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Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic rematch is a pure battle of legacy

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For both Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic, legacies have been forged through blood and sweat. These are a couple of lunchpail-toting, blue-collar workhorses who rose to power the hard way. Two civic-minded, boy-scout nice, self-made athletic studs.

Cormier traveled a common path. Discovered by his future coach while engaged in a schoolyard fight, he was a natural in the wrestling room. Over 100 wins in high school, an All-American in college, an Olympian. Chasing, chasing, relentlessly chasing gold. Miocic took a more circuitous route. Equally gifted in wrestling and baseball, he lettered in both sports in college, then nearly took a detour into boxing before settling on MMA and finding yet another sport in which to excel.

Those diverging roads have ultimately led to the same place, opposite each other as rivals. The UFC heavyweight division has been under the rule of one or the other for the last three years, and at Saturday’s UFC 241, the championship will either stay with Cormier or ping-pong back to Miocic for a second reign.

That makes the fight between them one about legacy. Not about creating, but about adding layers and depth to all that has come before.

Of the two, Cormier holds the more esteemed resume. UFC two-division champion, Strikeforce Grand Prix champion, only a single loss in his decade-long fight career. Miocic, though, has his own bona fides to flaunt — wins over Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos; a UFC-record three successful heavyweight title defenses.

Still, the finish line beckons both. Cormier is now 40 years old and has openly talked of retirement. Any fight could be his last. Miocic, meanwhile, turns 37 on August 19. He may have more time left than Cormier, but his athletic peak is likely behind him. A second straight title fight loss would stand as a major setback. For both men, a sense of urgency seems a given, giving this pairing an extra spark.

With their similar career arcs, statures and list of achievements, it’s a pure and ideal matchup, but in addition, the fight serves as a bit of a reprieve from the wildness of recent weeks on the UFC calendar. In barely over a month’s time, MMA observers have dealt with Colby Covington’s heel schtick, the Cris Cyborg-Dana White fiasco, another Greg Hardy showcase, another Jon Jones’ incident, and the mind-bending instant karma of Jorge Masvidal and Ben Askren. Depending on your bent, some of it was objectionable and some of it was exhilarating, but collectively, it was exhausting.

For those fight purists who long to place competition ahead of spectacle if only for a night, Cormier vs. Miocic II offers a most welcome oasis. Sure, there have been shards of sharp dialogue flung in both directions, but most has been within the bounds of competition. Understandable; emotions are heightened when you’re fighting for No. 1.

And sure, while this fight serves as the main event, the duo will almost certainly be upstaged by the reappearance of Nate Diaz, who will be fighting for the first time in three years. That’s apropos for these two, given their histories.

Cormier, as good as he is — an all-time great, even — has for most of his career been overshadowed by longtime light-heavyweight divisional rival Jon Jones. And Miocic, while holding the record for most UFC heavyweight title defenses, never quite took off as a breakout star. Still, the greatness of both is beyond dispute.

Their likability also extends outside of the cage.

Miocic famously won the belt while working as a firefighter at the Valley View Fire Department in Cleveland, a post in which he still serves. His training sessions often must be scheduled around 12-hour shifts. That would seem like a huge hindrance for anyone, let alone an accomplished and ambitious athlete who pulls in enough money to ditch the role and focus on fighting, yet Miocic has never wavered in his love of his role and its relationship to his colleagues and his community.

Similarly, Cormier, man of 1,000 jobs, added another in 2018 when he agreed to coach the wrestling team at Gilroy High School in his adopted hometown of Gilroy, Calif. How’s he done? According to Intermat, which exhaustively covers wrestling, they were the 11th-best team in the nation. This is not a job he needs in any way. He already fights, works as one of the best analysts in combat sports, and has a young and growing family. Like Miocic, he’s simply driven to give back.

These are good men in a great fight chasing the grandest prize in MMA. It is pure and ferocious competition, no added ingredients necessary. It’s nice to be reminded that in some cases, that’s still enough.

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