable to counter punches, particularly when he is leaning into his punches. In addition, Cormier has shown a weakness to body shots. A single body kick won’t cause him to crumble to the floor, but it does affect and slow him down. Steroids or no, Jones exploited these weaknesses perfectly in the second bout. Cormier started strong and arguably won each of the first two rounds, but it was clear that Jones’ dedication to body shots was slowing him down. In the third, Jones switched it up with a high kick, Cormier’s hands dropped, and the great wrestler was felled.


Cormier has a strong argument as UFC’s best wrestler. The Olympian is masterful in all parts of the takedown, setting up his shots well, transitioning with ease, and usually finishing with a hard slam. Only Jones has been able to stand up to his wrestling, and even then, neither man was ever able to control the other on the mat for more than a couple seconds.

Cormier’s high-crotch takedown is his best weapon. “DC” is an expert from that position and probably knows a dozen potential finishes once in on the shot. All of the small details in his shot and finishes -- be it his grip, hip pressure or posture -- are done perfectly. All those years of practice and experience are what make Cormier so successful and allows him to ragdoll excellent defensive wrestlers like they’re children (GIF).

One of those key details is precisely how Cormier lifts opponents, and it’s the subject of this week’s technique highlight.

Most of the time Cormier shoots, it’s for the high crotch single-leg. Often using a roll to set up the shot, Cormier will drive into his opponent’s hips. In addition, Cormier will sometimes just drop down and turn a corner when his opponent moves forward with punches, which he did successfully against “Rumble” multiple times (GIF). Once Cormier successfully penetrates his opponent’s hips, his opponent is likely going for a ride. Cormier is simply a master of finishing the single leg and regardless of how his opponent looks to defend, Cormier usually has an answer. After looking to run the pipe and dump his foe to the mat -- the standard high crotch finish that Cormier routinely hits -- Cormier will react accordingly to however his opponent attempts to defend.

For example, Barnett was able to keep his balance when Cormier first attempted to dump him. However, Josh Barnett did not use an overhook to keep Cormier bent over or even fight his hands, allowing “DC” to easily push his hips in and lift the Heavyweight into the air (GIF). Alternatively, Cormier will look to trip out the remaining leg. While keeping a tight grip on the single leg, Cormier can use his legs to land an inside or outside trip. If these trips fail, Cormier is usually in position to transition into a double leg instead and run through his opponent.

He can also attempt to run the pipe repeatedly, attacking his foe’s balance each time.

Aside from the single-leg, Cormier will often work from the clinch. He’s very physically strong from that position, which means he’s happy to work punches, jam his foe into the fence, or look for the takedown. When in tight, Cormier uses a wide variety of takedowns. For example, he’s a big fan of the inside trip, driving his opponent backward before hook the leg. Alternatively, Cormier will react with a slick lateral drop is his foe pushes back into him.

Cormier’s defense wrestling is outstanding. More often than not, takedowns simply bounce off him. Against other elite Light Heavyweights in Jones and Gustafsson, Cormier may have momentarily been brought to the mat on a couple of occasions, but he was nevertheless able to stand quickly without much difficulty.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Cormier does tend to work more to control and strike rather than submit, which is common of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) athletes and decorated wrestlers in general. At the same time, Cormier is a definite opportunist, willing to take any finish available.

To his credit, Cormier was more active than usual in trying to submit Anthony Johnson the first time around. He tried to kimura and straight arm bar “Rumble” from within the half guard, which can be difficult to finish. Still, it can be done, and both moves are low risk attacks that are a solid part of Cormier’s top game.

Plus, they made Johnson work and slowly emptied his gas tank further.

Cormier will also hunt for the rear-naked choke, which accounts for each of his four submission wins. There’s not a ton to it — Cormier breaks down his opponent from top position until it’s easy to latch onto the neck and squeeze. His style of top control and pace is brutal, opening up opportunities for the choke simply via pressure. In the first round of his bout with Oezdemir, Cormier landed a takedown, climbed onto the back, and locked in a choke in all of about 15 seconds, though the bell prevented his fifth submission win.

Defensively, Cormier hasn’t been threatened all that often. When he did go to the ground with Barnett, Cormier did a nice job staying safe within the guard and landing nasty elbows. Once Barnett opened up and began attacking, Cormier would simply pull away and let him back up. Similarly, Cormier has had little difficulty on the mat with black belts like Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and Anderson Silva.


On paper, this is a fairly easy match up for Cormier — he has the striking speed to hurt Lewis and the wrestling to dump him on his head at any point. At the same time, a lot of fighters have dominated “The Black Beast” only to still end up unconscious. Cormier has two real keys for this title defense: either finish Lewis quickly (ideal) or stay aware that a big punch is potentially coming at all times.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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