Cael Sanderson vs. Daniel Cormier: Class in Session

Greatness is something everyone appreciates. Names like Michael Jordan and Tom Brady are household names. In combat sports, Jon Jones, Saenchai, and Aleksandr Karelian are others. In college wrestling, there is nobody ahead of Cael Sanderson. In his time at Iowa State from 1999 to 2002, Sanderson managed to achieve perfection by going 159-0 with four National Championships. Today, I want to take a look at his third title at Iowa State when he beat future UFC champion Daniel Cormier.

We all know DC as the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion. He’s been in incredible fights with some of the best including the aforementioned Jones, Stipe Miocic, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. He’s nearly dominated everyone he’s fought.

In college, Cormier wrestled for Oklahoma State. We know DC for his double championship status but in the world of wrestling, he notched a 53-10 record. On the freestyle scene, Cormier won a bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships. Cormier was 0-5 against Sanderson and going into the sixth and final meeting, Sanderson would prove a point.

Cael Sanderson and Daniel Cormier: Lessons

We come in at the midway through the first period and scoreless. As DC circles, Sanderson fires inside with his left hand and gets behind the knee. Cormier tries to sprawl but Sanderson managed to get his right hand around the knee. Cormier fights it but Sanderson trucks through and finishes the takedown for two.

This is where Sanderson drowns his opponents. After scoring two, Sanderson stays on Cormier, suffocating his foe, draining the gas tank and looking for additional points. Here he’s hunting points and DC granny rolls out of bounds. Notice how Sanderson stays engaged and flows over and through the granby.

Later in the period, we see an example of what Cael Sanderson is best at: the low single. Here, he shoots on Cormier and DC successfully sprawls. But, there are layers to combat sports and Sanderson shows just this. In the first attempt, Cormier uses the whizzer to keep Sanderson at bay. On the second shot you can see Sanderson with control of Cormier’s arm until he’s ready for the shot. He lets the hand go and snags the ankles of Cormier, pulling out the base, and getting the takedown for two.

In the second, Sanderson has gotten an escape point from starting on the bottom. We see Cormier hunting a takedown of himself. But the tenacity of Sanderson keeps Cormier at bay. DC gets in on the single. Notice as Sanderson is defending he reaches across with his posted hand to look for the leg of Cormier. Perusing the takedown, Cormier overcommits and Sanderson manages to sprawl and stuff the head of DC. Daniel Cormier bails on the attempt and Sanderson shoots as he’s heading out of bounds. This is another great example of what Sanderson does well. He is always looking to score even when he’s deep in defense of a takedown. He is always on the hunt. One mistake and he will take advantage of it, which he’s always looking to do.

Near the end of the third, Cormier’s been awarded an escape point for himself. Cormier does a good job here as he snaps Sanderson’s head down and looks to go behind Sanderson for a takedown. Sanderson has his arm out looking to slow down Cormier enough to do something but Cormier puts in the second effort, gets the go behind and scores two. While Sanderson has a point of ride time racked up, this takedown puts Cormier in the ballpark with an upset or at least to tie it up. He’s now down 5-4.

But then Cormier just drops the ball. Sanderson reaches underneath to fight the hands and momentarily gets Cormier’s hands free. Instead of locking his hands back, Cormier just lets go and sits back on his rear. Always looking for a shot, Sanderson turns to Cormier, wraps his right leg up and snags his left ankle, drives through Cormier and out of bounds. He will get top position on the reset as well. Cormier has blown his shot and allowed Sanderson to put this match nearly out of reach for the Oklahoma State alumni. Daniel Cormier would need a Hail Mary.

In the end, Cormier will try and try hard. But Cael Sanderson would hold off Cormier and win his third National Championship.

The wins over Daniel Cormier, and especially this one in the 2001 NCAA National Championship, would age especially well. Cormier would go on to win two titles in the UFC. Sanderson, however, goes on to win another NCAA title, a silver at the 2003 World Championships, and a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. After his competition years, Sanderson would go on to coach the Penn State Lions and help them become one of the most prolific wrestling programs the NCAA has ever seen.

Blaine Henry

Just your friendly neighborhood fight fan!

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