UFC 252 is in the books, and three years of one of the biggest heavyweight rivalries in the history of the sport is over. A tale of a first round KO, 15 hooks to the body in 2 minutes, and enough eye pokes to have Gandhi saying I Told You So.
Almost the entire MMA community sang the same song about this fight – whoever wins is the heavyweight GOAT. For my money I’m not sure you can push Fedor Emalianenko out of the conversation that easily, or my own favourite, Cain Velasquez. But the two men are clearly historic legends of the division, and in terms of sheer achievement Stipe now has no parallel.
It wasn’t a barn burner, but it was a good high level chess match between the two of the best to ever do it. Stipe made vital adjustments from the previous two fights, using the body shots that have always been Cormier’s kryptonite and using wrist control as they broke from clinches to avoid the massive upper cuts DC is known for. He fought smart, and while he didn’t dominate, the decision victory was clear. The biggest surprise was perhaps Cormier’s decision not to wrestle, which he had loudly declared would be his entire gameplay during the run up to the fight – it worked brilliantly for him in the early rounds of their second fight. My own prediction was a decision win for Cormier where he took Miocic down and held him there across multiple rounds as a safe way to get the W and ride off into the sunset. You can only guess that he didn’t trust his gas tank to last if he went with the strategy. At 41, while Cormier is far from washed up, he is clearly diminished from the height of his powers.
The eye poke against DC was nightmarish, instantly closing it and giving Cormier total vision loss in one eye. For all DC is affectionately known as the nice guy of MMA and “the daddest man on the planet”, it has to be said there’s a level of karmic justice to this, after he poked Stipe’s eyes to oblivion in their previous fights. Nonetheless it was difficult to watch, and you have to hope the damage isn’t permanent.
Next for Miocic will be Francis Ngannou, who has been on a terrifying tear of technique-free first round knockouts against the rest of the division, pulverising opponents with sheer otherworldly power. Whether the wily Miocic can get the drop on him a second time remains to be seen, but whatever happens he has secured his place as one of the all time greats.
Elsewhere on the card, Marlon Vera sent Suga Sean O’Malley’s hype train crashing into a ditch with a first round TKO, although it has to be said this was a victory handed to him by fate more than anything else. O’Malley seriously injured himself rolling an ankle half way through the round and was barely mobile for the remainder of the fight. Despite the horrible luck for O’Malley, it does seem to be on trend for the UFC over the last few years for rising young stars painted as unstoppable coming up suddenly short during their rise. A couple of weeks ago we were all talking about Edmen Shahbazyan being the youngest ever UFC champion and knocking out Jon Jones – and then Derek Brunson beat the crap out of him. To an extent it’s also the tale of Darren Till.
At 0161 we oppose the profit-led trend of promotions pushing young talent they think they think they can sell tickets off before they’re athletically ready. The only acceptable hype train is Khamzat “I Am The Wolf Brother” Chimaev, who has never fought ranked opposition but who is 100% ready for a title shot against Usman. Accept no imitations.