UFC 226 is now available on Amazon Prime.
UFC 226 is one for the ages. International Fight Week delivers multiple events in the same weekend every year, culminating in a stacked pay-per-view on Saturday. But rarely does that show deliver the goods like this year.
The biggest and baddest superfight of them all is about to go down. Heavyweight ruler Stipe Miocic, the proverbial “Baddest Man on the Planet,” will put his title on the line against reigning light heavyweight king Daniel Cormier. Not only is this a mind-blowing fight in terms of size and skill, it is also a legacy fight for both men. Miocic seeks to certify himself as the best heavyweight ever in his fourth title defense by beating his most talented opponent to date. Cormier, on the other hand, could put himself in the “GOAT” conversation with a win, even with the two losses to Jon Jones. He’ll look to continue his undefeated run at heavyweight and join BJ Penn, Randy Couture, Conor McGregor, and Georges St. Pierre as the only two-weight world champions in history.
Even with the loss of its “other” title fight, Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega, due to Holloway’s third run-in with medical issues this year, UFC 226 promises fireworks. The rest of the card is littered with action fights, several of which have virtually no chance of hearing the final bell. Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree, anyone? How about Uriah Hall vs. Paulo Costa? Violence will ensue, and you’d better be tuning in. This is not one to miss.
Without further ceremony, let’s get to the analysis and picks for UFC 226.
PPV Main Card
Miocic (18-2) vs. Daniel
Cormier (20-1, 1 N/C)
Odds: Miocic (-220), Cormier (+170)
Cormier is the second-greatest light heavyweight ever. Unfortunately for him, the greatest was his chief rival and the best fighter of all time, in any weight class. Unsatisfied with being second banana, “DC” will try to cement his place in the history books independent of Jon Jones, and accomplish something Jones has not -- other than never failing a drug test and being a great coach, mentor, commentator and all-around good guy, but who cares about that, right?
Standing in his way is Miocic, already the record-holder for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses at three. Low as that number is, it speaks to the difficulty in holding the top spot when one punch can so easily and completely alter the trajectory of a fight. Miocic has proven durable, well-rounded, adaptable, and offensively devastating in withstanding his challengers. Cormier has evidenced the same qualities in capturing and defending the 205-pound crown against Anthony Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson and Volkan Oezdemir. Cormier and Miocic are also stylistically similar in a few ways.
Both men are pressure fighters on the feet who mix in takedowns, but to varying degrees. Miocic prefers to move forward, backing his opponent to the cage where he will unload hammering right cross - left hook combinations. He has learned to take full advantage of those situations, most clearly portrayed in his two bouts with Junior dos Santos. In their first fight, Miocic followed dos Santos rather than cutting him off and let him off the hook too often when the Brazilian’s back did hit the fence. Not so in the second fight, when the Ohioan aggressively bludgeoned a cornered “Cigano” at every opportunity.
JDS was able to meet Miocic with his jab and combinations as he plodded forward in the first fight too, backing Miocic and halting his pressure. The Strong Style Fight Team standout can still be too complacent to march forward, as when Alistair Overeem dropped and rocked him with sudden crosses. But he has gotten better at countering. He rocked Francis Ngannou with a beautiful pull counter cross and a combination a little later. But his head movement still isn’t awesome, relying on blocking or parrying and moving away instead. But he has proven extremely durable, withstanding some hellacious offense from Ngannou early, and his wrestling gives him an avenue of escape or at least a tie-up when things get a little too hot.
Miocic likes to use the threat of his takedowns to set up his hands or stymie heavy-handed foes who have a wrestling deficiency. But he will not have the clear wrestling advantage he has enjoyed throughout his title run against Cormier, a D-1 runner-up and two-time Olympian. The American Kickboxing Academy captain is not a completely dominant takedown artist, struggling mightily to plant Jones and Gustafsson, but he is virtually impossible to hold down himself. Cormier’s varied and extremely deep technical knowledge gives him the advantage in tie-ups -- except against Jones -- as well. He has added foot sweeps for these occasions to go along with his high-crotch lifts, singles and doubles. I don’t expect either man to be able to take the other down with any consistency, Miocic’s size and strength negating Cormier’s technical advantage. But the former Oklahoma State Cowboy should be able to get the better of tie-ups against the cage if it goes there.
Since the wrestling should cancel out, Cormier’s striking is the phase to examine. “DC” is used to giving up significant reach advantages, and it will be no different here. Miocic will have five inches of height and eight inches of reach on him. Cormier compensates for this with constant forward pressure, lunging hooks and overhands, and active leg and body kicks. His left hook - right uppercut was a powerful and effective weapon in the Jones rematch. And his uppercuts from the single collar-tie position, where he pulls taller opponents down into them, are a favorite tactic when the pocket closes. Like Miocic, Cormier doesn’t have great head movement and relies on blocking and parrying for defense, to an even greater degree than the Cleveland native. He has also had to rely on his chin holding up to some serious firepower. After suffering his first knockout loss, Cormier did seem a little more hesitant about getting hit by Oezdemir, but once he was able to start moving forward, he became much more comfortable. He even rocked “No Time” with an overhand right - left hook combo late in round one.
The X-Factor here is DC’s age. He is 39, and despite continuing to beat up everyone not named Jones, he is slower and less durable than he used to be. Miocic is 35, late prime for a heavyweight. I initially thought Cormier would have a significant speed advantage moving up, but after watching tape, I’m not sure he’ll be the quicker man at all. “DC” is unafraid of mixing it up with hitters, and I thought his combination punching, wrestling and clinch skills would be enough to overcome the heavyweight champ. Miocic has been beating up very heavy hitters, but no one he’s faced has the all-around skill of Cormier. If this were three years ago, I’d probably pick “DC,” but he’s just a bit too far past his prime now. Miocic fires straighter punches with crushing power and has a significant reach advantage. Cormier will be winging overhands or lunging with left hooks to reach Miocic’s chin. He would be better served kicking from the outside or getting to the clinch where he can threaten the takedown and work his dirty boxing. But getting to the clinch means Cormier will have to go through Miocic’s best range, and the heavyweight king is also extremely dangerous at short range. Miocic by decision is the pick.
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