The debate over who is the greatest heavyweight fighter in mixed martial arts history has long raged. That discussion might be over, at least for now.
Stipe Miocic defeated Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47) to retain the UFC heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 252 on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Miocic increased his record of most title defenses in UFC heavyweight history (four) with the victory.
This was the third fight between the two men, and Miocic broke the tie, winning the trilogy.
UFC president Dana White said coming in that Miocic-Cormier 3 would determine the greatest heavyweight in MMA history. On paper, Miocic certainly has the best résumé of anyone to compete in the sport's most prestigious division.
Miocic is tied with Randy Couture for the most UFC heavyweight title fight wins (six). He outlanded Cormier 115-105 in significant strikes, according to UFC Stats data.
"The only reason I'm happy to cement my legacy is to show my daughter that hard work pays off," Miocic said.
Cormier said repeatedly heading into the bout that this would be the final fight of his illustrious career.
"I'm not interested in fighting for anything but titles," Cormier said in his postfight interview. "I don't imagine there's going to be a title in the future, so that will be it for me. I've had a long run. It's been great."
White said in his postfight news conference that he is not as certain this will really be the end but said if that's what Cormier wants to do, "I'll be happy for him."
"He'll say he's not going out like that. That's my prediction," White said of Cormier.
Cormier won the first meeting with Miocic via first-round knockout at UFC 226 on July 7, 2018. Miocic returned the favor in the rematch, stopping Cormier via fourth-round TKO at UFC 241 on Aug. 17, 2019.
Saturday's bout took place in front of no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility across the street from UFC's corporate campus in Las Vegas.
"He's a hell of a fighter," Miocic said. "I wish him nothing but the best. God bless him. ... He's an amazing champion, an amazing ambassador. Love the guy. I have no ill will toward him. I know we had our little [beef] for the trilogy, but I think that makes it better."
Entering Saturday, ESPN had Miocic ranked as the No. 4 pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world and Cormier at No. 6. At heavyweight, Miocic is No. 1 and Cormier is No. 2. Both men are surefire future UFC Hall of Famers.
Cormier struck early in the fight. After a solid first round by Miocic, Cormier wobbled him with a right hand. It was a technique Cormier used repeatedly in the bout, drawing Miocic into a clinch, leaning down and to the left, and then firing with a hard right hand.
In the second, Cormier had more success with that tactic. But Miocic was able to get Cormier against the cage in a bad position late in the round and land hard right hands. Cormier dropped and Miocic got into mount against the fence. Cormier was able to survive the round, but Miocic had momentum going into the third.
Coming out of the corner for the third, Cormier's left eye was clearly compromised. He told his corner he couldn't see out of it. Miocic landed an accidental eye poke in that round, which surely didn't make things better for Cormier. Coincidentally, eye pokes were an issue for Miocic in the previous two fights -- with Miocic needing surgery to repair a torn retina last year due to Cormier eye pokes. The one Cormier suffered Saturday night resulted in a torn cornea.
On Sunday morning, referee Marc Goddard tweeted that he had apologized to Cormier and his team for missing the eye poke.
"Immediately after the fight when seeing the replay I apologised to Daniel Cormier & his team & I do so publicly and unreservedly for missing what I shouldn't have -- but I cannot call what I do not see," Goddard wrote. "I don't have replays & multiple angles, it's a one shot take in real time."
Miocic had a strong third round, but Cormier rallied a bit in the fourth, despite not being able to see out of his left eye. It was a very close round, and it could have very well been two rounds apiece heading into the fifth. In the final two rounds, Miocic was able to push Cormier against the cage to nullify Cormier's clinch boxing and wrestling, which proved to be effective. With both men clearly spent after nearly 25 minutes of fighting, Miocic was able to land hard rights and a timely knee to seal the victory.
"How tough are both of those guys?" White said. "Both guys got poked in the eye. Both guys got rocked. Both guys fought their hearts out. ... It was one of those heavyweight championship fights that felt big and everybody was watching. It was fun."
Judge Derek Cleary had Cormier winning the first round and Miocic winning the next four. Judge Sal D'Amato had Miocic winning the first, second, third and fifth rounds, with Cormier winning the fourth. Judge Junichiro Kamijo had Miocic in the second, third and fifth with Cormier winning the first and fourth.
"It's not what I think. It's what you guys think and the fans think. One minute you might say something and he might say something totally different. I'm happy where I'm at. I've done a lot."Stipe Miocic, on his UFC legacy
Miocic (20-3) is a two-time UFC heavyweight champion. The Ohio native has won eight of his past nine bouts, with his only loss during that stretch coming to Cormier two years ago. Miocic, 37, first won the UFC heavyweight title by knocking out Fabricio Werdum in May 2016. Miocic has beaten the likes of Francis Ngannou, Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos.
"It's not what I think," Miocic said of where he stands among the all-time greats. "It's what you guys think and the fans think. One minute you might say something and he might say something totally different. I'm happy where I'm at. I've done a lot."
Cormier (22-3, 1 NC) became only the second UFC fighter to hold titles in two weight classes at the same time when he stopped Miocic in 2018. He was also the only man to defend one of those titles while holding both. The Louisiana native, who lives and trains in San Jose, California, was UFC's light heavyweight champion from 2015 to 2018.
Cormier, 41, has lost to only two men in his MMA career: Miocic and longtime pound-for-pound king Jon Jones. He lost twice to both men, though one of the losses to Jones was later changed to a no-contest.
"It's a very sad position to be in, but I will deal with it like I've dealt with things in the past," Cormier said.
Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champion, tweeted after Saturday night's main event, "Heavyweight world championships I will be seeing you real soon," intimating his interest in a superfight with Miocic.
Heavyweight world championships I will be seeing you real soon. Victorious— BONY (@JonnyBones) August 16, 2020
White said in his postfight news conference that a Jones move up to heavyweight would be "interesting" but that Ngannou, who has won four straight by KO/TKO, is next in line for a Miocic rematch.
"Francis is definitely next," White said. "You can't jump over Francis. Francis has been out there destroying everybody. ... It belongs to Francis Ngannou."