There have been a number of championship trilogies in UFC history, but Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier might have cemented their spot at the top of that all-time list after going to war for the third time on Saturday night.
After Cormier finished Miocic inside one round in the initial meeting, the Cleveland native bounced back with a stunning fourth-round TKO in the rematch. With the heavyweight title on the line, not to mention the legacy of winning the rubber match in the series, Miocic ultimately won the day with a unanimous decision victory.
It was a back-and-forth fight throughout the contest, but Miocic being able to muscle Cormier around while landing the more effective strikes over 25 minutes helped him earn the nod.
Of course, the fight didn’t end without some controversy thanks to a couple of eye pokes, which was an unfortunate running theme during their trilogy.
In the co-main event, Marlon “Chito” Vera took out rising star Sean O’Malley in the opening round after the former Contender Series contract winner suffered a leg injury at some point during one of the first few exchanges in the fight. Vera did his job as required by taking advantage of the injury and blasting O’Malley with punches and elbows to earn the stoppage victory.
There’s a lot to get to from the event so with that said let’s look at the passes and the fails for the latest pay-per-view offering. This is Making the Grade for UFC 252: Miocic vs. Cormier 3.
Greatest of All Time
Because any topic concerning “the greatest of all time” is ultimately subjective, there is never a definitive answer for this question in regards to any sport or any athlete. Sometimes, the debate seems settled like in cases of Michael Jordan in basketball. When it comes to heavyweight fighters in MMA, it’s getting really hard not to consider Stipe Miocic at the top of that list.
He already defended the heavyweight title on more consecutive occasions than any other fighter in UFC history, but Miocic has also wiped out a string of former champions and top contenders along the way. With a second consecutive win over Daniel Cormier at UFC 252, Miocic has once again separated himself from the rest of the pack.
Few would argue the greatness Miocic has achieved when compared to every other heavyweight who has ever fought in the UFC, but there will be plenty saying that he still sits behind former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko in that mythical list as the best ever.
Digging deep on Emelianenko’s resume reveals quite a few flaws including a number of opponents that the Russian had no business fighting in the first place. Add in several high-profile losses in recent years and Emelianenko’s resume starts taking a few hits in comparison to Miocic.
Of course some would say that Emelianenko was “past his prime” when he fell to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Dan Henderson in consecutive fights but that just appears to be a convenient excuse to discount some key defeats once he left Japan and started facing top competition outside of PRIDE Fighting Championships.
There’s no doubt that Emelianenko’s run through the heavyweight division between 2001 and 2009 will always be remembered as one of the greatest undefeated streaks in history but it’s still hard to put that ahead of what Miocic has done in recent years.
With two wins over Cormier alongside victories over Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, and Francis Ngannou, Miocic has done a lot already to cement his spot at the top of that list. Ultimately, it’s still an opinion but Miocic is doing his absolute best right now to prove it as fact.
If You Don’t Know, Now You Know
Bouncing back from a tough defeat is usually one of the biggest measures of a fighter and Jairzinho Rozenstruik proved he’s better than a single loss on his record.
After getting blitzed with punches by the human wrecking machine known as Francis Ngannou back in May, Rozenstruik wasted no time getting back in the gym to fix whatever flaws he found in himself that night so he could come back stronger. His return against former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos was no easy test but Rozenstruik demonstrated poise and patience that allowed him to stay out of trouble while picking his spots to counter the crafty Brazilian.
When Rozenstruik’s coaches urged him to move forward, he listened and came after dos Santos with a powerful combination that eventually led to his knockout win. The finish was nothing new for Rozenstruik — he’s finished all of his UFC wins by knockout or TKO.
But the performance itself after a devastating loss really shows the kind of mental toughness in Rozenstruik to take his kicks and come back better. Now he’s once again knocking on the door of title contention and while a win over dos Santos doesn’t erase the loss to Ngannou, it certainly puts him back on track as he pursues his goal to eventually become UFC champion.
When Daniel Pineda left the UFC back in 2014, there was no guarantee that he would ever return again. The roller coaster ride that greets a lot of veterans following a UFC release sees just as many fighters come back to the promotion as those who never set foot in the octagon again.
For Pineda, the road back to the UFC was filled with plenty of obstacles including a positive drug test in 2019 that cost him a shot at a $1 million prize in the PFL.
