Daniel Cormier proved that Volkan Oezdemir isn’t on his level at UFC 220.
In the lead-up to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship clash, Cormier repeatedly explained that “there are levels to this game” and that he was on a different level to Oezdemir.
It took a while for the champion to settle into his game and slow down the frenetic pace of the challenger, but he looked unstoppable when he did. Oezdemir started quickly and immediately looked to close the distance against the smaller opponent. His objective, of course, was to step inside the range of the champion and connect with his hands – the same two fists that had put Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov to sleep in the blink of an eye.
In the early stages of the fight, Oezdemir looked as though he was going to be a significant challenge for the champion. Not only was he stepping in and connecting with flurries of punches, but he was easily shrugging off the clinch attempts of the champion. Oezdemir also managed to stuff the few takedown attempts of Cormier in the first couple of minutes. As such, he was able to separate and keep the fight exactly at the distance he wanted.
No signs of weakness
Stepping inside the UFC’s octagon for the first time since a TKO loss to Jon Jones at UFC 214, Cormier had his chin tested early and often.
At one stage, the champion was backed against the cage and Oezdemir connected with a left hand that resembled the same knockout blows that had ended fights in the past.
Cormier’s best stand-up occurs on the inside, and his dirty boxing ability is some of the best in the division. But to engage and utilize his best weapons on the feet, he had to step inside and feel the force of Oezdemir’s power, as well.
While Oezdemir certainly provided a complex puzzle for the champion in the first half of the opening round, Cormier began to take over when the contest was three minutes deep. Oezdemir’s rush and desire to end the fight early – as he had done in his previous two fights – meant that he had expended too much energy. As a result, he began to look fatigued and he was reduced to a stand-still rather than the constant footwork that he displayed in the opening stages.
Now, with his opponent becoming a relatively stationary target, Cormier had major success finding a home for his customary lunging hooks. Instead of the challenger storming forward, it was now the champion pressing the action and forcing Oezdemir to retreat. Of course, Oezdemir was still dangerous, however, for no other reason than he was increasingly willing to take one or two good shots to the chin in order to land a heavy shot of his own.
Daniel Cormier’s world
Possibly the most significant moment of round one occurred with just under 30 seconds remaining. A tiring Oezdemir attempted to kick the body of an advancing Cormier and the champion quickly snatched the leg of the challenger before getting deep on a single leg takedown attempt. While Oezdemir attempted to defend the takedown correctly – by pushing on the back of Cormier’s head – the world-class wrestling of Cormier was pivotal as he forced Oezdemir to turtle. With seconds remaining in the round, Cormier locked up a rear-naked choke attempt but the end of the round came before Oezdemir considered tapping.
The second round was all Daniel Cormier. The champion beautifully executed a trip takedown off a single leg to instantly slide into full mount. Oezdemir desperately tried to escape and he briefly recovered to half guard. However, the champion then used the position to pin the challenger in a crucifix position and unload a non-stop combination of punches to the head of the now helpless Oezdemir.
Grappling is Daniel Cormier’s world and Volkan Oezdemir proved to be no competition for the champion on the mat.
Jake is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief, based in Tasmania, Australia.