Making the Grade: UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2

Stipe Miocic (blue gloves) raises his hands in victory after defeating Daniel Cormier | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A stacked card doesn’t always pay off on fight night.

Putting all the biggest names and best matchups together on one event isn’t guaranteed to produce the kinds of fights that leave fans in attendance and those watching at home satisfied that they plunked down their hard earned money to watch.

Thankfully, UFC 241 not only paid off in name value but it ended up as the best card thus far in 2019.

At the top of the show, Stipe Miocic stormed back with an incredible fourth-round knockout to finish Daniel Cormier and reclaim the heavyweight title he coveted so much. Miocic had to endure some serious bumps and bruises through the first three rounds before altering his game plan in the fourth round, which ultimately paid off with the late finish.

In the co-main event, Nate Diaz proved he absolutely moves the needle and remains one of the biggest stars on the UFC roster after taking it to Anthony Pettis for the better part of 15 minutes to return to the win column. Diaz hadn’t fought in three years but he didn’t look like he missed a step as he dissected Pettis round after round before earning a unanimous decision victory.

There’s a lot to unpack from Saturday night’s card so let’s talk about what passed and what failed at UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2.

PASSES

Cleveland Rocks!

Stipe Miocic waited more than a year for his chance to reclaim the UFC heavyweight title, and he made the most of that opportunity.

After struggling through the first two rounds while appearing gun shy and unable to deal with Daniel Cormier’s speed and power, Miocic made adjustments to storm back with a strong showing in the third before ending the night in the fourth.

Miocic’s ability to alter his game plan midway through the fight by targeting Cormier’s body, which then set up the knockout shots to the head just added more and more evidence to the Ohio native being the best heavyweight fighter of all time.

Beyond Miocic’s already gaudy resume, his biggest skill set may be strategy and execution, which is why he has separated himself in that mythical conversation about who is the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. What he did to Cormier on Saturday night was nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially considering how he got knocked out in the first round the last time they met. When you also think about the way Miocic prepared for ferocious knockout artist Francis Ngannou and then made it look easy against him for five rounds last January on furthers the legend of what the reigning heavyweight champion has done during his career.

Of course the argument against Miocic being the greatest heavyweight of all time would be former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko but when you take a deep dive into their accomplishments, it’s easier to understand why the UFC heavyweight champion has surpassed the Russian legend.

For all the great things that Emelianenko did in his career — and there were a lot of them — his biggest wins ultimately came against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop. Meanwhile, Miocic has demolished a laundry list of former champions and top contenders including Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, Francis Ngannou and now Daniel Cormier.

The old school purists will still argue in Emelianenko’s favor and he remains an all-time great without a doubt but putting his resume in perspective when compared to Miocic, it’s easy to understand why arguably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport aka Jon Jones looks at the reigning UFC heavyweight champion as the best to ever do it.

Don’t Be Surprised, Mother….


Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Three years away didn’t slow down Nate Diaz from returning with the biggest fanfare at UFC 241 and then putting on an amazing performance to beat Anthony Pettis in the co-main event.

Diaz truly feels like the kind of fighter who thrives in the spotlight and even UFC president Dana White had to admit after Saturday night that he’s a superstar who moves the needle.

Obviously, Diaz exists best in the head space where he’s the anti-hero butting heads with the UFC, but hopefully the on-the-surface spats won’t prevent the promotion from keeping the Stockton, Calif. native busier now that he’s back.

The fact that Diaz called for a fight against Jorge Masvidal after winning on Saturday night proves he’s motivated to stay active and busy. The UFC would be criminally stupid not to cater to Diaz’s requests, especially considering the lack of star power at the top of the sport right now.

There are very few fighters on the roster right now who could main event a UFC pay-per-view without a title on the line and Diaz is absolutely one of them. Maybe he needs to paint the UFC as a villain publicly to maintain his bad boy image but here’s hoping the promotion hands him a blank check along with a fight contract to book his next fight immediately.

With Conor McGregor making more headlines on TMZ these days than with what he’s doing in the Octagon, the UFC needs somebody like Diaz to stay active in the biggest fights possible. Right now that’s a showdown against Jorge Masvidal and barring injuries, the UFC should be fast tracking this fight before the end of 2019.

Next Man Up

Paulo Costa got the biggest win of his career on Saturday night with a unanimous decision against Yoel Romero in the ‘Fight of the Night’ at UFC 241.

