HOUSTON - Daniel Cormier outpointed Alexander Gustafsson in a split decision Saturday night at UFC 192 to retain the light heavyweight championship.
Two judges gave the fight to Cormier (17-1) with 49-46 and 48-47 scores, and the third had it 48-47 for Gustafsson (16-4).
It was Cormier's first title defense. He sees this fight as one that helped him grow.
"These are the ones you dream about when you start doing this," he said. "You don't dream about them as you want to be involved. You want to be involved and you want to win it. I was tired in the fifth round but I just kept punching and punching and punching."
Cormier's wrestling skill paid off immediately with a first-round takedown when he lifted and flipped the challenger to the ground.
However, Cormier was cut above the right eye in the second round and Gustafsson responded with two rare takedowns on the champion. The takedowns had little impact and Cormier stayed on the offensive.
The swing was in the third round. After Cormier's uppercut bloodied Gustafsson's nose, Gustafsson hit Cormier in the chin with a knee and the champion wobbled to the ground, although he quickly popped back up.
"I thought I was winning the round pretty handedly and then he kneed me in the face," Cormier said. "I can take a shot, but it's the follow-up shots that get you. This guy actually got one off and as I was trying to get away, I kind of fell down."
Cormier stayed aggressive in the fourth and fifth rounds, not relying on his wrestling skill but landing power strikes and keeping Gustafsson on defense.
Up next for the champion, there is already talk of a rematch against Jon Jones once he's clear.
Cormier lost his first shot at the light heavyweight title to Jones at UFC 182. Jones was stripped of the belt following felony charges from an April traffic accident and Cormier won the vacant championship against Anthony Johnson at UFC 187.
Cormier is all for a rematch, but not in Jones' home state of New York.
"At the end of the day when Jones gets reinstated, New York is probably the only place that he'll be welcomed without venomous anger," he said. "This is where he's from, so they will actually care for him. Cheer for him.
"Why should I allow this guy to go and fight where he's comfortable?"
On the undercard, Ryan Bader unanimously outpointed Rashad Evans in a light heavyweight bout. Evans (24-4-1) hadn't fought since Nov. 16, 2013, because of injuries.
All three judges scored it 30-27. Bader was in control for most of the fight. He did well limiting Evans' advances, while dealing out more than enough punishment on his own. Bader (21-4) is on a five-fight winning streak.
Bader wants a title shot, even though he expects Jones to re-enter the light heavyweight scene. But knocking of Evans was special.
"I've been wanting to fight him forever," Bader said. "He's a legend in the sport and for me to go out there and beat that guy and keep my head down, just keep doing that. There's nothing else I can do right now. There's too many variables out there."
Ruslan Magomedov (14-1) unanimously outpointed Shawn Jordan (18-7) in a heavyweight bout.
The co-main event was supposed to be a welterweight bout between Johny Hendricks and Tyron Woodley. But the fight was called off after Hendricks failed to make weight Friday.