Believe it or not, Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier at UFC 226 will be the UFC’s first “true” superfight. Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva met when both were on the downswing, but Wanderlei especially so. Georges St-Pierre’s peak rested so far above BJ Penn’s that their rematch predictably disappointed. Anyone who entertained the thought of Anderson Silva or Chris Weidman challenging Jon Jones didn’t understand match-ups properly.
But instead of putting aside our biases and analyzing who’s likely to win, I’d like to do something different.
Let’s immerse ourselves in the grand spectacle of this superfight. Let us assume that this is, in fact, a seminal fight in the UFC. Who do we want to win? Whose win is better for UFC?
A case for Stipe Miocic
Despite a bevy of superstar champions, the UFC division is extraordinarily shallow and its champions fleeting.
Before Stipe, Cain Velasquez held the longest title reign with two defenses. But he did it against Junior Dos Santos and Antonio Silva, a man whom he matched up against perfectly and a lumbering chin-less wonder (respectively). Before him, Junior could only muster a single defense after knocking out Cain in their first meeting. Brock Lesnar mustered two defenses before being knocked out in back-to-back fights.
In seven years of fighting for the UFC, Stipe is 12-2 and defended the belt three times. Before his most recent defense, he’d knocked out five straight opponents including the man who dethroned Cain: Fabricio Werdum. Already considered the best heavyweight in UFC history, he has a chance to remove that last qualifier and become the best heavyweight period.
Hardcore fans like myself wax poetic about Fedor Emelianenko with good reason. Essentially undefeated in his first 32 fights, Fedor figuratively and literally defined “well-rounded heavyweight”. He out-fought Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, and Kevin Randleman in his prime. Regardless of his tomfoolery since he aged and stopped taking his training seriously, he remains the greatest heavyweight in history.
Having the greatest fighter of his weight class exist in a now-defunct company outside the UFC is unfair to those trying to make their own mark. A Stipe win can solidify the case that the greatest heavyweight of all time exists in the best MMA company on Earth, providing a more tangible benchmark for future contenders.
A case for Daniel Cormier
This superfight is so anticipated because Cormier isn’t “stepping up” in weight so much as he’s returning to his original class.
PRIDE FC’s extraordinary legacy cements its immortality, and Bellator is going to be a forever thorn in the UFC’s side. But Strikeforce remains forgotten in the minds of casual fans, despite producing multiple UFC champions and contenders. It was here that Daniel Cormier carved out his legacy not as a light-heavyweight, but a heavyweight. People forget that he won the Strikeforce Heavyweight GP despite being a sizable underdog.
His loyalty to teammate Cain Velasquez forced him to move down a weight class.
Unfortunately, Cormier’s rise up the light heavyweight ranks coincided with a drop off in the division’s depth. Superstars like Shogun Rua, Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson, and Lyoto Machida were all showing their age and no one could replace them. Aside from his win over Alexander Gustafsson, Cormier is defined by his losses more than his wins.
Jon Jones may have exhausted the limited goodwill he had with all but his hardcore fans, but he hangs over the division like a gangling specter. He beat Cormier convincingly in the first fight, masterfully out-fighting a stunned challenger. Failing a drug test may have nullified his second win, but few can forget Cormier knocked out on the canvas. Even if Cormier could tease a trilogy fight out of Jones, the now-champion is now 40-years-old. A good game plan and steroid-free opponent may not be enough to conquer the best athlete in UFC history.
Cormier’s unique physical gifts played out better at heavyweight. He’s so close to retirement age that letting him romp around at heavyweight for a bit after beating Miocic would be wonderful.
Even with the fight in motion, there’s a huge question as to whether Daniel Cormier would want to defend the title. It’s easy to think of Cain Velasquez as a missing person, but he’s still there. Injured, inactive, and burdensome but there.
As such, I lean towards Cormier.
To be clear, I don’t think Cormier will win. But if he does, he’ll vacate the title which allows Stipe to get one more shot. The Cormier win gives both men the opportunity to firmly cement their legacy. A Stipe win would be expected and further sour Cormier’s legacy.
But hey, it’s a superfight. Anything could happen.
What do you think? Let us know.