Daniel Cormier will be defending his title at UFC 220, but as he said Monday on "The MMA Hour," it might as well be UFC 187 all over again.
Much like when he submitted Anthony "Rumble" Johnson in May 2015 to win the vacant light heavyweight crown Jon Jones had been stripped of, Cormier's championship bout opposite Volkan Oezdemir on Saturday's bill comes after suffering another crushing defeat to his bitter rival at UFC 214, and while Jones later lost the title he'd recaptured from Cormier and saw his win overturned due to a positive steroid test, the reinstated champ can't call himself a titleholder until he gets his hand raised in UFC 220's co-main event.
"I lost a fight," Cormier told Ariel Helwani. "I almost feel like I'm in the same situation as the 'Rumble' fight, fighting for a vacant championship. I get it. Trust me, I do want to walk in there as the champion because I get pay-per-view points, and as a financial incentive, it's very important for me to be the champ.
"But mentally, I almost feel like I'm fighting for a vacant title again, and I can deal with that, because I will feel better once I win and I get the belt strapped around me again. It's just me, I can't change who I am. I am who I am because of that, because of that mentality."
Sharing the cage with Cormier is a fast-rising contender in Oezdemir, who kicked off his UFC run with three straight victories including sub-60-second KOs of Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in 2017, stoppages the champ acknowledged as "odd and freakish." The challenger happens to be a training partner of Johnson's - another hard-hitting light heavyweight Cormier put out to pasture last year - but just as he did following his loss to Jones back at UFC 182, Cormier won't let his foe's fearsome power keep him from getting the W.
"I'm not going to make him King Kong. I'm not going to make him into some Mike Tyson of the UFC. I'm not doing that. He's a guy that can punch hard, but most of us can at 205 pounds or heavyweight."
Having gotten the better of a longtime Henri Hooft disciple in Johnson on two previous occasions, Cormier put his humility aside to state the day a Combat Club member hands him an L won't be dawning anytime soon.
"There's varsity and there's JV. Have you ever heard of that? Henri Hooft is a great guy. Greg Jones is a fantastic guy. I don't know who the jiu-jitsu coach is down there, they're all fantastic guys. They had a wrestle-off, Anthony (Johnson) whipped Volkan, so Volkan became a training partner. He went to get beat up.
"They sent the A-Guy in there, he got whipped. They built him back up, he came back in there again and he got whipped. Now he's gone. So now they're going to bring the JV guy. What are you going to do, Volkan? What are you going to do different when you weren't even the first choice?"
Cormier makes his first title defense since his reinstatement in Saturday's co-headliner at Boston's TD Garden.
- With h/t to MMA Fighting