For 13 months, Stipe Miocic waited for another shot at Daniel Cormier and through two rounds of their heavyweight championship rematch at UFC 241 on Saturday, it looked like the wait was for naught.
While it’s true that just by making it out of round one, Miocic had already fared better than in his first encounter with Cormier, it was also clear that Miocic was falling behind early on the scorecards. Cormier repeatedly beat Miocic to the punch and though Miocic landed plenty of solid shots of his own, it wasn’t until the third round that he began to assert himself. And then in the fourth, Miocic completed the comeback with a flurry of punches that left Cormier defenseless against the cage and in need of saving by official Herb Dean.
So what was the key to Miocic’s turnaround?
“Stop fighting like a bitch,” Miocic told the media at the evening’s post-fight presser when asked what was going through his head when Cormier was out-striking him. “I was fighting like a bitch, I really was. To take nothing from D.C., he’s tough. He fought the best in the world, he beat the best in the world, and it just took me a little time to get my mojo, I just couldn’t feel it.
“One coach told me, ‘When you walked into that fourth round, I knew it was gonna be over. I just see it in your face, your swagger, your hips are moving, I knew it was gonna be good.’”
What made Miocic’s flat start even stranger was that he looked to be in the best shape of his life on Friday when weighed in for UFC 241 main event, tipping the scales at a svelte 230.5 pounds, more than 30 pounds under the heavyweight limit. He credited the change to the weight naturally come off during a hot summer in which he ate a lot, drank water, and trained hard.
He and his team even had the winning game plan drawn up beforehand, it just took Miocic a few rounds to find the target—Cormier’s midsection—and the finish.
“I actually talked to my coach earlier in the week about it,” Miocic said. “I was like, ‘I remember when he was lifting his arms up when he throws punches or box punches’ and I was like, ‘You know what? No one really tests his body.’ I remember the Anderson Silva fight, UFC 200, he caught him with a body shot with a kick. I’m like, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s a little weaker than I thought.’ So I hit him with a couple and then I saw him wince.”
Miocic also gave Cormier his due for not giving Miocic the time or space he needed to establish any sort of rhythm. However, he did take umbrage with Cormier’s fingers getting in his face, an illegal tactic that may have also played a part in Miocic losing their first fight last July.
“It sucks,” Miocic said of not getting out of the gates quicker. “A couple of times I felt like I was getting poked in the eye, but maybe it wasn’t, I don’t know. Just a couple of times I’m like, God, is that a finger? I don’t know if it was a knuckle, I wasn’t trying to bitch about it, but I just don’t know if it was. But we overcame it.
“Listen, he’s an amazing fighter, he makes people feel uncomfortable. He did that for the first two rounds but then I started getting my bearings straight, I saw him slowing down, I’m like, okay, this is where I take it now.”
The worst moment for Miocic may have come early in round one, when Cormier was able to scoop him right off of his feet and hold him up for several seconds before slamming him down to the mat.
6'5" 230lbs and Cormier picks him up like nothing!#UFC241 pic.twitter.com/uOqV0ids1Z— UFC (@ufc) August 18, 2019
“I thought I was up there for, like, an hour,” Miocic said. “What was that? I thought we were doing WWE or something, did he call me out? I don’t know, it was weird.”
It was a humbling moment, but not a discouraging one for Miocic. He survived Cormier’s ground-and-pound and kept reminding himself that he there was enough time in the clock for him to stage a comeback, which he eventually did in spectacular fashion.
“It happens. In a fight, anything can happen,” Miocic said. “He was giving me some good shots on the bottom, but I wasn’t really worried. I was smart about it. It’s tough. He’s an amazing wrestler and like I said, I just started off slow in those first two rounds.
“I wasn’t me and in that third round I knew I was a better fighter, you have to just overcome it, man, it’s nothing but adversity, it’s awesome. It’s how we do it here in Cleveland.”