Pre-Fight Thoughts: Stipe Miocic -vs- Daniel Cormier
In spite of the loss of its second title fight — and the extremely unfortunate circumstances surrounding Max Holloway's withdrawal from his fight with Brian Ortega — the rest of the UFC 226 card remains very strong. Capping the event off is a genuine superight, as current light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier, attempts to capture the the heavyweight title from the division's most dominant champion in Stipe Miocic. It's a compelling fight, even if it lacks the massive star-power one might expect from a belt versus belt encounter.
Stipe Miocic, despite a long run as heavyweight champion — including breaking a streak of champs who failed to defend the belt twice that dated back to the inception of the belt — the Croatian-American does not command a high profile. Miocic has been quietly breaking necks and cashing cheques for years, but a combination of a reserved personality and the UFC's inability to market their stars in any fashion beyond training montages in pay-per-view ads has kept the big man from ascending to super-stardom. Likewise, his opponent is also incredibly accomplished but has not broken into the mainstream either.
Still, this fight is a great match-up, and easily the most high profile option for both fighters. The reality is that both light heavyweight and heavyweight are barren wastelands, lacking any real depth of talent, and even lacking convincing contenders. If there was ever a perfect time to tie up two titles for 4-5 months, this is it — neither Corimier nor Miocic are passing over viable contenders for this excursion. If anything, this superfight gives both divisions more time for potential contenders to stake a claim to the next title shot.
As for the fight itself, I'm somewhat torn on how I see it playing out. Miocic is the larger fighter, though Cormier did weigh in heavier: the heavyweight champ tipped the scales at 242.5 pounds while Cormier came in at 246. Daniel Cormier is no stranger to fighting heavyweights, having begun his MMA career in that weight class — and went on to ragdoll Josh Barnett in a manner more befitting a pro wrestling match than an MMA bout — before dropping to 205 pounds after his first few UFC fights. The lack of a draining weight cut may actually be more of a benefit than anything else, as Cormier has struggled to make the light heavyweight limit a number of times.
Stylistically, both fighters are very similar: they both mix wrestling and boxing together very well, and opt for whichever makes the most tactical sense in a given situation. Cormier's striking has regressed somewhat in recent years, with some bad habits — such as consistently leaning his head to the left in lieu of proper head movement — taking over his technique. In the past, Cormier's boxing was more crisp and assertive, whereas now he still throws good shots but also seems to be over compensating defensively to avoid taking more damage.
These bad tendencies of Cormier appear to be directly related to a decrease in his overall durability. Cormier still recovers very well, but he has taken some powerful shots, which clearly hurt him, in all of his most recent fights. My main concern with this fight is that Miocic hits like a truck; Cormier's chin is still intact, and far from shot, but Miocic has the power to end anyone's night with a properly landed shot. Cormier is going to need his beard to hold up, as closing the distance on a foe with a significant reach advantage is very likely to involve taking some shots.
While I would give the wrestling advantage to Cormier, I think writing off Stipe's grappling prowess is a huge mistake. The Croatian is no slouch when it comes to wrestling; Cormier is going to have to work hard to score takedowns and control the heavyweight champ if he manages to get him to the ground. It's also far from impossible that Miocic is able to stuff takedowns and maybe even land his own, although I firmly believe his best chance for victory is to keep the fight on the feet and extract maximum value from his reach advantage. A protracted clinch battle would likely advantage Cormier, although would be draining for both men.
Despite the fact that Daniel Cormier is a significant betting underdog, I think he's being unfairly dismissed in this fight. Yes, he is older and more shopworn than when he first competed at heavyweight — those are fair statements. Still, I think Miocic should be the rightful favourite but not by a wide margin. Cormier's punching power is underrated, and I think a lot of people are expecting a quick TKO from Miocic. That's certainly possible, but I think Cormier has more ways to win: a wrestling-heavy decision, possibly a submission if he sees a lot of success with takedowns and ground control, and the remote possibility to notching a KO himself. (Remember, Cormier flatlined Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva back when the Brazilian was at the peak of his TRT-fuelled powers.)
This is another one of those fights where I am torn between both fighters — I don't want either of them to lose. Miocic is rightfully favoured, but I feel drawn to the underdog; Daniel Cormier's MMA career has been thrilling to behold. Were it not for Jon Jones, and his inability to stay out of trouble, Cormier would be right at the forefront of the Greatest Old All Time debate, instead he's merely an exceptional talent and a future Hall Of Fame inductee. Miocic has already broken one heavyweight record, so I feel a win here is less significant in the grand scheme of things. As such, I feel myself pulling for Cormier in this bout; I would love to see an affable champion cement their legacy by capturing their second title in the very twilight of their career.
In a world where sensationalism and trash talk are the prime methods of selling a fight, I appreciate this match-up as a contest of skill between two of the very best fighters in the game. Miocic is underrated and undervalued because he's so quiet and reserved, and Cormier is overlooked because — unfortunately for him — Jon Jones exists. This fight gives us a chance to appreciate both, and for the winner to notch another achievement on their already impressive resumés. I won't be surprised if either man wins; I'm picking Cormier on account of personal preference and bias but I recognise that Miocic is a credible and exceedingly dangerous challenge for anyone.
Published: July 7th, 2018.