Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic headlines UFC 241 this August 17, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
One sentence summary
Phil: Quality ham’n’egg and high-level meat’n’potatoes, as the UFC’s Regular Guys once again fight to be at the top of the heap
David: Blue (and Tie) Collar
Record: Daniel Cormier 22-1-1 NC | Stipe Miocic 18-3
Odds: Daniel Cormier -140 | Stipe Miocic +130
History / Introduction to both fighters
Phil: This is not necessarily the victory lap Daniel Cormier wanted. There is a pronounced chance that Stipe ensures that it’s not a victory lap at all. We weren’t necessarily meant to be here, after all. This was meant to be the Lesnar fight, which would have been popular, lucrative and relatively easy. The perfect swansong. Instead, it seemed that Lesnar’s will-he won’t-he vacillations were basically there to drive up the WWE’s asking price, and he left Cormier with no dance partner apart from the scowling firefighter who has been demanding his rematch since their first fight. It’s inarguably a better fight, but also a more risky one: Cormier’s resurgence has been about escaping from under the shadow of Jon Jones, and the last thing he wants is for another loss right before he (presumably) retires.
David: Cormier is the undisputed heavyweight champ. It shouldn’t feel right. But it does. Not only because Cormier himself is a fascinating, heartfelt story. But because he’s actually pretty fun to watch. While he doesn’t have the body or the aesthetic to captivate (in theory), he’s branded himself well as The Daddy. Heavyweight has such a sordid history, it’s fun to enjoy something more linear; a landscape ruled by grumpy old men. Cormier represents this spirit well. We all hope it lasts, even if it’s time we enjoyed the presence of young blood. But for now, let’s just appreciate how distanced we are from the Bring on Fedor (copyright, Tim Sylvia) years.
Phil: Stipe Miocic has been a case study in how far someone can get by just being... good. Does he have a particularly unique game? No, he is a collection of things wot MMA people do, as he is a wrestle boxer who can throw a leg kick. Does he have much charisma? It’s hard to tell due to the fact that his voice sounds like a golem gargling coal. Is he much of a promoter in other ways? No. Instead, he’s just been good at his craft. Being a regular, fairly skilled, fairly smart guy got him the UFC title defense record, and kept him as the backup for Cormier. Some were critical of his choice to sit out, but in the end it seems to have been the smart play.
David: Cormier is the grumpy yin to Miocic’s old yang. Miocic executes his success with a head-down, mechanical simplicity that gets overshadowed by the sex appeal of human kaijus like Ngannou, Overeem, and Lesnar. But how can you hold that against him? What makes this fight fascinating is seeing whether Miocic’s lunch pail pugilism will turn into a modest blip on the heavyweight radar of history, or something more enduring.
What’s at stake?
Phil: This is basically over who is the best heavyweight of the modern era. Stipe can afford the loss less: while he has more time ahead of him, he’s just less well-known and well-liked, and Cormier already owns a win over him. This doesn’t mean that a loss would be trivial for Cormier, however: if he loses to Stipe, those GOAT conversations are definitely out of the window. For both men, the potential for a Jon Jones match looms large for the winner, much as he says he doesn’t want to go to heavyweight.
David: Because MMA is so relatively new, most of these GOAT discussions read like useless garbage at worst, historically illiterate at best. If Cormier wins, he will have two whole title defenses to his name. When Conor McGregor was still in the discussion, he had never even successfully defended either one of his belts. Being the GOAT is not just about making history, but constantly creating it. It’s why names like Fedor, Silva, GSP, and Aldo remain gold standards. It’s not minimizing a fighter’s legacy to ask that enduring labels demand the endurance of time. Granted, Cormier’s legacy is partly tied to his light heavyweight legacy, but still.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Miocic is able to fight moving forwards or backwards, but has expressed more of a clear preference for pressure in recent years. He has an educated jab that he can use to set up combinations which sometimes have more than two punches in them! At heavyweight! Mostly, though, it’s about the jab, the one-two and the left hook. He’s been particularly adept at pushing opponents out of position, and crushing them with the big right hand. He’s a good wrestler and top position player, although it seems likely that it’s going to get much play, other than defensively. In general, Miocic has solid positioning on the feet, with a good grasp of how to keep himself safe from return fire, and in what we’ve seen from him in rematches (primarily Dos Santos), he’s shown to be adaptive and thoughtful. From the last fight with Cormier, his approach worked well until it didn’t: he was able to pressure and push Cormier out of position, but it also got him repeatedly pushed into clinches until Cormier was able to crack him. I think it’s worth sticking to for the rematch, albeit with a few tweaks like bodywork, and paying more attention to Cormier’s right hand.
