UFC Complications: Who Will LHW Champ Daniel Cormier Fight Next?
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier seemed to be nearing a scheduled fight in January, but who his opponent will be is now more clouded than ever.
Updated: Nov. 24, 2017 • 5:57 PM ET
Alexander Gustafsson is seeking another shot at champion Daniel Cormier.
When Jon Jones knocked out Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, there was a resurgence in confidence that one of the UFC’s biggest stars was back after all of his troubles. However, Jones tested positive for a banned substance prior to the fight before reclaiming the light heavyweight title, and he’s now facing a possible four-year suspension. The former champion is now tasked with proving his innocence during arbitration with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which will be an uphill battle to say the least. The fight with Cormier was ultimately ruled a no contest, and the UFC once again granted Cormier the title.
The only two blemishes on Cormier’s record have come via Jones, and they’re the only men to hold the title since 2011. With Cormier being 38 years old and Jones facing a suspension, we’ll likely never see the two rivals fight again. And with Jones close to being permanently out of the title picture, the question now is: who will Cormier face next?
Cormier is expected by many to fight No. 2 ranked light heavyweight Volkan Oezdemir next, but that plan may have stalled while it seems they’ve been close to inking a deal. Oezdemir, 28 years old, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery by Fort Lauderdale Police last week for an incident in a bar. The battery charge is classified as a second-degree felony, which calls for a $10,000 fine in addition to a maximum 15-year jail sentence (via ESPN). During his bond hearing, Oezdemir and his attorney stated he expected to fight at UFC 221 in Boston in January. Oezdemir’s manager, Frederic Englund, sent a statement to MMAjunkie claiming the fighter was “not the aggressor” in the alleged incident.
Oezdemir is 15-1 and has proven to be a worthy contender, scoring knockouts in his last two fights over No. 7 Misha Cirkunov and No. 4 Jimi Manuwa. Both fights ended quickly and displayed the Swiss fighter’s raw punching power. Will the UFC wait to see how his legal troubles unfold, or will they grant someone else a title shot?
No. 1 ranked Alexander Gustafsson has patiently waited for a third title shot and a second shot at Cormier. Gustafsson challenged Cormier for the title at UFC 192 in 2015 and pushed the champion to the brink in one of the greatest fights in UFC history. It wasn’t enough, however, as the judges granted Cormier a split decision victory.
Showing his size and heart, Gustafsson first challenged for the title against Jon Jones at UFC 165 in 2013. He was the first fighter to ever really have Jones in trouble inside the Octagon, pushing the fight through five hard rounds. Jones walked away with a unanimous decision, but Gustafsson walked away with respect. On the list of greatest fights in UFC history, Gustafsson has been a part of two.
It would be difficult to imagine Gustafsson having a poor performance, should he fight Cormier again. In his last fight with Glover Teixeira, Gustafsson looked about as good as he ever has inside the Octagon, and he’s hitting his athletic prime. A rematch with Cormier makes the most sense, but with fans clamoring for the heavy-punching Oezdemir to get the next title shot, Gustafsson may have to wait in line a bit longer.
A little more than a year ago, No. 3 Glover Teixeira was one win away from getting his second shot at the light heavyweight title. That was until 13 seconds had passed in his fight with Anthony Johnson at UFC 202 in August 2016, when an uppercut put him to sleep and pushed him further back in the line. But as we’ve seen since Cormier claimed the vacant title against Johnson at UFC 187 in May 2015, everyone in the top six of the light heavyweight division is just one win away from a possible title shot.
So, maybe Teixeira didn’t fall that far back in the line. He followed the Johnson loss with a bad unanimous decision win against No. 14 Jared Cannonier at UFC 208 in February, while also suffering the knockout loss to Gustafsson a little more than three months later. Teixeira is 4-2 in his last six fights and is scheduled to fight Cirkunov in December. A win over Cirkunov could put him just one more win away from another title shot.
No. 4 ranked Jimi Manuwa was on the cusp of earning a title shot after dominating knockout victories over Ovince Saint Preux and Corey Anderson, but he was on the wrong end of a short left hand from Oezdemir at UFC 214 in July, and those title hopes quickly faded away. Before the loss, Manuwa consistently trashed talked Cormier and has continued to do so, despite not redeeming himself or even having a fight scheduled. In a division that is yearning for a change, the 37-year-old Manuwa could also be one win away from a possible title shot. However, being just 3-2 in his last five fights also makes the Brit one loss away from the bottom half of the top 10, especially if that loss is by knockout yet again.
No. 5 ranked Saint Preux is riding a three-fight win streak after losing three straight. The win streak is far more impressive than the losing streak was unimpressive, as all three wins have come by finish. The first two wins of that streak came via the Von Flue choke, as Saint Preux owns three of the five Von Flue chokes pulled off in UFC history. His latest victory came on 12 days’ notice, a Knockout of the Year candidate head kick over Anderson at UFC 217.
Saint Preux’s last three losses were for the interim title to Jones by decision, a knockout loss to Manuwa and a split decision loss to Oezdemir in a fight that could have gone either way, respectively. So the outlook for Saint Preux gaining a title shot may look better than his record may indicate.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the No. 6 ranked light heavyweight, has won three straight fights and is the last man not named Jones or Cormier to hold the title. Since losing the title to Jones at UFC 128 in 2011, Rua is just 6-5 but has hung around the top six ever since. After suffering two knockout losses in 2014, it seemed as though the legend’s better days were behind him. However, in his last fight against Gian Villante in March, Rua proved his resiliency and that he’s still able to take a shot, scoring a third-round knockout victory. Rua’s next fight isn’t scheduled, but a win against anyone in the top 10 could make things interesting for him.
Of the top 15 ranked light heavyweights, only three are under the age of 30 and the division is begging for new blood. Accordingly, unless Oezdemir’s legal troubles get in the way, we’ll likely see the 28-year-old get the next shot. Cormier doesn’t mind either way.
"Of course, I’d fight any of these guys,” Cormier recently said on the “Anik & Florian” podcast. “It doesn’t matter. (Oezdemir's) on the longest win streak in the division, so he was getting the title shot. But if this trouble is gonna keep him out of that opportunity, I’ll just go to the next guy.
"So, of course I'd fight Gustafsson and someone told me yesterday that Team Ovince Saint Preux was like, ‘We want a title fight because we've got a good winning streak too.' Whoever is winning gets the title shot, that’s just the way it is. I don’t care who it is."
Teixeira is the only fighter in the top 5 that has a fight currently scheduled, but the only fighter who has total control over his own destiny is Cormier. Cormier has proven time and again that unless he fights Jones, he’s up to any challenge.
The final question is: how close would Cormier be to another title shot if he lost to someone in the top 6?