UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will collide in a superfight, but who will reach a greater place in MMA history at UFC 226.
Perhaps it is the fact that neither man was the one expected to be here. The affable Stipe Miocic wasn’t anyone’s first pick to become the best heavyweight of the generation, but he is now arguably on the cusp of becoming the best of all time. Daniel Cormier has never officially bested his arch-rival, and yet he could become only the second two-division world champion in UFC history on Saturday. Both have earned greatness, but history will remember one of them in higher regard when the dust settles at UFC 226.
Two years ago today I became champ. I’ve defended the belt three times since then and broke the record for most consecutive title defenses. There is no end in sight. I will never stop working for you! pic.twitter.com/S9f4m1Dj9h
— Stipe Miocic (@stipemiocic) May 14, 2018
Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic’s days of being the underdog are long over. His first-round finishes of champions like Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem are no longer seen as shocking. Rather, they are the logical outcomes for a man who is now regarded as the best heavyweight of a generation. Even more impressively has been the unique path he has forged to reach professional the pinnacle of the sport. Miocic has managed to both remain the same man and become someone new all at the same time. He continues to serve as a firefighter in his hometown of Cleveland, spurning the usual trappings of sporting fame. And yet, his star is undeniable. His commercial for Modelo is so wide-spread that it even airs frequently in Spanish during marquee World Cup matches.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Miocic. With a victory over Francis Ngannou in January, Miocic is within reach of a virtual sweep of the division. Former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov has recently broken through the ranks, as has young up-start Curtis Blaydes. But should Miocic defend against Cormier, his dominance would be so unquestioned that a loss against either man would be considered a historic upset at this stage of his career. His run has cemented him as easily the best heavyweight of the decade. But the difficulty of his schedule since he has been in title contention is so great that he is arguably above the dominant champions of the past like Cain Velasquez and Fedor Emelianenko. A victory over a proven champion like “DC” would only serve to strengthen his case.
As of late, Daniel Cormier has been the subject of several hypotheticals. The largest being: would he be considered the best of all-time if he wins on Saturday despite having never defeated rival Jon Jones inside the cage? Until the two settle the score without controversy, there may truly never be an answer to that question. However, here are the facts: Cormier has won and defended the light heavyweight title three times. He has never lost at heavyweight. He has two wins over Anthony Johnson and one over Volkan Oezdemir, which Jones can’t boast. He has bested great fighters like Alexander Gustafsson and he has dominated lesser competition as an all-time great is expected to.
For his part, Cormier has made multiple attempts to avenge the loss to Jones. It should be noted, both instances were made unofficial due to the fault of Jones. Also, had Jones not tested positive last July, it was planned that he would be the one in this position to go for a second world title and not Cormier. If DC can win a second world title, is that a greater feat than what Jones achieved before his troubles? Would Jones have been able to best Miocic had he been given the opportunity? Perhaps those questioned can never be fully answered. But it can’t be denied, Cormier would go down as the more decorated champion in the division. Should he defend either belt after the fact, as he has stated he plans to, then he would only strengthen his case.
Stylistically, who prevails in the super fight? Miocic most recently weighed in at 246 pounds for his last title defense. Cormier in his most critical heavyweight fights weighed between 235 and 238 pounds. Miocic will look to use his power and technical prowess to deliver damage. He has displayed one-shot finishing power and there’s no reason to doubt that he can hurt Cormier if he connects. Also, he showed in his bout with Ngannou that he can use his physicality to smother opponents on the ground with pressure if need be.
For Daniel Cormier, he has found success by using forward pressure and using his wrestling to wear down opponents. He keeps up a tremendous work rate and his body type makes him a difficult opponent to consistently defend takedowns against. He has also displayed the ability to trade with several dangerous strikers such as the aforementioned Johnson, Gustafsson, and Oezdemir. Can he use the same strategy to beat a bigger man in Stipe Miocic? It stands to reason that Cormier will struggle to keep up the same pace with the extra weight he carries into the bout, but establishing himself early and often will be the key to upsetting the dominant Miocic.
Stipe Miocic will likely go for the sweep, taking either Alexander Volkov or Curtis Blaydes next. But without a doubt, he will have nothing left to prove for his career after a win on Saturday. Daniel Cormier has said he wants to retire no later than his birthday coming up next March, ideally fighting both Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones before then. Unless the UFC pulls out a miracle, however, the fact is that this could be the final marquee fight for Cormier. Such is the dominance of both men, to the point that only through each other can they find a challenge that is worthy of their incredible abilities.