All the Cage: Cormier thinks Gaethje is Khabib's toughest test; Bellator signs Anderson

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

Few know UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov better than his close friend and training partner, former UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.

Nurmagomedov will defend his title on Oct. 24 in the main event of UFC 254 against interim champion Justin Gaethje. Gaethje may well pose the greatest threat to Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten 28-0 record than anyone he’s faced to this point.

But because Nurmagomedov will be fighting for the first time since the death of his father/coach, Abdulmanap, that concern is heightened even more.

Cormier, while acknowledging Gaethje’s status as Nurmagomedov’s toughest test, believes his teammate will be able to rise to the occasion.

“I think he’s going to fight his toughest opponent,” Cormier told Yahoo Sports. “I think the vast majority of the world feels that this is the toughest guy for him at 155 [pounds]. I think he’ll be OK. His ability to train and prepare for this and continue to work toward the goal that him and his father had together will allow him to maybe come to terms with everything that’s happening around him.

“Sometimes you need distractions and you need motivations in different forms. I think Khabib will use [his father’s death] as motivation. He’s a professional. He’s a pro’s pro and he’s going to prepare himself to the best of his ability.”

Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold talk to Khabib Nurmagomedov after a post-fight incident.
Daniel Cormier says his teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov will rise to the occasion against Justin Gaethje. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Nurmagomedov’s coach, Javier Mendez, will fly to Russia not long after cornering Cormier on Saturday in Cormier’s rubber match for the heavyweight title against champion Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC 252 at Apex to train Nurmagomedov.

Cormier believes that being in Russia near his family will help him mentally and prepare the way he needs to in order to fight at his best.

“The team will prepare him to the best of his ability, but he’ll also be around his family who loves him, and now he’ll see Javier from here, another familiar face who will help him to get through a difficult time as he prepares to defend his title again,” Cormier said.

Nurmagomedov hasn’t spoken much publicly since his father’s death, but he posted a training photo on Instagram last week. He wrote, “There will always be questions, there will be quite a few of them, the most important thing is that you yourself know the answers to them, illusions can sit in your head for a long time. 80 days before the fight.”

Bellator lands Anderson

Bellator made a quality signing last week when it inked free agent light heavyweight Corey Anderson to a deal. Anderson will be one of the leading contenders for champion Ryan Bader’s belt.

Anderson is 13-5 in his MMA career and 10-5 in the UFC. He’d won four in a row, over Patrick Cummins, Glover Teixeira, Ilir Latifi and Johnny Walker, before getting knocked out in the first round by Jan Blachowicz in February.

Anderson, 30, is at his peak and is the type of former UFC fighter that makes sense for Bellator to target: One who can contend for the title and who still has room to grow.

No Chimaev at UFC 252

UFC president Dana White created quite a buzz following the last show on Fight Island in July when he told Yahoo Sports that he’d get welterweight Khamzat Chimaev a fight at UFC 252.

Chimaev became something of a sensation, setting a UFC record by winning two fights in 10 days. He pummeled John Phillips and stopped him in the second round on July 15, then battered Rhys McKee even worse before stopping him in the first round on July 25.

After the fight, he said he wanted to fight at UFC 252. White told Yahoo Sports on July 25 that he’d make the fight happen.

But UFC 252 is on Saturday and it will go forward without Chimaev. The UFC was unable to come up with an appropriate match for him, but White is hoping to have him fight before too much longer.

MMA Mount Rushmore

Two months ago, White started this trend of picking an MMA Mount Rushmore on “The Schmozone” podcast. He named Amanda Nunes, Chuck Liddell, Jon Jones and Royce Gracie.

Then, UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten chose Gracie, Conor McGregor, Liddell and Fedor Emelianenko during an interview on MMA Junkie Radio.

Legendary former referee John McCarthy got in on the act and chose Ronda Rousey, Gracie, Randy Couture and Emelianenko.

All of those are wise choices, but I don’t agree entirely with everyone’s list. I’ll go with these four:

White: The sport may no longer exist if it weren’t for White, who built it into the powerhouse that it is today. The fact that the sport is still growing is testament to White’s ability. He’s a no-brainer.

Gracie: He’s the guy who put the mixed into mixed martial arts and made the ground game relevant.

Rousey: She has to be on given what she meant to the development of the women’s game and the sport in general in the last decade. She became a mainstream cultural icon who appeared in movies, on late night talk shows and wrote a best-selling book.

Georges St-Pierre: This spot could have gone to one of any number of people, including McGregor, Couture, Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Lorenzo Fertitta, Emelianenko, Nurmagomedov and Cormier. But GSP gets the nod because he is one of the greats of all-time, was a huge draw and is arguably the first true mixed martial artist who excelled at all disciplines.

He said it

“I’ve got to take a [expletive].” — UFC heavyweight Derrick Lewis on Saturday after his KO of Aleksei Oleinik to someone off camera while he was unaware he was being interviewed live on ESPN.

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