David: Miocic is a paint-by-numbers pugilist. He offers nothing more than mechanics and heart. At heavyweight, that’s enough. A jab, a setup for his one-two, and a rinse and repeat session of all the above allows him to execute at all times. I think this what separates Miocic from other heavyweights. Heavyweight is defined by blubbery violence, and low fuel. They’re historically bad at resetting. It’s all either all momentum, or watchful waiting. By sticking to such a simple, but steady plan, Miocic offers the sudden violence like beer on tap. Despite uncharitable descriptions of him (myself included) as a walky, punchy action robot, he’s got some stupid power. It’s kind of miracle Miocic didn’t KO Ngannou because he took his head clean off on some occasions. He may not have the heavyweight mindset, but he’s capable of heavyweight violence.
Phil: Daniel Cormier is a fairly simple fighter, when it comes down to it: he comes after the opponent, hand-fights and either tries to throw a hand into the clinch, blocking strikes on the way, or punches straight into the clinch. Then he holds on with his left hand and punches with his right, or goes for the high-crotch takedown. What makes this all work is unreal speed, power and durability. That title-winning performance at heavyweight, much as Henry Cejudo’s at bantamweight, served to remind me of one eternal fact: them Olympians are pretty good. Like Cejudo, Cormier clearly has a gear which he can go to which only the very best and most determined athletes at his weight class can match. Defensively Cormier is someone who is generally trying something, although it is not generally very optimal. In a sport where head movement is rare, Cormier’s tendency to bend at the waist, turn away, and stick out his hands doesn’t look pretty, but at least it doesn’t leave him eating clean shots with his head stock still like so many of his contemporaries. It still seems very risky, and I am definitely not a fan of the tactic, in that Miocic just needs to push Cormier out of position in the right way to have him in a position where a punch will finish or badly hurt him (see: Silva-Weidman I) but Cormier’s flailing does complicate matters.
David: What’s surprising about Cormier is the same thing Fedor rarely got credit for: middleweight speed in a heavyweight frame. Recall the absolute blitz on Goodridge? Winning exchanges on the feet against a prime Filipovic? That was all speed. Cormier offers something similar. His wrestling shouldn’t translate but it does precisely because he’s in position quicker than his opponents. This allows him options he wouldn’t normally have. It’s why that flailing works in so many instances. At heavyweight, you don’t have the hit the bullseye to punish. You just have to hit. Cormier is always in your face, and his fights with Johnson and Jones (sounds like a bath item) prove that he’s capable of fighting upright with superior strikers even when he’s completely outclassed at a technical level. To me it’s not just about his toughness, but the way he pivots and swivels in and out of high danger areas. At that point, his clinchwork can take him almost anywhere. Granted, that’s where he can become inert, but as long as his opponent is in danger of one of those high crotch slam dunks ala Gustafsson and Henderson, the threat alone can dwindle anyone’s life bar.
Insight from past fights
Phil: I mentioned Cormier’s janky-ass defense, because one of Stipe’s problems (which I believe we mentioned in the first fight) is that there are positions where he has almost none. Specifically, when he is exiting the clinch, but also when he is retreating from punching exchanges. In these brief pockets he tends to back away with his hands down and his head up, and if he hasn’t fixed up on these tendencies, then Cormier just has to pressure him until they pop up again.
David: The first fight was interesting because things looked bad for Cormier. Granted, Cormier wasn’t getting blown out. But Miocic was constantly throwing from high danger areas that Cormier was only marginally avoiding. It wasn’t an accident, but it’s not a blueprint he should accept to replicate. Miocic still has a ton of power. And Cormier was often right on the end of his punches. Still, Cormier’s boxing steadily improved in that fight. He was racking up damage grabbing Miocic’s fists and pumping the jab into his grill. So there’s that.
Phil: Cormier is now 40 years old, and that has to tell at some point. In his favour, he has at least been fighting since their last bout, whereas Stipe has just been on the shelf. Both are professionals, and Cormier is an incredible athlete, so I doubt we see anything tangible.
David: Nothing too critical. Both men are at an age, and have accumulated enough war stories to find themselves suddenly on the business end of “old age” but I expect the signs to be subtle.
Phil: Before the last fight, I picked Stipe because I thought he was the more skilled fighter. I still think that’s true. However, I didn’t quite appreciate how small his margin for error was: Cormier is more durable, faster, and can almost certainly keep a better pace. While Stipe knocking Cormier out early is not at all unlikely, I’m just not sure that he can keep Cormier from drowning him. Daniel Cormier by unanimous decision.
David: My issue with picking Miocic is that his lack of footspeed will remain a factor. Miocic was winning, but not by a significant margin. Cormier was quickly gaining on him, and I think that’s the difference. Dan’s one of the few men who can constantly cycle through his attacks without becoming increasingly susceptible to Miocic’s steady offense, precisely because Cormier’s game is built around raw attrition. Even in the first fight, Miocic seemed to be showing near-trivial but not insignificant signs of fatigue. Daniel Cormier by TKO, round 4.