Renewed hunger and a strategic shift brought Stipe Miocic back to the throne.
The Strong Style Fight Team cornerstone reclaimed the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title and did so in exhilarating fashion, as he avenged one of his three career defeats and put away Daniel Cormier with punches in the fourth round of the UFC 241 headliner on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Miocic drew the curtain 4:09 into Round 4.
Cormier built what appeared to be a commanding lead across the first 15-plus minutes. The American Kickboxing Academy captain used his fast hands to string together crisp combinations and pile up points against Miocic. Cormier outlanded the challenger by double-digit margins in the first (71-9), second (59-48) and third rounds (69-40), according to preliminary FightMetric data. However, the dynamics of the fight changed dramatically in the fourth, where Miocic turned his attention away from the head and focused on the champion’s midsection. He connected with 14 body blows, many of them left hooks, in a little more than four minutes and set the stage for the finish.
In the aftermath of UFC 241 “Cormier vs. Miocic 2,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou: Miocic joined Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia and Cain Velasquez as the only fighters in history to regain the heavyweight championship when he chopped down Cormier and authored a fourth-round technical knockout in the main event. The soon-to-be 37-year-old Euclid, Ohio, native has won seven of his last eight bouts and now owns a resume that stacks up historically with the all-time greats. Where Miocic goes from here remains to be seen, but Ngannou has likely done enough to warrant another crack at the title. Since losing back-to-back fights to Miocic and Derrick Lewis in 2018, the Frenchman has gone on an absolute tear, stopping Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Curtis Blaydes in 2:22 combined.
Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal: Diaz was away from the Octagon for 1,092 days, but it was as if he never left. The longtime Cesar Gracie protégé outworked and outperformed Anthony Pettis, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over the Roufusport star in the co-headliner. Scores were 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28, all for Diaz, who had not competed since he lost a majority decision to Conor McGregor in August 2016. The Stockton, California, native remains one of the sport’s most bankable draws and figures to catch another high-profile opponent in his next assignment. Diaz already has his sights set on Masvidal, who authored a record-setting five-second knockout against former Bellator MMA champion Ben Askren at UFC 239 on July 6.
Paulo Henrique Costa vs. Robert Whittaker-Israel Adesanya winner: The undefeated Costa improved to 13-0 and completed his transformation from prospect to contender with a unanimous decision over 2000 Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero in their three-round middleweight showcase. All three judges struck 29-28 scorecards in the Brazilian’s favor, as he became the first man other than Whittaker to defeat Romero under the UFC banner. Costa, 28, had never before gone the distance. Whittaker will defend his middleweight championship against Adesanya in the UFC 243 main event on Oct. 5 in Melbourne, Australia.
Derek Brunson vs. Jack Hermansson-Jared Cannonier winner: Though he has become something of a forgotten piece of the UFC’s middleweight puzzle, Brunson remains a significant threat at 185 pounds. The 35-year-old North Carolina native posted his second win in as many outings, as he took a unanimous decision from former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Ian Heinisch in a three-round middleweight feature. Brunson rallied from a slow start to earn 29-28 marks across the board and improve to 11-5 in the UFC. Hermansson will lock horns with Cannonier atop UFC Fight Night 160 on Sept. 28 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Cory Sandhagen vs. Aljamain Sterling: Sandhagen rose to the occasion yet again and continued his climb on the bantamweight ladder, as the Elevation Fight Team export pocketed a unanimous decision against longtime contender Raphael Assuncao on the undercard. The 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt carried all three scorecards: 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. Sandhagen has made it impossible to ignore him at 135 pounds, where he has compiled a perfect 5-0 record since he joined the UFC roster in January 2018. On a four-fight winning streak, Sterling last appeared at UFC 238, where the former Cage Fury Fighting Championships and Ring of Combat titleholder was awarded a unanimous decision over Pedro Munhoz on June 8.