This year’s ESPYs — ESPN’s annual sports award show — were the first to feature a category for Best MMA Fighter. While previous years had lumped boxers and mixed martial artists into a single Best Fighter category, this year the categories were split, not surprising when you consider ESPN’s various partnerships with boxing promoters and the UFC for their ESPN+ service.

The first person to be handed the ESPY for the newly created category was PokerStars Ambassador Daniel Cormier, who beat out fellow nominees Amanda Nunes, Henry Cejudo and Israel Adesanya.

“Tonight I won the ESPY for the Best MMA Fighter, this is insane,” Cormier tweeted after receiving the award. “I never would have thought I would ever get nominated for something like this. I have a great support system and they’re the reason things like this happen. Salina, you’re the glue that keeps this family rolling.

“To @crazybobcook and @dewaynezinkin you guys have been the best managers I could ever ask for. @akajav the best Head Coach in the business, @rosendo_sanchez , @slikbxr ,@camacho100, @leandrovbteam there is no staff in mma that compares. To my partners each and every one of you have built me from the ground up, special shout out to @officialcainvelasquez and @lukerockhold my brothers who have been there every step of the way. Cassandra and Heidi, all you do is recognized and appreciated greatly, I promise. All my competitors, I appreciate every one of you. The Jones rivalry has stood out above em all and have helped me to gain popularity that many people can’t imagine. And you the fans, you’ve loved me, cheered me and boo’d me, but you cared. It takes a village, I’m just a kid from the Northside of Lafayette, Louisiana. Amazing. Thank you all. I love you DC.”

Cormier’s 2018 was certainly one to remember and it’s not hard to see how he managed to come away with the award.

In 2017, Cormier was knocked out in his rematch with Jon Jones. He lost the Light Heavyweight Championship in the process, only to then see Jones fail a drug test, the decision overturned, and the championship placed back in Cormier’s possession.

This led to Cormier defending the title against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220 in January 2018. Oezdemir came out fast in the first round, throwing wild bombs at the champ. Cormier showed championship poise and survived the early onslaught before turning the tables with heavy punches of his own and a takedown. Round 2 was a dominant one for Cormier as he took the fight to the floor and poured on ground and pounds, leading to a TKO stoppage.

Despite Cormier technically entering the fight as the champion, he claimed to not feel like he’d earned the title until he won the fight.

“I’ve lost twice to Jon Jones,” Cormier said after his win. “As I came into this fight, I felt as though I was fighting for a vacant title again because (Jones) beat me last time. I fought for a vacant title and I got the job done, so I’m the UFC champion again.”

Fighting in the main event that night was heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic. Miocic defeated Francis Ngannou to set the record for most defenses of the heavyweight title.

It only made sense for Cormier, who started his MMA career fighting at heavyweight, to move up and challenge Miocic in a champ vs. champ superfight at UFC 226.

Miocic had been hailed by some as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history for his dominant run as champ and he came into the July fight with Cormier as a slight favorite.

Fights aren’t won at the betting window, though, and Cormier executed a beautiful gameplan on the feet, relying heavily on a damaging jab before a crushing right hand dropped Miocic to the mat. Cormier followed up with heavy punches on the ground and scored a knockout victory without the fight leaving the first round.

Daniel Cormier had become a “champ champ.”

Cormier would next fight at UFC 230, taking on Derrick Lewis in a defense of his heavyweight championship. Again facing a dangerous striker, Cormier used his Olympic wrestling bona fides to neutralize the frightening right hand of Lewis.

By the second round, a hopeless Lewis was forced to submit, completing Cormier’s dominant, history-making 2018.

“I think a lot of people have to understand that I have been doing this for nine years and I fought at a championship level for eight of them so there are no surprises to me,” Cormier said. “I come here to do my thing. You have to be one of the best fighters in the world to compete and Derrick just wasn’t up to that challenge.”

Cormier would also forfeit the light heavyweight belt to put his focus on making his mark at heavyweight.

His next challenge is taking on Miocic in a rematch at UFC 241 on August 17.

Brent Brookhouse is the PokerStars Blog's UFC writer.

Next Story

Loading...