Daniel Cormier looked like a stud coming into the UFC from Strikeforce. A five round dismantling of perennial Top Five heavyweight, followed by a paid execution of Dion Staring on the final Strikeforce card, has left Cormier looking like the best heavyweight in the world outside of Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos. But he’s been given a first fight in the UFC that’ll tell us just exactly how good he is: Frank Mir.
Fight Breakdown: Daniel Cormier came into the MMA game significantly after most fighters not because he took it up late in life but because he spent a lifetime being one of the best freestyle wrestlers in the world. Cormier as a wrestler might be one of the best ever to never take home an Olympic medal; his list of accomplishments, including a win at the toughest tournament in the sport (outside of the Olympics) in the Yagin Memorial are deeper than any current MMA fighter. Cormier gave Cael Sanderson his toughest NCAA tournament final match and has the best wrestling bonafides of any modern MMA fighter.
Daniel Cormier is the standard by which anyone who wants to use the phrase “World Class wrestling ability” has to be judged by.
All those years of wrestling, though, have put him behind the eight ball when it comes to fighting. In 2001 Cormier won the Sunkist Kids International Open. That same year Frank Mir made his debut in the UFC, submitting 6th degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Roberto Traven via armbar. All the while Cormier was earning his bonafides as an elite caliber wrestler on the international scene Mir would wind up with one of the most impressive MMA resumes in the heavyweight division.
On paper this would seem pretty simple: to look for Cormier to secure the takedown, grind him down with top position work and get the decision. He’s got enough power to knock out Mir, of course, as he’s shown power in his hands on occasion. In almost every area of this fight Cormier holds an advantage; he’s a significantly better athlete and everything points to him being able to win in nearly every scenario. Cormier is ever improving and his wrestling bonafides will dictate where the fight takes place. Cormier will dictate where the fight occurs, too, and his striking has gone from rudimentary to complimentary. He’s also incredibly powerful, physically, and is quick on his feet. Part of his game is to use his jab to get in and out, avoiding the counter, and then grabbing takedowns from there.
But Mir on his back isn’t the worst thing in the world … and Cormier might not want to get into a grappling exchange at any point.
Mir’s BJJ game is the best in the heavyweight division because he’s adapted the art in a modern MMA setting well before it was popular to do so. Mir’s adapted high level kick boxing to his game over the years, and a wildly underrated wrestling/clinch game, but his bread and butter is working submissions. He sacrifices position for a chance to finish regularly and has no qualms breaking a limb if someone won’t tap. He’s always looking to work for a submission first and a position second; it hurts him (like in the Lesnar rematch) because he’ll sometimes give up his face for punching while diving for something but it’s also a strength in that to secure top position and prevent this you have to be defensive in a way. Mir didn’t take a lot of damage in the first round against Lesnar and was active off his back enough that Lesnar’s ground and pound game was thrown off.
Lesnar played position games in their second fight before finding a place to punch on Mir’s face and Cormier is going to have essentially do the same if he wants to play that game some more with Mir. He can’t leave an arm or a leg exposed because Mir will go for the kill at any cost; if there’s a fighter in the heavyweight division more apt to go for finishes above all its Mir. That can be deadly especially against someone with an MMA resume as thin as Cormier’s; he may train at AKA against Velasquez but Mir has seen more over the years and spent more time in the Octagon than Cormier probably ever will.
Cormier’s game plan will probably end up looking more like Dominick Cruz’s than anything else; he’s got better footwork than Mir and can dart in and out, using speed to rack up points while avoiding Mir’s big shots. Cormier has enough skill and ability to outwork Mir, who tends to go for big power shots instead of setting up combinations. Look for him to try and duplicate his effort against Jeff Monson against Mir; Monson’s as similar a fighter as it gets to Mir and doing the same thing will get him a win here.
Mir needs to bait Cormier into taking him down and work his game from there. He won’t be able to get Cormier down on his own; if Cormier won’t take him down he’ll wind up shooting in for a double and then pull guard, hoping Cormier will take the bait. Mir isn’t athletic enough to keep up in a striking match; he has the goods on the ground and he and Cormier both know this. The former UFC champ needs to get the Strikeforce champ to want to bring this to the ground for any reason, if only because Mir’s ground game doesn’t need time … only opportunity.
There are a couple of x-factors in the fight as well.
We don’t know how good Cormier’s chin is at this point as it hasn’t really been cracked as of yet; he’s been hit by some big punchers but he hasn’t been wobbled by Mir has got fight ending power. He knocked out Big Nog, no easy feat. If Mir can land something big on Cormier’s chin we don’t know how he’ll handle it yet. This is also Cormier’s debut, on the co-main event of a Fox card nonetheless, so the dreaded “Octagon Jitters” could also come into play as well.
The other X-factor is that this marks the first time Mir has left his native Las Vegas for a training camp. Holing up at Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico Mir is claiming, like every fighter who switches camps, to be in the best shape of his career for this fight. It’s the first time he’s been at somewhere else with someone else directing traffic so it’ll be curious to see just how he reacts and how he looks.
Why it matters: With a win Cormier establishes himself as an elite heavyweight, officially, in a lot of people’s eyes. That and Frank Mir tends to lose in devastating fashion so most people’s first impression of Cormier will be the badass who knocked out Frank Mir in even more awesome fashion than ever. He gets into the driver’s seat in the division and probably will fight his teammate (Cain Velasquez) for the heavyweight title if he can’t make it down to 205. Cormier has been rumored to do so for a while, if only because he’d probably get a shot at Jon Jones sooner than later, but whether or not he could make 205 is still up for debate.
Last time he tried to make 211 at the Olympics he went into renal failure and the body changes as you get older, making it harder to cut weight. So Cormier might be at heavyweight permanently if cutting to 205 can’t happen safely. A win here, and being unable to cut to 205, could mean a title shot will be sooner than later.
If Mir pulls the upset here he could reasonably get a title shot, or be close to one, once again. He may have gotten throttled by Junior Dos Santos but Cain’s subsequent win means that Mir is open again for a title shot. It might not have the sizzle of Velasquez/Cormier, teammates fighting to see who the best is, but Mir can still sell a fight and Velasquez/Mir was originally supposed to take place once upon a time.