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A saga three years in the making will reach its conclusion when Stipe Miocic defends his Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown against Daniel Cormier in the UFC 252 main event this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. They have met twice previously, with each man having walked away with a victory.
The stakes remain high as the sport’s top two heavyweights approach their third encounter. Cormier, 41, has given every indication that he plans to retire once they complete their trilogy, no matter the outcome. Miocic, meanwhile, turns 38 in less than a week and has not fought more than twice in a calendar year since 2016.
As Miocic makes final preparations for his climactic battle with Cormier, here are five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. A Throng Silenced
Miocic silenced a throng with one swing of his hammer, as he knocked out Fabricio Werdum to become the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder in the UFC 198 headliner on May 14, 2016 at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil. An unconscious Werdum hit the canvas 2:47 into Round 1, an eerie hush passing over the 40,000-plus fans in attendance. The two men traded punches and kicks before Werdum made his move—and his mistake. The Kings MMA export charged forward and walked into a counter right hook from the backpedaling Miocic. His lights were out before he landed on the mat, his reign atop the heavyweight division at an end.
2. Devastating Demolition
Alistair Overeem was not the man to pry the heavyweight title out of Miocic’s hands. Miocic knocked out the Dutchman with crushing first-round ground-and-pound to retain his championship in the UFC 203 main event on Sept. 10, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, as the Euclid, Ohio, native sent his fellow Buckeyes home with smiles on their faces. Overeem succumbed to punches 4:27 into Round 1. The successful title defense was not without adversity for Miocic, who was felled by a left hand and forced to defend against a subsequent guillotine choke. The Strong Style Fight Team ace withstood Overeem’s advances, returned to his feet and imposed his will with relentless pressure. Miocic took down the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix winner after he threw an ill-advised side kick, settled in top position and beat him unconscious with three right hands from inside guard.
3. Savage Predation
It was a reality check of gargantuan proportions. Miocic kept his stranglehold on the heavyweight throne with a clear-cut unanimous decision over consensus No. 1 contender Francis Ngannou in the UFC 220 headliner on Jan. 20, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston. All three cageside judges scored it 50-44 for Miocic, who became the first fighter in history to successfully defend the heavyweight title on three consecutive occasions. Ngannou cracked the champion more than once with right hands in a compelling first round, but his wild swings did not net the desired result and instead came at a high price. By the start of the second, the challenger was badly fatigued and far less explosive. Miocic turned to takedowns and clinches from then on, drowning the Cameroon-born Frenchman with the rinse-and-repeat tactic. Ngannou’s situation went from bad to worse to downright nightmarish, with Miocic either feeding him ground-and-pound or forcing him to carry his weight on all fours. The championship rounds offered little in the way of intrigue, as Ngannou had difficulty with the most rudimentary of movements, his 10-fight winning streak dying with a whimper.
4. Historic Victim
With the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title already resting on his mantle, Cormier knocked out Miocic to capture the undisputed heavyweight crown in the UFC 226 main event on July 7, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Miocic bowed out 4:33 into Round 1, his historic reign atop the division at an end. The dramatic victory painted Cormier in an entirely new perspective, as he joined Conor McGregor as the only fighter in UFC history at the time to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously. The Lafayette, Louisiana, native was flawless outside of few eye pokes, one of which left Miocic in visible distress, resulted in a brief pause and prompted referee Marc Goddard to issue a stern warning. Moments later, the two heavyweights tied up in the center of the cage. Cormier connected with a short but vicious right hook on the break, trailed the fallen Miocic to the mat and blasted him with hammerfists until the job was done.
5. Vengeful Delight
Renewed hunger and a strategic shift brought Miocic back to the throne, as the Strong Style Fight Team lynchpin reclaimed the undisputed heavyweight title and did so in exhilarating fashion, as he avenged one of his three career defeats and put away Cormier with punches in the fourth round of the UFC 241 headliner on Aug. 17, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Miocic drew the curtain 4:09 into Round 4. Cormier built what appeared to be a commanding lead across the first 15-plus minutes. The American Kickboxing Academy captain used his fast hands to string together crisp combinations and pile up points against Miocic, outlanding the challenger by double-digit margins in the first (71-9), second (59-48) and third rounds (69-40). However, the dynamics of the fight changed dramatically in the fourth, where Miocic turned his attention away from the head and focused on the champion’s midsection. He connected with 14 body blows, many of them left hooks, in a little more than four minutes and set the stage for the finish.
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