MMA’s best forgotten trilogy, and Daniel Cormier’s epic arrival – This Day in MMA History

Step back into yesteryear as Bloody Elbow looks back on Daniel Cormier winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.

By: Dayne Fox | 2 weeks ago
MMA’s best forgotten trilogy, and Daniel Cormier’s epic arrival – This Day in MMA History
IMAGO / Jason Silva

Daniel Cormier has been one of the most prominent faces associated with the UFC for quite some time. It’s understandable. A multiple-time Olympic wrestler with a fun personality and a clean rap sheet, he’s exactly the type of person the UFC wants to present to the public. I’m not saying he’s everyone’s cup of tea, but the UFC could feel confident he wasn’t going to do anything to embarrass the organization. That was all on top of his impressive accomplishments. Even after retirement, the UFC has retained his services as an announcer. Basically, Cormier has become synonymous with the UFC. 

Given all that, it’s easy to forget Cormier’s first major accomplishment in MMA didn’t occur within the confines of the organization he is so closely tied to. Not that he wasn’t under Zuffa employment at the time, but it could be argued his claiming of the title of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix was the last shining moment of Strikeforce on May 19, 2012. 

Daniel Cormier’s Arrival 

When the Heavyweight Grand Prix was announced about a year-and-a-half earlier, Daniel Cormier wasn’t on anyone’s radar to be the winner. Literally. He wasn’t one of the original eight participants. Cormier earned his spot in the tournament by winning an alternate bout over former UFC title challenger Jeff Monson and a bit of luck when Alistair Overeem – the favorite in the eyes of many – opted out of the tournament. That opened the door for Cormier to step in and make the most of his opportunity. 

Cormier had entered his contest with Antonio Silva as a slight underdog. That sounds ridiculous to think of nowadays, but Silva was fresh off demolishing Fedor Emelianenko when many were still of the belief that Fedor was still the heavyweight king, despite his loss to Fabricio Werdum. Cormier tore through him like he was nothing, not even needing his vaunted wrestling to put the big Brazilian on his back. That set up a meeting with Josh Barnett, the former UFC champion who easily disposed of Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov with respective arm-triangle chokes. For greater detail, click here.

No doubt drawing on his plentiful Olympic experience, Cormier showed no sign of nervousness going against one of the heavyweight greats. You’d never know Cormier was the one with less than three years of professional MMA experience. He used his speed and angles to piece up Barnett on the feet, not bothering to look for a takedown until midway through the second round. There was no doubt who won the first three rounds. That said, while Barnett began finding some success in the final two rounds, Cormier still managed to completely sweep the scorecards when the judges’ scorecards were read off, claiming the championship of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. 

It would be a stretch to say Cormier was dominant, but it was as impressive of a showing as anyone could ask for given Cormier’s experience. The highlight of the right came in the third round. Cormier had literally picked up and dumped Barnett early in the round with a high crotch single leg. He also hurt Barnett on the feet with a head kick a little later in the round, but the finish didn’t follow. Regardless, Cormier handled one of the best heavyweights on the planet with a level of ease that indicated Cormier was going to be something special. To say he lived up to the expectations would be an understatement.

Forgotten Trilogy 

There’s no doubt what contest delivered in terms of both entertainment and competitiveness for the card: the trilogy fight between Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson. When people talk about all-time great trilogies, this one doesn’t seem to be brought up as much as it should. For one, it’s a rarity in the sense that all three contests were for a major title, the Strikeforce lightweight title in this case. Thomson clearly won the first contest, Melendez clearly won the second. The third contest wasn’t just for the title; it was also for bragging rights. 

The third contest proved to be the most competitive of the trilogy. Melendez started strong, taking the first two rounds, though hardly in dominant fashion. The third round was extremely close as Thomson began to make the necessary adjustments. Thomson had things figured out over the last two rounds, coming close to finishing Melendez in the fourth and taking the fifth. The third round proved to be the swing round, Melendez retaining the title and taking the trilogy, much to the chagrin of many viewers

Other Notes 

The UFC had already begun transitioning select Strikeforce fighters to the UFC roster – for instance, Dan Henderson’s legendary bout with Shogun Rua had occurred six months previously – but it wasn’t at full force yet. Not everyone on the card made the transition over to the UFC, but everyone who won their fights did. Well, perhaps I should say everyone who originally won their fight…. 

There may not be a fight that better encapsulates the career of Rafael Cavalcante than his rematch with Mike Kyle. Cavalcante rocked Kyle with a knee before finishing him off with a guillotine in just 33 seconds. Unfortunately, he popped for PED’s later and had the win overturned. Flashes of brilliance marked his career – he did win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship – but he was always his own worst enemy. 

All five of the preliminary fights went to a decision. Despite that, the contests served plenty of entertainment value. Most notable was Isaac Vallie-Flagg overcoming a strong start by Gesias Cavalcante to outwork the former K-1 Hero’s lightweight grand prix champion down the stretch with his trademark dogged determination. 

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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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