Stipe Miocic stepped inside the octagon cage for his super fight against Daniel Cormier last year having made the most successful consecutive heavyweight title defenses in UFC history.
Cormier, a two-division stalwart, was and still is on every shortlist of the greatest fighters MMA has ever seen.
Someone had to prevail, and surprisingly that summer night, it was Cormier who savored triumph.
After a strong, back-and-forth first round, Miocic collapsed in the middle of the cage from a crisp Cormier right hand. A couple of punches followed and finished him for good as Cormier became a simultaneous two-division champion, adding on to his light heavyweight title.
Cormier (22-1) and Miocic (18-3) will face off at UFC 241 in a rematch Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim (pay-per-view exclusively through ESPN Plus) for a fight that will hold heavy implications in the sport.
“Sometimes a loss is better than a win because you learn from yourself. You have to do better and fix your game,” Miocic told the Los Angeles Times. “We all have weaknesses, no one is perfect. I plan on exposing his [weaknesses] Saturday.”
Miocic, who turns 37 on Monday, showed signs of promise throughout his 4½-minute affair during the first fight. But Cormier, a two-time member of the United States Olympic freestyle wrestling team, instead found an opening on his feet when Miocic momentarily dropped his hands. It’s a mistake Miocic doesn’t want to make again.
“I learned a lot from my first fight. I know I’m a better fighter. My confidence is better. I made a few mistakes. I have to keep my hands up. It’s part of the game,” said Miocic. “When I win this fight, it will be the best win of my career. Every fight you win is better than the last. Winning a championship the second time will be sweeter than the first — no question.”
At 40, Cormier — affable, confident and possessing an all-time great skill set as a double champion — is operating at peak levels, even with hints of morbidness for the sake of promotion.
“He’s frustrated. I would love for him to try and kill me,” Cormier said. “I’m going to be in there fighting. I’m not afraid of anybody. That’s what I think people don’t really, truly get. Even if I lose, I’m not afraid of you.”
Cormier is coming off of a convincing and historic win against Derrick Lewis since his match with Miocic. He still has unfinished business with Jon Jones, his sole conqueror who bested him once officially in 2015, and twice if you also count the 2017 stoppage victory in Anaheim that was later overturned to a no-contest after Jones tested positive for a banned substance.
Yet, Cormier continually teases retirement. An imminent decision will loom since he stated that his match with Miocic could be his last.
Miocic, meanwhile, can’t seem to catch a break, even if it’s for a good cause. He veered away from the UFC in April and stepped into a jiujitsu grappling match with a police officer for charity. He lost via unanimous decision.
Miocic is the much taller, longer and younger fighter looking for a career-defining win against Cormier, who’s undefeated in 15 career fights in the heavyweight division.
Cormier, Conor McGregor, Henry Cejudo and Amanda Nunes are the only champions in UFC history to hold belts simultaneously in two divisions. Cormier relinquished the light-heavyweight belt late last year.
Onetime McGregor nemesis Nate Diaz (19-11) will step into the cage for the first time in three years in a welterweight fight that was years in the making against Anthony Pettis (22-8), a former UFC lightweight champion.
The last time the cantankerous Diaz fought, he ended up on the losing side of a 2016 bout against McGregor. Before that, one of the UFC’s most outspoken stars stopped the Irishman in a stunning, come-from-behind submission choke.
Over the last three years, Diaz has enjoyed his time on the sidelines as somewhat of an antihero, smoking mounds of marijuana and antagonizing UFC boss Dana White.
On Wednesday, the Stockton native sparked a joint during his media workout.
Diaz insisted his blunt was infused with CBD and not leafy contents that would subject him to a drug suspension from the state’s athletic commission.
“I have to smoke the weed after the fight,” Diaz admitted from the dais shortly after his shenanigans. “I’m here as a businessman and a natural-born killer. I’m here to get the job done. [Pettis] is the guy to do it on … I’m just here to ... kill and stay alive for the weekend.”
“Nate’s one of these guys that, he has this personality where it’s like he’s saying ‘... you’ to the Man, but he never says ‘... you’ to the Man,” White said this week. “Every time I’m around Nate, he’s a good kid, and I’ve always had a good relationship with Nate.”
Semantics and theatrics aside, the well-matched, decorated veterans in Diaz, 34, and Pettis, 32, could very well steal the show Saturday night with their fight.
Other featured action during UFC 241 will include Cuban Yoel Romero (13-3) battling undefeated Brazlian Paulo Costa (12-0), bantamweight contender Raphael Assuncao (27-6) taking on Cory Sandhagen (11-1), middleweight Derek Brunson (19-7) squaring off against Ian Heinisch (13-1) and featherweight Gabriel Benitez (21-7) facing Sodiq Yusuff (9-1).