Now you can argue all day about the decision — it was razor-close and an argument can be made that Romero won but there absolute was no robbery. Regardless of the outcome, the fact that Costa went toe-to-toe with arguably the most dangerous middleweight in the sport, and not only lived to tell about it, but actually put it on Romero during numerous exchanges is quite incredible.

The knock on Costa prior to Saturday night was that he had never faced elite level competition but in a sink-or-swim situation against Romero, the Brazilian did his best Michael Phelps impression en route to a gold medal performance.

There can be no doubt that Costa has now cemented himself as the No. 1 contender to face the winner of the upcoming UFC 243 main event between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya. It’s unfortunate for a guy like Jack Hermansson, who potentially could have made his own argument for a title shot with one more win but beating Romero trumps any other debate out there.

Costa is the guy and hopefully the UFC will fly him halfway across the world to sit front row to witness Whittaker vs. Adesanaya so the promotion to have him face the winner can start immediately afterwards.

FAILS

Sidelined

The UFC has been producing its own broadcasts for decades but it’s nice to see it working in tandem with ESPN to put together the best possible show for television during every card. One of the biggest criticisms of the UFC on FOX era was that every show essentially looked the same and nothing ever really evolved from the viewer standpoint.

One tweak that has been made recently is a reporter standing near the entrance way where a fighter is about to walk out and they share a story about the training camp or something relatable to that athlete as they make their way to the Octagon. It’s a fun addition to the broadcast that also gives some much needed context to the story about to unfold in the cage.

If that is a hit, then ESPN’s decision to talk to corner men in the middle of a fight is definitely a miss.

Now first let’s make one thing clear — sending Megan Olivi into the corner to talk to Brandon Gibson and Eliot Marshall was planned and approved by the two coaches before the event started. And Olivi has become a top-notch reporter working on site, interviewing fighters and talking to coaches and managers backstage so none of this is a criticism on the job she did or how the coaches handled themselves.

The problem was the segment as a whole because a fight is game of inches that can change a moment’s notice and trying to get insights from a coach in the middle of the mayhem is just a distraction. Imagine if Cory Sandhagen got hurt during the interview when one of his head coaches was answering multiple questions from a reporter in the corner rather than paying attention to what was happening inside the cage.

Coaches play a huge role for their fighters during a fight and there is no room for error whatsoever. Even the slightest distraction could potentially prove to be disastrous and no one wants that.

Kudos to ESPN for staying innovative but this might be one segment that hits the scrap pile with more ideas assuredly on the way.

EPIC FAIL

Paid Out


Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The subject of fighter pay is one that comes up often and usually for good reason.

At UFC 241, Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier led all salaries with a combined $1.25 million between them. That’s not bad money by any means but it also pales in comparison to the kind of damage those two heavyweights did to each other over three-plus rounds. It definitely looks terrible when compared to the recent heavyweight boxing fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Joshua reportedly earned north of $25 million while Ruiz, who was a late replacement took home roughly $7 million.

Now the argument against boxing salaries is that while the headliners are making millions, many of the fighters on the undercard are taking home pennies by comparison but the entire combined purses of everyone fighting at UFC 241 ($3.3 million) didn’t amount to half of what Ruiz made for his win over Joshua.

Nate Diaz made $250,000 for his win over Anthony Pettis, which once again doesn’t sound like bad money but then a little research will show he made $2 million up front for his rematch against Conor McGregor in 2016. Yes, that was a much bigger fight and it was also the main event but still taking a $1.75 million pay cut can start to make you understand why Diaz was sitting out for the past three years.

Then there’s Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero, who made a combined $270,000 after beating the living hell out of each other for three rounds. The middleweights landed more than 240 significant strikes over 15 minutes in an absolute war of attrition that deserved a standing ovation when the fight was over.

It’s just hard to imagine what Costa had to endure that kind of fight to walk out with $120,000 and if he had come away on the wrong end of a decision, he would have left UFC 241 with a guaranteed purse of $60,000.

Listen anybody earning a paycheck will always want more but considering the display of athleticism, grit and determination on display last night, it’s a tough pill to swallow that Miocic, Cormier, Diaz, Pettis, Costa and Romero are worth less than $2 million combined on a card that earned over $3.2 million at the gate alone.

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