Daniel Cormier had a trio of dream opponents to fight before he retires next year.
Derrick Lewis failed to make the cut.
But with UFC desperate for a worthy main event to headline a pay-per-view card next month at Madison Square Garden, the promotion enticed Cormier through cash and cachet to skip some worthy contenders and defend his heavyweight title against Lewis on short notice.
UFC got Cormier's attention with the lure of MSG — and a whole lot of money.
"They made it so good that it was difficult to turn away," Cormier said.
The 39-year-old Cormier could not turn down the payday, and is set to fight Lewis for the heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 230 on Nov. 3 against Madison Square Garden. Lewis, who has won three straight fights, was victorious last weekend against Alexander Volkov in Las Vegas.
Cormier had been challenged to a rematch by former champ Stipe Miocic. Cormier (21-1, 1 no-contest) added the UFC heavyweight championship — and suffered a broken hand — to his light heavyweight title in July when he flattened Miocic in the first round at UFC 226. Miocic said this week he wanted another shot at the title, tweeting, "I've been staying up all night with my new born daughter and I still offered to fight you nov 3 with ZERO camp weeks ago ."
Cormier said he turned down a rematch against Miocic , in part because of concerns his broken right hand had not properly healed.
"They asked me a few weeks ago and I didn't know if my hand was going to be OK," Cormier told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Also, because of the respect I have for Stipe, I really kind of wanted a longer training camp. I know the amount of work I put in to prepare for him last time. I don't know that in five weeks if I would have the amount of time to prepare for him this time."
So instead, his hand healed, Cormier gets Lewis, who will fight weeks after he took 129 significant strikes (78 to the head) in his win against Volkov.
"Stipe's a guy that is known his cardio, being able to go five hard rounds," Cormier said. "Derrick presents different challenges, but him pushing an insane pace on me isn't really one of them."
Even with Lewis on deck, Cormier said he's firm on his timetable to retire next year when he turns 40 in March. He still wants a dream bout with former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (who still works for WWE), and Miocic and career nemesis Jon Jones are on the list before he calls it quits.
"Lesnar, Miocic and Jones are the only three guys I'm kind of interested in fighting right now," he said. "Lesnar because it's a massive fight. Jones because it's me and Jon Jones. Miocic because he deserves a rematch. He does. I'm not going to sit here and pretend he doesn't. If for some reason the Lesnar fight doesn't happen, I will fight Stipe because he deserves it."
Cormier has never lost to anyone except Jones, the star-crossed former light heavyweight champion who beat him twice. The second bout last year was changed to a no-contest when Jones failed a doping test that kept him out of the sport for 15 months.
Cormier will be stripped of his light heavyweight title and the 205-pound crown will go to the winner of the Jones-Alexander Gustafsson bout at UFC 232 on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas. Cormier said he understood UFC's decision to take away his title — but it crushed him to know Jones will fight for the belt.
"It kind of sucks it's going to be him," Cormier said. "But I understand the organization having to move on. They said they won't strip me until those guys start the fight, so I'll be able to be a double champ for five months, six months. The fight was made with some concessions."
Cormier said UFC told him if he wanted a 205-title shot against the winner, he'll get one.
"That makes it a little bit easier to accept," Cormier said.
Heavyweight title fights are rare, and Lewis was eager to jump in on short notice having won nine of his last 10 fights.
"I'm still feeling good. Nothing's hurting," Lewis said. "I believe I'm ready."
Lewis said the last few days "haven't seen real" in the wake of both the title fight and some notoriety from a PG-13 answer as to why he stripped off his shorts inside the cage after beating Volkov.
"I'm surprised, too, because I thought he was holding out for Brock," Lewis said.