Daniel Cormier pulled the equivalent of quitting before getting fired when he willingly gave up his UFC light heavyweight championship Friday.
Cormier was going to be stripped of the title Saturday once Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson fought for it at UFC 232, so he got ahead of the situation a day earlier.
“Today I am going to relinquish the UFC light heavyweight title,” Cormier wrote in a statement to ESPN. “I am not going to be stripped of the belt that I’ve defended with my all for three and a half years. Being stripped of a title suggests you’ve done something wrong, and I haven’t.
“I’d rather walk away this way, with my head held high as it always has been, than have the history books say I was stripped. I’ve defended this title this year. I was approached with the idea of fighting at heavyweight, so I took it. I fought three times in 2018. No champion has been more active than me. I am the fighter of the year. My story and my legacy will not include me being stripped of a title. They can have it.”
Cormier first won the light heavyweight title in May 2015 when he defeated Anthony Johnson at UFC 187. He successfully defended it in three bouts, including a victory over Gustafsson, before losing to Jones in July 2017.
But shortly thereafter it was revealed that Jones tested positive for a banned substance. Thus, the fight was changed to a no contest and the title was returned to Cormier.
Since then, Cormier has fought three more times and won each fight, including a victory at UFC 226 in which he won the heavyweight championship.
Cormier is still the first and only UFC fighter to be a dual-champion and defend two titles in two weight classes.
Jones, his longtime foe, said Cormier’s decision to give up the light heavyweight title is “the smart thing to do.”
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) December 29, 2018
“My opinion on that is, dude, you never were the champ,” Jones said. “I think he knows that in his spirit. He never beat me. He actually lost to me twice. So relinquishing the belt, it’s just like, it wasn’t ever really his belt. I think in the fans’ eyes, they know, it’s been Jon Jones’ belt … since 2011. If it wasn’t, why would you relinquish it? Why would you not fight and make a stink about it?
“He’s giving it up because he knows the rightful owner of it is here. I feel like he knows that he won’t beat me, and so he’s making it look honorable by retiring. It’s like being an NFL player and retiring before being cut.”
UFC president Dana White said that while Cormier wouldn’t have been stripped of the title ahead of Saturday’s fight, the title would have been vacated had he not given it up.
Cormier gets to keep his UFC heavyweight title, although he may hold onto that for just a couple of more months to his own accord.
He’s previously stated that he plans on retiring in March 2019, which likely leaves just one more fight in his Hall of Fame career.
“Come March, I will have 12 months, at max, left,” Cormier said in January. “I’m going to be done by March 20, 2019. I won’t be fighting again.”
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