He waited patiently, and now Stipe Miocic is getting exactly the fight he wanted.
Miocic can silence critics of his 13-month layoff when he rematches Daniel Cormier in the main event of UFC 241 on Saturday. On the line is not just avenging the knockout loss Miocic suffered in their first meeting, but reclaiming the heavyweight title that he defended a UFC-record three times before dropping it to Cormier.
For Cormier, he can erase any doubt that he is the better man, and also add to an illustrious resume that already stands among the greatest in MMA history. Could another dramatic win over Miocic be enough for Cormier to hang up the gloves at night’s end or will it only motivate him further to go out and pursue one more big-money matchup?
Arguably drowning out the buzz surrounding the main event is the return of the infamous Nate Diaz. It’s been three years since Diaz fought Conor McGregor a second time in one of the biggest pay-per-views in UFC history and for some time, it wasn’t clear if Diaz was ever even planning to compete again. But in a little over 12 hours, Diaz will bless his fellow Californians with his presence in a welterweight bout, and it will be against former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
“Showtime” might be the B-side, but after a spectacular knockout of two-time title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, another high-profile win could propel him to a welterweight championship opportunity much faster than anyone could have guessed.
In other main card action, middleweight monsters Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa face off, veteran featherweight Gabriel Benitez looks to trip up prospect Sodiq Yusuff, and Derek Brunson and Ian Heinisch meet in a battle of fringe middleweight contenders.
What: UFC 241
Where: Honda Center in Anaheim, California
When: Saturday, Aug. 17. The three-fight early preliminary card begins at 6:15 p.m. ET and will air on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, followed by a four-fight preliminary card on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available for purchase exclusively through ESPN+.
After a seemingly endless (and in the end, pointless) flirtation with Brock Lesnar and a successful title defense that—with respect to Derrick Lewis—was more of a speed bump than a true challenge to his reign, Daniel Cormier finally finds himself back in the cage with the man who insisted he was the rightful No. 1 contender all along, Stipe Miocic.
All drama aside, it’s a matchup that produced legitimate—albeit brief—fireworks the first time around and this encounter should be no different. In fact, given how the first fight ended, both men should be more cautious in the early going before picking up the pace in the later rounds. That could make this matchup more akin to Cormier’s classic battle with Alexander Gustafsson, or Miocic’s three-round war in his first go-around with Junior dos Santos.
A finish is still a distinct possibility given Cormier’s ability to wear anyone down with his wrestling and pace, and Miocic’s nose for the knockout. These two are just so evenly matched in all departments and one factor to keep an eye on is whether Cormier will be able to take Miocic down this time, which could change the whole dynamic in the matchup. Miocic has superb takedown defense, and he isn’t going to give up anything easy.
In the championship rounds, I favor Cormier’s ability to push the pace and also view him as the slightly more durable of the two, though at heavyweight betting on anyone’s chin to hold up is probably a mistake. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the outcome of the first fight was somewhat of a fluke (not Cormier winning, but being able to catch Miocic with such a clean combination) and that the rematch goes the distance.
Let’s say Cormier wins a 25-minute fight that only serves to elevate the greatness of both men.
What will Nate Diaz look like after three years on the sidelines? Probably pretty much the same.
Yes, Diaz is 34 now, edging ever closer to that age where we start to wonder how much a fighter with as much mileage as him has left, but cardio and a relentless attitude have always been his calling cards and I don’t expect those traits to be diminished in the slightest when he steps into the cage against Anthony Pettis.
Where Pettis is going to give Diaz problems is with his elite kicking game and his ability to roll with the best of them. Both Pettis and Diaz take a lot of pride in their jiu-jitsu, and while this one will primarily be a standup affair, there is the potential for some amazingly fun scrambles and sweeps here.
Pettis’s fights have occasionally been marked by a lack of urgency, which will cost him here against Diaz. He can’t afford to let Diaz set the pace, especially with this being a three-round affair; on that same token, Diaz can’t just wade in carelessly. Pettis is an incredibly accurate striker and he will happily pick his opponent apart if Diaz thinks he can just walk him down.
Neither Diaz nor Pettis have had outstanding luck with the judges in their careers (just ask the Diaz brothers, they’ll tell you they’ve never lost a decision), but I like Diaz to have the advantage in volume here and put on a similar performance to his victories over Michael Johnson and Donald Cerrone.
It will be a good scrap, but Diaz by decision.
I have a feeling we’ll see some of that old Yoel Romero third-round magic.
Obviously, Romero and Paulo Costa have the potential to finish each other early. Look at these guys. All it will take is one punch or head kick or flying knee to put a violent end to the proceedings. I wouldn’t bet against it, is what I’m saying.
But I can also see Romero giving Costa a lot of respect, not wanting to play into the dynamite hands of an eager opponent who is 14 years his junior. He may give up a round early to see what Costa has to offer and to be able to hang with him in crunch time. Costa has a strong Muay Thai base and he’s going to leg kick Romero as long as he can before the Cuban beast closes the distance, at which point Costa will have to clinch up or risk having his head taken off.
Romero can take the punishment. He’s gone 10 rounds with Robert Whittaker, and as scary as Costa can be, I’d still be surprised if he became the first fighter to finish Romero in the UFC. What will happen is he wins a couple of close rounds, putting Romero’s chin to the test as he does so. In the final frame is when Costa’s chin will be tested, and I don’t see it passing.
How this fight plays out will depend a lot on how much Sodiq Yusuff respects Gabriel Benitez’s striking. “Super” Sodiq is comfortable being the hunter and also laying in wait to land counters.
The same could be said for Benitez, who is well-versed in striking fundamentals. These two are capable of putting on a boxing clinic and I expect much of this bout to be contested in the pocket with both men trading combinations. Yusuff’s takedown defense is somewhat untested, but given his tree trunk-like legs, it might not be worth Benitez’s time and effort to sort that out.
“Moggly” has the experience advantage and that will go a long way against the relatively green Yusuff, who has only been competing professionally since 2016. However, I see Yusuff as having the speed advantage and that will carry him to a third straight UFC win.
Ian Heinisch has all the makings of a future contender at 185 pounds, but Derek Brunson is a stiff test. Brunson is a talented fighter who’s self-awareness is both to his benefit and to his detriment. When you’re in there with elite fighters like Israel Adesanya, Ronaldo Souza, and Robert Whittaker, it’s sometimes best not to overthink things.
Given that Heinisch doesn’t have the stature of the last few fighters to beat Brunson, I trust Brunson to be able to stay out of his own head long enough to look more like the first-round knockout machine he’s shown he can be than the over-matched gatekeeper that he’s also shown he can be.
In his first two UFC appearances, Heinisch has performed well against Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Junior, both strong grapplers, battling them strength-for-strength and coming out on top. If he decides he wants to stand and slug it out with Brunson, that could be a mistake. Then again, Brunson’s stout takedown defense may not give him a choice.
This should be a quick burst of instant action, with Brunson picking up a knockout victory.