Heavyweight Trilogy Concludes
Summer 2018 brought us Miocic-Cormier 1. A light-heavyweight legend stepping out from behind the shadow of Jon Jones to find new life in a new division. Summer 2019 brought us Stipe-Cormier 2. Redemption and pride restored, for the most successful UFC heavyweight of all time.
While the world has changed dramatically in 2020, some things remain the same; the UFC heavyweight title goes back on the line as Stipe Miocic faces Daniel Cormier for a third, and final, time. What once was a respectful relationship has turned hostile; former friends turned foes. The belt has changed hands twice in the past two years, with insults traded and accusations being hurled.
Finally, the time has come for this heavyweight saga to come to an end, and on August 15th at the UFC APEX we witness an era-defining fight. With both men nearing the end of their careers, there couldn’t be much more on the line as this intense rivalry between two giants of the sport draws to a close.
Cormier’s Last Dance
Entering his fifteenth UFC fight, and tenth title fight with the organisation, this will be DC’s final competitive appearance. With his original plan of retiring by the age of 40 scuppered by the temptation of glory and big-money fights, Cormier is now ready to call it a day.
The path to heavyweight
An established all-time great, and former Olympian, DC’s professional MMA career began over ten years ago in Strikeforce and XMMA. Early accomplishments included winning the Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament in 2012 against Josh Barnett. A move to the UFC in 2013 followed, with significant heavyweight wins against Frank Mir and Roy Nelson quickly recorded.
His most prominent period, however, was spent at light-heavyweight, where his riveting rivalry with Jon Jones led to two of the most memorable fights in recent UFC history. Defeats (one NC) were suffered, Jones was suspended, and competition at the top of the division dried up. A perfect time then to change focus and try to capture the title that he had always craved; the UFC heavyweight championship. Few would have predicted then that Cormier’s career was set to end with one of the most fascinating trilogies the sport has ever seen.
His first encounter with belt-holder Stipe Miocic in 2018 wasn’t supposed to end the way it did. The smaller Cormier was expected to engage Miocic in a wrestling match, and not try to strike with an accomplished boxer. What transpired was a one-round stand-up battle, with Miocic dropped and finished on the ground.
The aftermath of that first fight is where things took a turn in the relationship between the two men. What had, up until that point, been respectful quickly turned sour. DC sought a big-money match with Brock Lesnar, while Stipe demanded the rematch he felt he deserved.
Cormier seemed to relish in torturing Stipe as, while the meeting with Brock didn’t work out, he chose to make his first title defence against a far inferior Derek Lewis. Stipe’s already rocky relationship with the UFC disintegrated further as he steadfastly refused to take other fights, choosing instead to wait for his shot at the belt.
Revenge for Stipe
By the time the rematch did eventually arrive in 2019, Stipe’s frustration with the situation was evident. Cormier dominated the early rounds, but the relentless pressure of Stipe paid dividends. In the fourth round, Miocic let loose with a barrage of body shots, each one with a weight of anger behind it. Cormier was finished, and the belt was Stipe’s once again.
Miocic focussed on retaining
As DC prepares to bid farewell to the sport, one man who will be completely unmoved by the emotions surrounding this farewell fight is Miocic. With more title defences than any other heavyweight in UFC history, his only thoughts will be on retaining his belt one more time. Cormier is the one fighter who has occupied Stipe’s mind for the past two years. From the rematch, he now knows he can take the heavy shots from Cormier. He also knows that he possesses the gas tank to compete with DC in the late rounds. More than anything, he knows the importance of not relinquishing his belt at this point.
Crunch time for Stipe
With DC on the brink of retirement, a loss here would be devastating for Miocic. Not only would his status as champion be lost, but he would face the prospect of competing for the vacant belt against Francis Ngannou. At almost 38 years of age, and with a young family and second career, would the motivation still be there? With all the talk of Cormier’s retirement, are we ignoring the fact that Stipe might very well walk away too?
The APEX Cage
One of the big questions in the lead-up to this third fight is the role that the smaller octagon at the APEX will have in determining the outcome.
Higher finish rate
There is some evidence that suggests fights in the 25-foot cage result in more finishes than in the 30-foot cage. From the four-fight cards that took place on Fight Island in the month of July (which uses the larger cage), 45% of fights ended with a finish. This compares to 53% of bouts held at the UFC Apex in the month of June ending inside the distance.
Yet the sample size of fights is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions about the potential impact. Additionally, looking at these figures alone ignores the range of additional factors which need to be considered, including the unusual time of day at which fighters in Abu Dhabi were competing, as well as their disrupted preparation due to the coronavirus situation.
One thing for certain though is that the 25-foot cage will suit a fighter intent on employing a wrestling-heavy style, as it naturally induces engagement. With less room to work with, it becomes much harder to fight on the outside and avoid take-down attempts.
From their two fights so far, wrestling exchanges have been few and far between. Cormier knows that Stipe is also talented on the ground, and has so far been happy to trade with him in the stand-up. The one time we saw DC really utilise his skills on the mat was in the first round of the rematch. Cormier was able to take Miocic to the floor, and more importantly, was able to hold him there.
Warning from Cormier
The size of the cage has been a consideration for both fighters in the lead up to UFC 252. While Miocic reportedly lobbied the UFC against using the 25-foot octagon, the news has been welcomed by Cormier. He is aware of the benefits of reducing the space that Miocic has to move and sit behind his jab. Indeed, he has warned Miocic ‘to bring his wrestling shoes’. Whether these words of warning have any substance behind them remains to be seen.
History in the making
The UFC has held some of the most memorable trilogy battles in the history of MMA. Few will forget the wars between Edgar and Gray, Liddell and Couture and between St. Pierre and Hughes. The stage is now perfectly set for Miocic and Cormier to join these legends in the history books. Can Stipe add to his record-breaking number of title defences? Will DC sail off into the sunset as the two-time heavyweight champion, with the accolades he richly deserves? At UFC 252, the concluding act to the Stipe-Cormier trilogy will reveal all.
Follow Eoin Moloney on Twitter @eoin_moloney1
Images courtesy of reviewjournal.com, bt.com & ufc.com