The biggest UFC heavyweight title fight in history did not disappoint. Stipe Miocic pulled out the win Saturday night over Daniel Cormier and solidified himself as perhaps the greatest heavyweight in MMA history. He also sent Cormier, one of the greatest as well, off to retirement.
UFC 252 ended on a low for Cormier but included highs for a number of rising stars including Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Virna Jandiroba. It also featured Marlon Vera‘s win over Sean O’Malley, but due to O’Malley’s injury, the co-main event didn’t offer a ton of clarity for either of those fighters.
Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Phil Murphy react to the night of action in Las Vegas and reflect on the career of Cormier as he steps away from the Octagon.
What did you think of Miocic-Cormier 3?
Everyone seemed to think the smaller cage would lead to a finish. The first two fights ended in knockouts, so of course that seemed like a safe bet. But something told me all week that this one would go the distance because both fighters are so good and know each other so well.
In the end, it did go the full 25 minutes. What a classic fight. Both men had to dig down deep. Both had to overcome eye pokes, though the one Cormier suffered seemed significantly worse. Both swallowed massive shots.
Upon first viewing, the right man won. It was close, but I scored it three rounds to two for Miocic, though I can’t help but think how much the eye poke in the third round affected Cormier. After the fight, Cormier told Joe Rogan he could not see out of his left eye, and based on how it looked, it’s hard to not believe him. Quite frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t get stopped after suffering that injury.
Was that the end of Cormier’s MMA career? He didn’t seem willing to make a whole big deal about it afterward, but I think it was. There’s nothing left for him to do. Heck, I’d love to see those two go at it again, but the division needs to move on. As he said, he’s not going to fight a contender, so what’s the point in sticking around? He has a great postfighting career set up already. He has nothing to be down about.
But I’d bet anything Cormier is livid right now. Livid he didn’t end his storied career with a win. He wanted that so badly, but nothing has been storybook about Cormier’s life, so I guess this result is fitting.
Ultimately, he didn’t need this win to secure his legacy. It was already secure going into Saturday. A victory would have put him in Rocky Marciano and Lennox Lewis territory, though — heavyweight champs who walked out on top — but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
And so, maybe, possibly, probably ends one of the greatest careers in MMA history. A career that started when an out-of-shape Cormier showed up in San Jose, California, in 2009, with his stock at its lowest. He had just withdrawn from the Olympics due to a faulty weight cut. There’s no greater embarrassment for a wrestler. He lived for months on his coach Bob Cook’s floor, surrounded by Carl’s Jr. wrappers. He played video games all day. He was an unmolded piece of clay who had no idea how to strike.
Eleven years later, he’s still in my top five all time. Nothing changes. What a run. And who saw it coming back in 2009? Very few, I can assure you of that.
On the flip side, Miocic moves on. He cements his spot as the most decorated UFC heavyweight champion ever. He might not be the most loquacious interview, and there’s a case to be made that he should be way more popular than he is, but there’s no denying he’s the best UFC heavyweight and UFC heavyweight champ ever. He can now move on with his life and career and enjoy the spoils of beating his rival.
I’m very curious where he goes from here. Francis Ngannou 2? Jon Jones? Interesting times in the big boy division. We can worry about that later. Here’s only hoping we don’t have to wait another year to see the champ again.
What was your favorite DC memory heading into his final fight?
Helwani: I met him in person for the first time in November 2009. We were at a Strikeforce media event in Chicago. He was there with his friend Muhammed Lawal. For some reason, we decided to recreate the conclusion of the Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior WrestleMania VI match on camera. It was great fun. Afterward, Cormier invited me to go eat with Lawal and others. I quickly said no. I told him that journalists should not fraternize with athletes and this was something I strongly believed. After all, I was a broadcast journalism major. Cormier — who loves being surrounded by many people — thought this was crazy, and he told me that one day we would be friends. In fact, he vowed to make this friendship a personal mission. That’s who Cormier is in a nutshell. A guy who just wants to be your friend and has the amazing ability to make you feel like you are friends right away. I didn’t go out for lunch with him that day, but 11 years later, we co-host a show together for ESPN. So …
Okamoto: When Cormier moved to 205 pounds in 2014, there was a lot of trepidation on how it would go. This was the guy who couldn’t compete at the 2008 Olympics after his body shut down while he was cutting weight. The backdrop of him wanting to do it to avoid fighting his friend and teammate Cain Velasquez said a lot, and then that first cut went very well. Cormier looked good at 205 and beat late-replacement fighter Patrick Cummins. His second fight at 205 was a different animal, though. Yes, Dan Henderson was probably undersized to be fighting Cormier, but he was a very established name and a former Olympic wrestler himself. When Cormier lifted poor Dan Henderson into the air and slammed him to the mat as if he were a stuffed training dummy in the gym, it was just such a reinforcement of, «Wow, this man’s wrestling is on a whole other level.» That was the moment I truly felt Cormier had made the full transition to light heavyweight and he was going to be a real challenge to the great Jon Jones.