On Saturday night, Pineda made his return to the UFC and he not only picked up a TKO win, which kept his finishing rate at 100 percent for his career, but he also managed to take out one of the top prospects in the sport in Herbert Burns.
Pineda showed his veteran experience with the fearlessness it took to dive into Burns’ guard and begin doing damage without ever being truly threatened by a submission from the ground specialist. Then, after trapping Burns in the crucifix position, Pineda rained down a brutal series of elbows to get the finish.
He was then rewarded with a $50,000 bonus for Performance of the Night.
It’s hard to say if Pineda will ever become a threat to the best featherweights in the UFC but he’s nothing if not an exciting addition to the division. Pineda lives by the moniker of go big or go home with a style that almost always results in fan friendly fights so it’s good to have him back where he’ll compete on the largest stage in the sport.
We’re all guilty of being prisoners of the moment when something unexpected happens in MMA. A questionable stoppage sometimes becomes the most egregious moment in the history of the sport … at least for a few minutes after it happens. A big win is sometimes accompanied by overstating or occasionally underrating the significance of that victory.
On Saturday night, Marlon “Chito” Vera picked up a statement win over Sean O’Malley, although the circumstances surrounding his win were probably different than what he imagined.
Despite his experience and finishing rate over the past few years, Vera entered his fight with O’Malley as a decided underdog. Less than five minutes later, “Chito” was victorious while O’Malley was being carried out of the UFC APEX on a gurney after suffering some sort of leg injury during the fight.
Afterwards, the majority of the conversation surrounded O’Malley thanks to his rising star power and mass appeal with the UFC fan base. Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with attention being paid, especially after O’Malley suffered an injury but Vera still deserves credit for doing his job.
Replays appear to show an early calf kick from Vera that may have caused the problem with O’Malley’s leg and if that’s the case there’s no need to steal from the legitimacy of his win.
We’re all guilty in the moment of feeling like we were robbed of an epic clash between two top bantamweight prospects, but if hindsight is 20/20, Vera should at least receive the credit he deserves for getting a huge win in his first major showcase as the co-main event for one of the biggest pay-per-view cards of the year. Maybe somewhere down the road we will see a rematch but for now give “Chito” his praise and hope O’Malley recovers to fight another day.
Let’s talk about eye pokes.
It’s a problem that ultimately plagued all three fights between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier and it’s not a fun feeling to know that accidental fouls likely had some kind of impact in arguably the greatest trilogy in UFC history.
Now the reality is there’s no easy fix for eye pokes because with open fingered gloves used in MMA, it’s almost impossible to prevent fighters from extending their hands during an exchange on the feet or the ground for that matter. A lot of athletes point towards curved gloves that would make it harder for the fingers to extend outward, which would hopefully cut down on the sheer number of eye pokes and that’s definitely one possibility worth exploring.
But the bigger problem remains the lack of penalty being dished out for these eye pokes.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear — Marc Goddard is one of the top referees in the business, perhaps even the best in the game today. He paused the UFC 252 main event after Miocic got caught with an eye poke but he didn’t see one later in the fight when Cormier got jabbed in the eye. You can’t fault him for not penalizing Miocic for something he didn’t see.
But the bigger problem is these kinds of fouls rarely get punished and so there’s no real deterrent to keep it from happening again and again.
Taking away points during a fight, especially with the terrible 10-point must system that was adapted from boxing for MMA, will almost assuredly have a huge impact on the final outcome if a judges’ decision is rendered. As much as we don’t want to see referees determining the winners and losers in a fight, deducting points for fouls appears to be the only real deterrent available to curb these kinds of problems from happening constantly.
In pre-fight meetings, athletes are warned about fouls like eye pokes and referees routinely tell them not to extend their fingers when leading with an outstretched arm. It’s a regular occurrence when fighters are warned during a fight to keep those fingers tucked at all times.
But if there’s never going to be any punishment for the foul, then why would anybody really be forced to listen?
Eye pokes are a game-changing foul. We’ve seen it happen dozens upon dozens of times in the sport but referees rarely if ever issue point deductions for them.
Until there’s a way to cut down on the way eye pokes happen — and it seems like we are a long way from that reality — then officials needs to start dishing out severe enough punishment that will hopefully deter the action from happening in the first place.