Brock Lesnar was coming into the octagon at the conclusion of UFC 226 Saturday night regardless.
It didn’t matter if Daniel Cormier or Stipe Miocic won. It didn’t matter if the winner requested his presence or not.
As soon as the 40-year-old former heavyweight champion made his way into T-Mobile Arena before the main event, it was obvious that he had arrived to promote his return to the octagon by confronting the eventual victor.
Daniel Cormier knew this, and used it to his advantage after knocking out Miocic at 4:38 of the first round.
“There’s a guy that I’ve known for a long time,” Cormier yelled into the microphone he pried away from Joe Rogan after the fight. “He’s a wrestler, he’s an All-American, he’s a former UFC champion. I never thought I would fight him, but Brock Lesnar, get your a** in here.”
Lesnar immediately stormed into the cage with a wry look on his face, not slowing down until he reached Cormier and greeted him with a shove. Cormier later managed to return the contact when he snuck his left arm past a security guard, who was distracted by several seconds of expletive-laden trash talking between the two fighters.
It was a scene that many are calling absurd. It was a scene that many more should be calling brilliant.
Cormier, who continued to say that he will retire when he turns 40 years old next March, was able to set up the biggest possible final chapter of his career. A fight against Lesnar will make him millions, and the digits already started ticking up with the early promotional push.
Put simply, Cormier saw an opportunity and seized it. The whole scene was emblematic of his career in that way — a career that deserves a spot in any discussion about the greatest of all-time with Cormier joining Conor McGregor as the only fighters to ever simultaneously hold two different titles.
“He’s such a unique, unique guy in every way, shape and form,” UFC President Dana White said of Cormier after the win. “He’s so articulate. He’s a really smart guy….and then you talk about him as a fighter.”
More accurately, his fighting does the talking for him. Cormier came into UFC 226 as an underdog, the outmatched light heavyweight champion challenging the heavyweight champion in Miocic.
Having recently fought at a class 30 pounds lighter than Miocic seemed to affect him early. Cormier took a deep breath after Miocic drug him to the ground and popped him with a few big punches in the opening two minutes.
But it was all part of the plan, according to Cormier.
“When we fight, we try to get the guy’s timing so that’s what I was doing,” he said. “I was seeing how he hit, how fast he was and everything. “
“I got a bit of his timing and figured out it wasn’t going to be one punch that slept me, so I was like, ‘Ok, now I can go forward, march into him and get into clinch.’”
Cormier maintained for weeks that he thought he could have success at close range, and it became apparent why quickly in the fight. Miocic would overreact to stop a shot from Cormier in the clinch, leaving himself open for follow-ups.
The decisive strike came in a scenario Cormier said he trained for months — Miocic blocking an uppercut and backing up, where he was vulnerable for a massive right hook.
“That’s one habit he has,” Cormier said. “Every time he gets out of the clinch, he puts his hands too low.”
Cormier had far less time to prepare for the Lesnar callout, but pulled it off with near the same level of execution. He first saw his old friend Lesnar — whom he’s known since 1997 when they were both national champion junior college wrestlers — in the back of the arena after running wind sprints to get his heart rate up before the fight.
Once Cormier got into the octagon, he noticed Lesnar staring at him smirking next to White.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I guess Brock Lesnar is here to pick a fight,’” he said.
Cormier wasn’t going to let him do that. He would dictate his own terms.
He not only summoned Lesnar, but also dismissed him by saying he, “had some pictures to take.” That’s about the moment that social media started igniting with criticisms that the theatrics seemed more suited for the WWE than the UFC.
Cormier was angered that fellow fighters took exception to the encounter.
“Staged? They’re idiots? Fine. Stay broke,” he offered. “You’ve got a guy like Brock Lesnar in front of you and you don’t go crazy on him? When Brock decided to step in the octagon with me, he’s a pro wrestler. He does fake fighting, so I’ll do fake fighting until I put my fist up inside his face.”
That might be a while, as White confirmed that, to his knowledge, Lesnar won’t be able to fight until next January at the earliest. A two-year suspension from a failed drug test after a win over Mark Hunt at UFC 200 is up tomorrow, but Lesnar must also take part in six months of the UFC’s current USADA testing program.
White said Lesnar started the process secretly a couple weeks ago. With two stars like Lesnar and Cormier, there will be plenty of time to hype up their bout.
But Cormier knew the value of a one-of-a-kind first impression coming minutes after his one-of-a-kind performance. That’s because he’s a one-of-a-kind fighter.
“A two-division champion, and now he has a big fight ahead of him, a big payday, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy,” White said “He’s an incredible ambassador to the sport. I said a long time ago, I told Daniel, ‘If you’re my champion for the rest of your career, I’ll be a very happy man.’ He’s a great analyst, he does a great job on television. I just can’t say enough good things about him.”