Last night Daniel Cormier got kicked in the head by Jon Jones in the third round of UFC 214’s main event. There was less than two and a half minutes left in the round and Cormier was hunting down Jones as he had during the whole fight — and he was doing so well! — before he caught a Ryu-style Joudan Sokutogeri to the side of the head. And that was it.
After the first kick, Jones completed his Tekken 7 Hwoarang combo by chasing the retreating Cormier down and kicking his left leg from under him, which sent Cormier spinning and tumbling into the cage, where Jones caught him partially with a tiger-knee and then an old-fashioned demolition of the human skull and senses when Cormier fell to the ground.
As Jones celebrated after, Cormier attempted to walk out of the octagon. When Joe Rogan interviewed him a few minutes after he was hit with a Liu Kang fatality, Cormier broke down in tears. Asked for his thoughts, he said “I don’t know, man. I thought the fight was going well ... I don’t even know what happened. They say I got kicked in the head ... I’m so disappointed.”
White pressed him on his rivalry with Jones and Cormier responded by disagreeing that such a rivalry even existed. He said “If he wins both fights, there is no rivalry.”
It was a saddening fall for a man who knew he had to beat Jones to be considered a true champion, not only by the fans, but in his own mind. He even declared confidently that he would beat Jones after their face off before the fight.
Jones praised Cormier and gave him a lot of credit as a man and as a champion in his post-fight interview, but before, during their press conference, he had said that he wanted to make Cormier cry again. And he succeeded, because he kicked Cormier in the head with a Chun-Li spinning bird kick.
Cormier crying became an instant meme and the jokes came, but there was really nothing else that he could do. Crying is a perfectly suitable response to being kicked in the head.
There’s a real chance that he was crying as a physical reaction to (possibly) having a concussion. The same thing happened to Luke Kuechly of the Panthers last year. But he was also very disappointed in the result and said so himself.
He had trained his hardest to fight the man who represented his biggest obstacle and still came up short. He gave his best and it wasn’t good enough. That’s a frustration that all humans know from experience and many of us react in the same way. Some of us cry in the bathroom, others wait till they get in their cars to curse the heavens as the tears blur our vision. Jay Z even names that frustration — to try and to fail — as the two things in this world that he hates, on the third verse of “H to the Izzo.”
On top of that inadequacy, he got kicked in the head. That bears repeating. Jones kicked that man in the head.
Cormier got close to Jones, flinched and ducked his head to the right because he thought a punch was coming, and instead was greeted by a Jack-Black-kicking-Baxter-off-the-bridge-in-Anchorman-style kick to the right side of his face. If you can’t cry after that, there’s no such thing as a good time to cry.
Combat sports are a peak celebration of stereotypical masculinity. The sporting world in general is filled with it, but it’s all fighting really is. It’s physical violence, trash talking and all of the theater of being a “real man,” tough and unflinching, even in the face of gruesome injury and real human fear. Fear that would cripple any ordinary human being. Between rounds, the trainers for both fighters spent most of their time having their fighters take deep breaths to calm down their heart-rate. They were excited and scared, because being in dangerous situations can be both thrilling and absolutely terrifying.
Add that to the respectability in sports of how a sportsman and a champion should behave — graceful in both victory and defeat — and it’s somewhat understandable why an emotional reaction by Cormier became a joke so fast. It happened to Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan, and that’s in basketball.
And while there could be a long discussion on how people are uncomfortable with public displays of emotion, especially by men, I feel like the only retort to the laughter at Cormier should be that he got kicked in the head. Yes, his behavior when he lost was a bit odd ... because he got kicked in the head. Yes, he was disappointed and cried in front of thousands of people ... because he got kicked in the head. If you get kicked in the head, it is your natural right, as a living creature with the ability to feel things and react to those feelings, to cry. Doesn’t matter where you are. There’s no need to tough it out. Someone kicks you in the head, you should cry. Even before the kick lands, if you sense that someone is capable of, and wants to, kick you in the head, you should start crying instantly.
Beyond the narratives involved, the greatest lesson of this second fight between Cormier and Jones is that getting kicked in the head hurts like hell. Even thinking about the prospect of it is enough for the eyes to start watering.