Even ahead of last Saturday’s headliner, the word was out that if No. 1-ranked light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson got past No. 11-ranked Jimi Manuwa, then he was essentially guaranteed a title shot. Gustafsson’s No. 1 contender status was in no way controversial. He took champ Jon Jones the distance in a classic five-round war that led to what many believe was a controversial decision. The initial thought was the two would have a rematch immediately, but Jones asked to face No. 2-ranked Glover Teixeira, who had secured a title shot himself after besting perennial 205er Ryan Bader.

Of course, none of this prevented Daniel Cormier from chomping at the bit and wanting a title shot of his own. Despite his trouncing of promotional newcomer Patrick Cummins and becoming the division’s No. 5-ranked fighter after his unparalleled success in the heavyweight division, he chose not to call out the man standing in his way of a title shot. Instead, he became Manuwa’s biggest fan, with the hopes he could skip the line and face Jones sooner rather than later.

No one can fault a fighter for trying his best to get big fights and win a title, but a closer look at Cormier’s track record for the fighters he calls out reveals why he may not have made the best decision in his quest for gold.

Usually when a fighter is ranked in the top five, he wants to fight fighters on a similar level if he’s not going for gold. At heavyweight, Cormier refused to pursue the championship so long as teammate Cain Velasquez reigned supreme. So, who did Cormier choose to fight? Well, he took on fighters on the downslope of their careers like Frank Mir and Roy Nelson, who are coming off of losses. It may appear to outsiders as if Cormier preferred to fight guys who were not only more popular than he was, but also ones that could be perceived as less of a threat to him.

To be fair, Cormier has never turned down a fight or a challenge. His quest to fight Mir can be tied to the fact that the two were previously scheduled to fight at Strikeforce’s final show before the former UFC champion was injured and had to withdraw. Likewise, his calling out of “Big Country” could be justified due to a rivalry which acted as a procurer to the bout. However, it also started to show a track record, intended or not, to Cormier’s choices of opposition.

Cormier needs to become more aware of how all of this looks to his colleagues and to fight fans. It’s not necessarily about the truth behind his actions, but the perception of those actions. Fans are unlikely to flock to a fighter who can be easily perceived as having handpicked his opponents on his way to a title shot. Sure, there is already a built-in rivalry between Cormier and Jones. And, yes, Cormier is a world-class athlete who has dominated every opponent placed in front of him. However, he has yet to fight someone in the UFC who is coming off a win inside the Octagon, and it’s hard to not notice this fact.

Even if Cormier is granted a title shot now against the eventual winner in the Jones-Teixeira-Gustafsson triangle, a lot can happen between now and whenever Cormier’s shot takes place. The winner of the Jones-Teixeira bout could become injured, or the same could happen when that fighter meets Gustafsson. We could end up with a split decision more controversial than the previous one between Jones and Gustafsson, and the UFC could be placed in a situation where an immediate rematch would be an undeniable necessity. Of course, the one thing that is certain is that contenders who bide their time tend to get passed over easily. The best way to get on top and stay there is to be active.

Aside from the unpredictable outcome of the next two light heavyweight title fights, the fact is that the rest of the division will still be moving along, too. Phil Davis, ranked No. 4, will welcome Anthony Johnson back to the UFC, and Davis could make a strong case for a title shot if he has a good showing. It’s been over two years since he suffered his first and only loss at the hands of No. 3-ranked Rashad Evans, and Davis is not showing any signs of slowing down on his climb up the ladder. No. 10-ranked Bader is also coming off an impressive win and has essentially become the division’s gatekeeper, having been bested by Jones and Teixeira before each of them earned their title shots.

With so much activity and a long list of people waiting to get piece of Jones, it would seem like a shame for anyone to sit and wait for their chance in line. The light heavyweight division traditionally has been the most contested and stacked in the UFC, but those labels have shifted elsewhere in recent years to places like the lightweight and the welterweight divisions. Furthermore, the exodus of top-ranked fighters like Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi, both of whom have made the cut to 185 pounds, has left a significant gap in the rankings and created some instability with where fighters should be positioned. Let’s also not forget about fighters like Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen taking bouts at 205 pounds, which only make the waters more muddy. This is in addition to the general aging of the division, with fighters like Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Dan Henderson unlikely to ever get another chance at UFC gold despite still residing in the No. 6, 7 and 8 spots, respectively.

Overall, the top of the division is stable for the time being, but the rest of the top 15 could be easily turned upside down in a moment’s notice. Wouldn’t it be a shame for such a dominant fighter as Cormier to sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happens, when the division as a whole is in desperate need of someone to step up and carry the mantle, win over more fans and earn a decent payday while doing it?

The truth is that if Cormier wants to convince the world he’s worthy of UFC gold, then he needs to do it inside the Octagon, not on Twitter. Although a match-up between Cormier and Jones, Teixeira or Gustafsson for the UFC light heavyweight championship would be a bout worth seeing, it would be worth even more if he earned it by scoring a knockout, submission or unanimous decision victory over someone in the top 10 who is hungry and coming off a win. The shame of the whole thing is that if Evans didn’t get hurt, then we would be having a completely different conversation. But such is the nature of MMA. And that’s the bottom line.

  • Buns

    This article is sh*t. DC is doing the best that he can given his age and the timeline of the other fighters in the division. His striking power at LHW is way stronger than it would be hitting 265+ pounders in the HW division. Stupid article. Biased.