Raimondi: Nothing changed the narrative around Cormier more than UFC 226 on July 7, 2018, when he moved up to heavyweight — as the light heavyweight champion — and knocked out Stipe Miocic to win the heavyweight belt. With that finish, Cormier became only the second fighter to hold UFC titles in two different weight classes at the same time, joining Conor McGregor.
Being a UFC double champion solidified Cormier’s legacy. But more than that, it separated Cormier from his bitter rivalry with Jon Jones. For a long time, the knock on Cormier was that he was a great fighter, but only second best at light heavyweight next to Jones, a man he was twice unable to beat. By defeating Miocic, an all-time great himself, at heavyweight, Cormier was able to do something Jones never did and detach himself from the albatross of that rivalry.
Murphy: What has endeared DC to fans most is the genuine joy he takes as an MMA fan himself.
Never was that more evident than the night «Thug» Rose Namajunas dethroned Joanna Jedrzejczyk as strawweight champion with a first-round knockout at UFC 217. DC shouting «Thug Rose! Thug Rose!» on repeat, his refrain resonating impressively over Jon Anik and Joe Rogan, instantly became one of MMA’s most iconic calls. There was a purity in his reaction, one shared by fans worldwide, and that enhanced the moment.
That seems the silver lining of watching Cormier likely walk to the Octagon for the final time: He has a bright broadcasting career ahead, and that’s just getting started.
Wagenheim: I’m going to combine two memories that to me define the yin and yang of what makes DC special. The first stretches the definition of «favorite» in that only a cretin would take pleasure in watching an athlete break down in despair. I’m referring to Cormier’s teary interview in the Octagon after being knocked out by Jon Jones three summers ago. It was painful to watch unfulfilled hopes and dreams spill out, yet in that same moment I was awestruck by how deeply DC cared and how vulnerable he was being in front of a fan base that had not always been supportive. «If you’re not willing to cry for something that you failed to achieve,» Cormier later said, «then it really didn’t matter all that much.»
That was inspiring, as was his playful song-and-dance video «All About That Cake (and Chicken),» which Cormier created for a 2015 awards show. Here’s an elite athlete comfortable enough in his own skin to poke fun at his roly-poly appearance «’cause every inch of me is perfect from the bottom to the top.» So true, DC, so true.
What’s the biggest takeaway of Marlon Vera‘s win over Sean O’Malley?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one here. And I know that’s not what anyone wants to hear, but I feel it needs to be said. Because I’m assuming there are going to be a lot of «Sean O’Malley truthers» out there who say the kid was all hype. But at least from what I saw, and we’ll have to hear more about the leg injury, he suffered a weird injury early in the fight that compromised everything.
I thought I saw O’Malley buckle on the leg and Vera even step back and point to it to acknowledge it. O’Malley was never the same after that, and Vera did what he should have done and put him away. I think there’s probably something to be said about elevating fighters too quickly and handing them the keys to the kingdom, but that’s not really what happened here. O’Malley deserved to be in the co-main event, and this fight against Vera was appropriate matchmaking. It was a disappointing way for the fight to go. And full credit to Vera for doing what he needed to do and he has nothing to apologize for, but it’s hard to take something really definitive from this.
Does this win change what your perception is of Jairzinho Rozenstruik as a heavyweight title contender?
Absolutely, though I wouldn’t say I dropped Rozenstruik’s stock all that much after what was a rock-’em-sock-’em loss to Ngannou. That one was over so quickly that it was hard to make any other judgment than just … my goodness, Francis Ngannou is a bad, bad man.
But I will say this. Rozenstruik’s measured, patient approach to the Junior dos Santos fight Saturday was very pleasing to see. Dos Santos is a technical boxer, and we know Rozenstruik has a kickboxing background. Before now, though, in the UFC all «Bigi Boy» really showed us was that he was a slugger with monstrous power. This was a tactical performance against a former champ and longtime contender. I would say this was his most impressive fight in MMA, where he — by the way — has only 12 fights. Rozenstruik will be fighting for the title one day.
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What is Virna Jandiroba‘s ceiling in the UFC strawweight division?
Oh, it’s pretty high. On the ground, Jandiroba presents a world of trouble for every single fighter in the 115-pound division — up to and including champion Zhang Weili.
Jandiroba was the Invicta FC strawweight champion, which means something considering many of the top fighters in the UFC’s strawweight division came up through Invicta. Jandiroba’s only career loss came in her UFC debut last year against former champ Carla Esparza and that was a very close decision. Jandiroba ran an absolute clinic on Felice Herrig at UFC 252.
The strawweight division is stacked — it’s one of my favorite weight classes in the UFC. But Jandiroba needs a big step up in competition next. Maybe someone like Tecia Torres.
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