The UFC 252 main event between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier is being marketed as the fight that will determine the greatest heavyweight in UFC history.
While the winner will certainly have a claim to being the best big man mixed marital arts has seen, the fight could also cement this rivalry as the greatest trilogy in UFC history.
Cormier and Miocic first met at UFC 226 in July 2018 when Cormier was the reigning light-heavyweight champion. Miocic was riding a seven-fight winning streak and coming off a dominant title defence against Francis Ngannou.
The pair went toe-to-toe for more than four minutes before Cormier caught Miocic with a beautiful right hand from the clinch to earn a knockout win late in the first round. Cormier became just the second fighter in UFC history to be a champion in two divisions simultaneously, joining Conor McGregor who accomplished the feat in 2016.
Cormier defended the title against Derrick Lewis four months later at UFC 230 before the UFC attempted to put together a fight between Cormier and former champion Brock Lesnar. That never came to fruition, however, so a rematch with Miocic was set up at UFC 241 more than 13 months after their initial meeting.
Cormier has a definitive speed advantage over Miocic, which was apparent early in the rematch. The former Olympic wrestler was also able to lift Miocic over his head and slam the Ohio native to the canvas like he has so many of his past opponents.
Cormier has an excellent ability to parry his opponents’ punches so he often plods forward into punching range with confidence. Miocic caught him with some heavy shots yet Cormier was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards after three rounds, although Miocic was gaining momentum in the third stanza.
Both men have one-shot knockout power, but overall Miocic has the heavier hands and he began making a concerted effort to throw left hooks to the body roughly two minutes into the fourth round.
Miocic repeatedly attacked Cormier’s midsection as a means to drain his gas tank and set up headshots. Miocic continuously followed up the left hooks to the body with a one-two combination and it eventually landed flush.
Cormier won a Performance of the Night bonus for his knockout win and Miocic did the same when he avenged that loss.
It’s possible Miocic underestimated Cormier’s power in the first fight and also possible Cormier underestimated Miocic’s durability in the second tilt. There will be no misconceptions about the other’s ability in the third encounter.
One difference this time around is that it will be contested in the 25-foot cage at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, whereas the first two bouts were contested in the organization’s 30-foot cage. Some feel this change favours Cormier’s style slightly.
There have been more than a dozen trilogies completed in the Octagon in the past 20 years and this marks the third time in heavyweight championship history where a rubber match was required.
Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski first met for the interim heavyweight title at UFC 51 in 2005. Arlovski dropped Sylvia then finished him with a leg lock in 47 seconds. Sylvia knocked Arlovski out in their rematch the following year at UFC 59 and also won an unanimous decision in the third bout less than three months later at UFC 61.
The heavyweight title changed hands frequently in the following years before Cormier’s longtime teammate Cain Velasquez beat Brock Lesnar in 2010. Velasquez’s first title defence was against Junior Dos Santos in the first UFC bout to air on network TV in the United States. Dos Santos knocked Velasquez out in just 64 seconds to win the title. Both men were victorious on the all-heavyweight UFC 146 card which set up their rematch at UFC 155. Velasquez dominated that fight for five rounds and did so again when they met for a third time at UFC 166. Velasquez, after dealing with a slew of injuries, eventually lost his title to Fabricio Werdum, whom Miocic KO’d to begin his initial title reign.
Besides those heavyweight rivalries, there have been only two other times where a trilogy consisted solely of UFC title fights.
Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture helped take the UFC to new heights with their trio of light-heavyweight title fights between 2003-2006, plus Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes fought thrice between 2004-2007 with a title on the line each time.
Miocic vs. Cormier part three feel bigger, though.
Maybe it’s because the skill level of both men is so high or that their respective resumes are so staggering.
It could be because the 41-year-old Cormier, one of the more beloved fighters of his era, says this will be his swansong in the UFC.
Perhaps it’s because both previous fights ended in such dramatic fashion.
Really, it’s a combination of everything.
One was fun.
Two made us go, “ooh!”
Three? We’ll see.