The UFC heavyweight title will be up for grabs tonight at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Cleveland native Stipe Miocic will face Daniel Cormier and look to reclaim his belt against the man who took it from him thirteen months ago. The bout will mark Cormier’s second defense and the first of 2019.
Coming off of his first-round loss to Cormier, Stipe has remained inactive for over a year, choosing to hold out for a rematch against the current champion. He enters the contest as a +125 underdog and will face a difficult challenge correcting the mistakes he made during their first contest.
Breaking down the first fight
Miocic entered the prior match as a betting favorite, riding a six-fight win streak and holding the UFC record for consecutive heavyweight title defenses. Cormier, on the other hand, was coming off a nine bout stretch in the light heavyweight division, moving up in weight for the first time in five years. In addition to his multiple title defenses at a lower weight class, Cormier is undefeated in his fifteen fight heavyweight career.
It took four minutes and thirty-three seconds for Cormier to record a knockout victory over Miocic, but despite the short duration of the fight, it was by no means a dominant performance.
Stipe’s game plan was obvious from the opening seconds of the bout. The six-foot-four former Cleveland State wrestler was eager to use his size to overwhelm the five foot eleven Cormier. He successfully utilized a long jab and feints, forcing Cormier to back up to the cage and engage in dirty boxing.
When the fighters returned to the center of the octagon, both landed heavy combinations that wore on the opponent, particularly Cormier who managed to cut Miocic in multiple areas. It seems reasonable to imagine that Miocic’s corner believed that Cormier would wilt under his power, given his long knockout record and heavy-handed strikes. Unfortunately for them, Cormier proved to be a game opponent.
Cormier, a former collegiate all-American and Olympic wrestler, knew that in order to impose his will, he would need to initiate the clinch. Here he would be able to negate his smaller frame and apply his elite-level grappling. Throughout the fight, he stood with his arms outstretched and his fingers pointing towards Miocic, looking to grab a wrist and bring the champion into his range.
Unfortunately, this led to a violent eye poke, one that temporarily stopped the fight and left Miocic squinting in pain. The referee, Marc Goddard, made several warnings to both fighters, reminding them to close their hands before striking.
Known for his willingness to engage, Miocic reestablished his position in the center of the cage where the two fighters exchanged a flurry of punches, working in and out of the clinch in between shots. It was here that Cormier found Miocic’s chin with a hard right hook as he was working his way back and out of range. Stipe was knocked down by the blow and after a series of follow up shots, Goddard stepped in and called the fight.
Keys to the rematch
This time around, Miocic is aware that Cormier possesses the power to end the fight with one punch, something that he may not have considered as seriously in the first bout. It will be important for him to circle away from Cormier and avoid entering into his range. This he can accomplish by relying on his jab and rotating to his right, or away from Cormier’s power shot.
Miocic will need to use the entire cage and stay off the fence, where Cormier is particularly dangerous with both takedowns and strikes. On Friday morning, he weighed in twelve pounds lighter than the first match, indicating an improvement in his cardio and interest in being a dynamic target.
Stipe was most effective when hitting Cormier at the end of his punches, exploiting their difference in reach. Cormier is an expert in closing distance with larger opponents, and it will be critical for Miocic to carefully choose long combinations over close-range shots. If Miocic chooses to walk Cormier into the cage as he did before, it would be wise to remain patient and pepper Cormier with long jabs and straights as opposed to initiating the clinch and exchanging hooks.
Also, checking Cormier’s powerful leg kick will be critically important. Cormier relies on this technique to slow the movement of his typically larger opponents so he can more effectively move into his range. Considering that movement will play a massive roll in tonight’s rematch, Miocic will need to block these kicks from landing or suffer a disadvantage in the later rounds of the fight.
For Cormier, the goal will continue to be initiating the clinch. The former Oklahoma State wrestler has proven that he can strike with the best in the world, but eventually his size will leave him vulnerable to heavy shots. Cormier is an incredibly cerebral fighter, often leaving fights with little or no visible damage, and it will be important for him to not allow Miocic to effectively use his eighty-inch reach. If he manages to coax Miocic into his range, Cormier will need to capitalize on the opening and land heavy combinations.
Cormier has struggled against rangy opponents who are tactical with their striking. The best examples of this came during his two fights against Jon Jones and his successful title defense against Alexander Gustafsson. In order for him to retain the belt, he will need to apply pressure and close the distance without absorbing damage.
In previous fights, Miocic has shown both strategic prowess as well as a tendency to brawl. He will need to rely on the former and execute a surgical game plan in order to regain the heavyweight championship.