Last night at UFC 241, Stipe Miocic won the UFC heavyweight title, stopping Daniel Cormier with punches in the fourth round. It was a triumphant moment for Miocic who had insisted for a year that his first fight with Cormier was a fluke and that he would reclaim the title if given a chance. But more than that it was a triumphant moment for the UFC. Had Cormier won the fight, the general feeling was that he’d probably retire, or possibly take a third fight with Jon Jones. But a loss sets up a trilogy fight between the two best heavyweights in the world. And for the UFC, that’s big business.
More so than any other division, trilogy fights have come to define heavyweight and its numerous eras. In the boom period of the UFC it was Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski. In Pride it was Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Then it was Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir. And finally it was Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. Each of those series helped elevate the fighters involved and the sport itself to new heights. Miocic is a great heavyweight, one the UFC continues to bill as the Greatest Of All Time, but despite that he’s never been a huge draw. In part that’s because of his personality—there’s a cap on what he can become—but it’s also in part because Miocic has not had a true rival to butt up against. Now he does.
Or at least, he might. The talk surrounding Cormier coming into the fight was about retirement and after getting stopped in a fight he was clearly winning, that talk is only sure to increase, especially as Cormier has now been knocked out in two of his last five fights. Even Cormier admitted as much in the post-fight presser, saying he knows it’s not good that he’s been finished twice now.
“Losing is terrible for me,” Cormier said. “I’m a competitive guy so just losing any type of fight is terrible but being finished, to me, is insane. So I don’t know. I never really thought about them in comparison to each other but that’s twice I’ve been stopped. That’s not good and I’m smart enough to understand that.”
He’s right about that. At 40 years old, getting knocked out is not good. But that interview also reveals why a third fight is going to happen. Cormier is a competitor and there’s no chance he wants to retire on a loss, especially as ignominious a loss as that one. The fact is Cormier was winning the fight until he lost it. An excellent adjustment from Miocic ended his night early but Cormier has to think he’d win a third fight, reclaim the title, and go out on top of the sport.
But whether he will is another thing entirely. Though Miocic was losing the fight early, he is also the one who made adjustments and his decision to attack the body is one that Cormier has never shown much ability to defend. In a third fight, you’d have to imagine Miocic attacks the midsection early and often and that could change the entire complexion of the fight. After all, Jon Jones’s body work in his rematch with Cormier is what allowed him to knock out DC.
And that’s why a trilogy has to happen. Miocic and Cormier are perfect foils for one another. Sure, their personalities do not clash in the same overt way that DC and Jones’s do but their in-cage abilities are much better suited to one another. Both can box and wrestle and make adjustments, and now we know that both men can hurt each other. A third fight between the two is a legitimate toss up with any number of possibilities and the title of Baddest Man on the Planet up for grabs.
There’s nothing quite like a true rivalry between the best heavyweights in the world and the UFC finally has one again.
UFC 241 Quotes
“Stop fighting like a bitch.” - Stipe Miocic on how he was able to comeback and stop Cormier in the fourth round.
“I’m the best martial artist in the world, I’m not like these ‘hold onto you’ wrestlers who are going to hold you and hopefully win a round and find a loophole to winning these fights and putting belts on their waists. Now we’re fighting for the ‘Baddest motherf*cker in the game’ belt and that’s mine…I’d like to defend it against Jorge Masvidal. Baddest motherf*ckers, that’s how we’re going to do this.” - Nate Diaz being Nate Diaz.
“Stipe is hands down the greatest heavyweight of all time. I have nothing else to say. Now can we stop playing games with these pound for pound rankings already.” - Jon Jones, moments after Stipe’s comeback, taking petty to new and impressive heights.
Stock Up - Stipe Miocic: Miocic avenged his loss, reclaimed his belt, and renewed the conversation about being the greatest heavyweight of all time. That’s a pretty good night.
Stock Down - Daniel Cormier: It’s not just that Cormier lost the belt, it’s the way he lost it. Cormier was dominating the fight but then started disregarding his corner, dropping his hands dismissively, and stopped wrestling. Full credit to Stipe but that was a puzzling performance from DC after the first round.
Stock Up - Nate Diaz: He came back from a three-year layoff and didn’t look rusty at all. In fact, he looked better than ever and certainly improved. Then he followed that up with an elite call out and press conference, so much so that even Dana White had to eat crow. He’s the biggest winner of the entire event.
Stock Down - Yoel Romero: Despite the fact that Romero arguably won the fight, that loss to Costa probably spells the end of Romero’s title hopes. It’s not unbelievable to think that Romero may in fact be immortal, but at 42 you feel like his window has to be closing at some point.
Stock Up - Cory Sandhagen: Raphael Assuncao has been one of the five best bantamweights in the world for over five years and he has only lost to the absolute top of the division. Beating him decisively is an announcement that Sandhagen is now right there among the elite.
Stock Down - Devonte Smith: It’s not Smith’s fault he was a -1000 favorite, that’s on the bookmakers. But getting knocked out as a -1000 favorite is extremely bad from an optics stand point and having it happen because it looks like you were not taking the fight all that seriously is even worse.
Honestly, last night was pretty tightly run, all things considered. There were a few things worth mentioning—Herb Dean allowing Cormier to get a way with a few eye pokes, the scores in Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa being contentious, Sabina Mazo’s record-setting win over Shana Dobson—but nothing egregious from a judging or refereeing standpoint. That being said, there were a couple of thing’s from Joe Rogan’s call that left something to be desired.
The first thing is a nitpick but bears mentioning, Joe Rogan continually called Miocic the winningest heavyweight champion in UFC history during the fight and the lead up, and while that is now accurate (or at least halfway accurate), Randy Couture had one more heavyweight title win than Stipe heading into last night. Stating something incorrectly one time is a slip up, but continuing to do it is a bad look and someone in the production booth should’ve caught him on it.
The bigger issue with Rogan’s performance last night—and this is also possibly production’s fault and not his own—was that after Cormier was knocked out, Rogan went and interviewed him. Again. You may recall the second time DC fought Jon Jones, Rogan interviewed Cormier but prefaced it by saying he doesn’t like to interview fighters who have just been knocked out. That’s the correct way to think about things and yet he did it anyway. Now this time, Cormier seemed to be in a much better spot than the Jones KO but still.
Furthermore, Rogan proceeded to tell Cormier he didn’t want DC to make a decision about retirement now, but then basically asked him if he was going to retire. None of these are enormous issues but they did stand out on an otherwise flawless night. Usually after a big PPV there is at least one grievous mistake from the judges/commentary team/referees so if this is the worst of it, that’s a feather in the cap for the UFC.
Fights to make
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier III: For all the reasons listed above. If DC doesn’t retire, a threematch is the only thing that makes sense. If Cormier does decide to hang it up, Francis Ngannou is the obvious next contender.
Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal: I don’t know how the UFC makes any fight other than this one, and if they were creative at all they’d actually make a “Baddest Motherf*cker” belt and have these two fight for it. Even if they don’t, this is one of the rare UFC fights that could easily headline a PPV without a belt on the line.
Paulo Costa vs. winner of Robert Whittaker-Israel Adesanya: Romero has been one of, if not the best middleweight in the UFC for the last five years. Costa beat him, however contentiously, and that’s more than enough to deserve a title shot.
Yoel Romero vs Ilir Latifi: It’s past time Romero move up to 205 and middleweight doesn’t have that many exciting matchups for him. At light heavyweight he could quickly set himself up to fight Jon Jones with a few wins and Latifi is a good litmus test.