The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 241 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The last month and a half of Ultimate Fighting Championship events provided acceptable levels of entertainment, but ever since UFC 239 wrapped on July 6, this was the show to which everyone was pointing. The top two fights at UFC 241 on Saturday in Anaheim, California, carry the day, even if they are somewhat strange in terms of big-picture consequences. Daniel Cormier’s retirement looms, and it is always difficult to tell where anything involving Nate Diaz will lead, win or lose. Nevertheless, this is one of the nights on the UFC calendar that feels vital. Paulo Henrique Costa and Cory Sandhagen have major chances to break into contention in their respective weight classes, and the rest of the lineup features either rising prospects or straight-up fun.
On to the UFC 241 “Cormier vs. Miocic 2” preview:
UFC Heavyweight ChampionshipDaniel Cormier (22-1) vs. Stipe Miocic (18-3)
ODDS: Cormier (-145), Miocic (+125)
After an athletic career seemingly spent entirely in second place, Cormier’s knockout of Miocic in July 2018 was quite the cathartic achievement. Cormier’s hard-luck road through his wrestling career has been well-documented; he had the unfortunate timing of being a collegiate wrestler in the same weight class as Cael Sanderson, and his two stints in the Olympics ended with a fourth-place finish and his being unable to compete due to kidney failure. Cormier wound up being a natural at mixed martial arts, despite not picking the sport up until his 30s. Within three years of his pro debut, he was beating Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett on the feet to establish himself as the top heavyweight in Strikeforce. Once things shifted to the Octagon, it was back to Cormier falling just short of his goals. Friend and training partner Cain Velasquez was champion of the heavyweight division, so Cormier cut down to 205 pounds, where he quickly fell into a bitter rivalry with Jon Jones. Outside the cage, the two mixed like oil and water, but Jones put a clear stamp on things once punches flew, handily winning their two title fights. Even though Cormier had some runs as light heavyweight champ, his reign was anything but undisputed, as there was always the sense that “DC” was deemed top dog simply because Jones was not around while dealing with all the issues associated with being Jon Jones. With a lack of challengers at light heavyweight, Cormier moved up to heavyweight to take on Miocic at UFC 226, and after a first-round knockout, the American Kickboxing Academy captain finally had a title reign that nobody could take away from him. The “champ-champ” distinction rang a bit hollow, but if nothing else, Cormier was clearly now the best heavyweight in the world. Cormier had already set the timeline that he would retire on his 40th birthday -- he turned 40 in March -- and after the Miocic win, things were setting up nicely. Everything looked set for Cormier to earn a big-money fight against Brock Lesnar, and from there, “DC” would be able to comfortably retire. Of course, those plans soon went awry. Lesnar is now firmly back in the World Wrestling Entertainment fold, and after a last-minute title defense against Derrick Lewis, Cormier needed back surgery, putting into question exactly when the champ would retire. As a result, things have somehow wound up back where they started, with Cormier being asked to prove himself once again against Miocic.
As for Miocic, the Cormier loss leaves him with an odd legacy that only gets cloudier if he loses the rematch. Miocic was the rising prospect at heavyweight for a few years, even following a 2012 knockout loss to Stefan Struve, but there was never that one huge performance that got him over the hump. The Ohio native was obviously skilled and could lay some beatings on opponents, but it was still a surprise to turn around and see that Miocic had risen through the ranks and knocked out Fabricio Werdum to become heavyweight champion. By the numbers, Miocic is technically the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history, as wins over Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou made him the only man to defend the heavyweight strap inside the Octagon three times. The Ngannou win was particularly impressive, as Miocic toughed out things and wore out someone who has obliterated nearly every other opponent he had faced, but naturally, as soon as it looked like that win would give Miocic some breakthrough momentum as champion, he found himself on the wrong end of the fight with Cormier. Win or lose, Miocic will remain in the heavyweight title mix for a while longer, particularly when Cormier retires, but a win here would work wonders in establishing Miocic’s own legacy as a heavyweight great.
Given that Cormier’s win over Lewis is the only thing either man has done since their last meeting, there is not a ton of evidence that suggests this fight will go much differently. Cormier proved to be a tough matchup for Miocic in a way that laid bare the flaws of the division: While Miocic has plenty of boxing skill for a heavyweight, Cormier simply had the quicker hands and knockout power behind them. Things still might have worked out well for Miocic if he could rely on his wrestling, but even with his size advantage, there is not really a way that he was ever going to outwrestle someone with Cormier’s pedigree. All those dynamics still hold true, so the big questions are mostly things that have taken place outside of the cage, namely the fact that Cormier is now 40 years old and coming off major back surgery. Miocic could easily win this. Every heavyweight fight is a coinflip due to the power involved, and every Cormier fight could finally be the one where he suddenly becomes old, but it is difficult to bank on any of that until it happens. The pick is Cormier via second-round knockout.
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