Happy Endings in MMA Are Exceedingly Rare. Will Daniel Cormier Get His at UFC 252?

Daniel Cormier UFC 252
Daniel Cormier Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

You can probably count on one hand the number of happy endings there have been in MMA. At least when it comes to retirements from the sport. For every Georges St. Pierre, whose dominant return in 2017 and eventual retirement has yet to be topped, there’s there former champ who hung on too long.

From Anderson Silva to B.J. Penn to Cain Velasquez, any number of MMA legends simply didn’t get the send-off they deserved. Of course, much of that has historically been the fighter’s own doing, not knowing when the years have caught up and the sport has passed them by. But in a sport steeped in nostalgia and romanticism, it’s still hard to see the best of the best go out on their backs, rather than with their hands raised.

Enter Daniel Cormier. One of MMA’s good guys, D.C. has a chance to do Saturday what few before him have managed: to ride off into the sunset with gold around his waist, head held high. It won’t be easy, mind you. UFC 252 opponent Stipe Miocic has put together a resume that rivals the best the heavyweight division has ever seen. Yes, he’s come close to surpassing even the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, another fighter who, save for a drastic change of fortunes over the next year or so, likely won’t be getting the send-off he should have had either.

Miocic, 37, is the UFC’s reigning, defending heavyweight champion, on his second reign in the division. Neither man has competed since their second meeting last year, meaning it’s hard to judge how either has developed. At 41, time is not on Cormier’s side, and he’s proclaimed loudly to anyone who will listen that UFC 252 will be his last hurrah. His final shot at glory.

“Great champions always have one good night, and then they tempt fate,” Cormier said during the UFC 252 press conference earlier this week. “I’m not willing to do that.”

Yet perhaps he already has. Hindsight being what it is, Cormier’s best chance at a happy ending would have been after winning the heavyweight strap by knocking out Miocic in 2018, or perhaps after defending the belt opposite Derrick Lewis that November.

Instead, the competitive fire that drives fighters led Cormier to a rematch with Miocic. A fight he was winning handily until the fourth round, when Miocic made some adjustments and began working over Cormier’s body.

And now comes the rubber match in the trilogy. It has all the hallmarks of a great series, and a defining moment in one man’s career. But if history is any indicator, the odds are stacked firmly against D.C., regardless of the outpouring of support he’s seen from a fanbase yearning for a happy ending.

Even ageless wonder Randy Couture went out not with one final triumph, but with his tooth being kicked clean out of his head by Lyoto Machida. Time waits for no fighter, and while only a handful of years younger than Cormier himself, Miocic has yet to have any of the well-publicized injury issues that Cormier has begun to show, mainly a nagging back issue that required surgery after the Lewis fight.

Here’s the rub, however: maybe the happy ending doesn’t matter. Rather than dwell on a final moment of glory, maybe it’s time to celebrate the accolades — including the Strikeforce Grand Prix win, and that rather rare feat of becoming a UFC double-champ — and appreciate Cormier’s career as a whole.

In that sense, Daniel Cormier has already won.