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The past two years of Stipe Miocic’s life couldn’t have ended more differently, and it’s easy to see why he wound up being Sherdog’s 2019 Comeback Fighter of the Year as a result.
His historic run as Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion came to a shocking end last July when Daniel Cormier knocked out the Ohio native in the very first round of their UFC 226 clash. Miocic was stunned by the defeat and argued for an immediate rematch due to his three prior title defenses, an all-time record in the weight division. However, Cormier’s win was as decisive as a victory could be and the promotion was already angling towards a big pay-per-view payday by propping up former champion and current WWE star Brock Lesnar as the next challenger despite coming off a failed drug test. It looked like Miocic’s days at the top of the division were over, and due in large part to the politics that can make being a combat sports fan so frustrating.
Thankfully for Miocic, nothing is ever a sure deal with Lesnar and the “Beast Incarnate” wound up signing a huge contract extension with WWE instead of giving mixed martial arts one more go. With Lesnar now chasing the WWE Universal Championship rather than UFC gold, this gave Miocic the opportunity to get the title rematch that his past performances had earned. At UFC 241, Miocic proved that he was still one of the sport’s elite fighters, returning the favor and stopping “DC” to reclaim his heavyweight title.
Much like his past two years, the rematch against Cormier was filled with ups and downs. DC was the quicker fighter early on and was able to outbox Miocic with ease. Almost mockingly, Cormier even scooped Miocic up into the air during the first round, held him there for nearly 15 seconds and then finally slammed him down. While he never came close to finishing Miocic in Round 1, Cormier was making a statement and it looked like the Olympian simply had Miocic’s number.
The second round was mostly more of the same, as DC kept battering Miocic with punches. However, slowly but surely, Miocic started to land some significant strikes of his own. Round 3 was when the tide had changed to his favor, as he was able to continue touching Cormier on the feet and even managed to take down the decorated wrestler. The end finally came in Round 4, when Miocic hurt Cormier with a huge body shot and threw an unrelenting barrage of follow-up punches that forced Herb Dean to step in and call an end to the fight. For Miocic, it was more than a title victory, it was redemption.
Several other great fighters also received votes for Comeback Fighter of the Year. This includes the formerly disgraced Jon Jones, who defended his light heavyweight belt (which he regained on Dec. 28, 2018, by knocking out Alexander Gustafsson) twice in 2019; Nicolas Dalby, who became a Cage Warriors champion after overcoming an alcohol problem and made a triumphant UFC return; and Chan Sung Jung, who rebounded from being posterized by Yair Rodriguez at the very last second of their UFC Fight Night 139 bout by quickly knocking out Renato Carneiro and Frankie Edgar.
Rather fittingly, Miocic’s first title defense of the heavyweight strap will come against Cormier as the UFC concludes one of the Octagon’s most entertaining trilogies. In a role reversal, this time it will be Cormier looking to redeem himself after getting knocked out.