LAS VEGAS — Daniel Cormier beat one of the greatest fighters of all time at UFC 200, though it was not the night he nor the fans envisioned.
Cormier (18-1) defeated the great Anderson Silva via unanimous decision on Saturday inside T-Mobile Arena. He took Silva, a former middleweight champion, down in each of the three rounds of their non-title, light heavyweight fight. Judges awarded Cormier with unanimous 30-26 scores.
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Of course, Cormier was supposed to defend his 205-pound championship against interim champion Jon Jones in the main event, but that matchup was removed when Jones was informed of a potential doping violation Wednesday. Silva, 41, replaced Jones on two days’ notice.
The Las Vegas crowd booed Cormier’s game plan of taking Silva to the floor. Afterward, Cormier said the game plan was necessary.
“I’ve been training for a specific guy for eight weeks,” said Cormier, who trains out of American Kickboxing Academy. “The guy falls out of competition. I was a little nervous. He’s so good, I did what I had to do. It’s tough to switch opponents. The guy’s the greatest fighter we’ve ever seen in the Octagon. I can’t complain. I did what I had to do.”
Silva (33-8) was just two months removed from a surgical procedure to remove his gall bladder. He didn’t put up much a fight early on, as he gave up a single leg takedown on Cormier’s first attempt. The rest of the round essentially consisted of Silva trying to tie Cormier up from the bottom.
A nice right hand by Cormier early in the second round appeared to wake Silva up a little. He jumped into a knee strike, which drew a smile from Cormier. Moments later, Cormier caught a body kick and took Silva down, which drew boos from the crowd.
Referee John McCarthy helped Silva out with two standups — one in the second and one in the third. It was very clear Silva had no shot at getting back to his feet on his own against Cormier, an Olympic-level wrestler and former heavyweight.
In the third round, Silva flirted with what would have been one of the most shocking comebacks in UFC history, hitting Cormier with a stiff left kick to the body that had him visibly wincing. Silva went after him with another jumping knee, which opened the door for Cormier to grab on and tie him up in a clinch until the end of the fight.
Silva, who hasn’t recorded a win since October 2012, did not appear upset with the result.
“This fight was a big personal challenge for me,” Silva said through an interpreter. “To accept it and come in here and put into practice all I’ve done throughout the years.”
Cormier, 37, remains the undisputed light heavyweight champion. He has defended the title once, via split decision against Alexander Gustafsson in October. A contenders bout between Anthony Johnson and Glover Teixeira at UFC 202 on Aug. 20 could determine his next opponent. Jones, meanwhile, is facing a potential two-year suspension.