UFC 241 -- Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic: Five fight storylines to watch for in Anaheim
The heavyweight title rematch is just the tip of the iceberg this weekend in California for the latest PPV from UFC
A hard-hitting heavyweight championship rematch and the return of MMA's most mercurial anti-hero headline UFC's latest trip to Anaheim, California, on Saturday.
UFC 241 brings plenty of exciting matchups and big names with it to the Honda Center in heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier's return to the building for the first time since losing to Jon Jones in their 2017 rematch that was eventually ruled a no contest.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering this weekend's card.
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1. How far away is DC from being considered the greatest heavyweight in UFC history? It sounds like the kind of forced hyperbole meant to fill morning talk show debate segments. It also isn't that ridiculous the more you look at it. Yes, Cormier has spent the most important stretch of his career as a light heavyweight, feuding with Jon Jones and making three defenses of the UFC's 205-pound title. But DC is also 15-0 as a heavyweight in his career and a win on Saturday would give him two over the same man in Stipe Miocic who entered their first meeting at UFC 226 last year on the verge of cementing himself as the promotion's most decorated champion in terms of title defenses. UFC's constant revolving door at heavyweight historically certainly helps Cormier nudge himself deeper into this debate. But make no mistake about it, DC has been dominant in every fight he has had in the division and holds wins over Miocic, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva and Derrick Lewis. Considering we aren't likely to ever see him face former two-time champion and teammate Cain Velasquez for an official passing of the torch, Cormier could do much worse for making his case than a victory on Saturday.
2. Pinch me if this is real -- is Nate Diaz really fighting on Saturday? Yes, the sport's biggest counter-culture star very much will be stepping foot in the Octagon for the first time in three years since his two-fight sojourn with Conor McGregor that threatened UFC PPV records. An injury to Dustin Poirier last November robbed us of Diaz's original comeback date, but he'll square off with former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in Saturday's welterweight bout. It would be pointless to argue how much money and great fights were left on the table over the past 36 months while Diaz and UFC were stuck in a constant state of disarray over the fighter's demands to get paid, and the promotion's insistence that he didn't want to fight. The real intrigue this weekend surrounds what Diaz will look like after such a long delay and what the 34-year-old's future might look like with a win. While Pettis is certainly dangerous, there's a bit of a fools' gold element to his recent resurgence considering he absorbs so much damage and has alternated wins and losses in his last eight fights. Should Diaz win, the amount of big-fight opportunities available to him would be innumerable. Yes, a trilogy bout with McGregor would make the most sense for UFC from a financial standpoint. Yet, Diaz's ability to make people care about his fights makes him a sneaky instant title contender in two different divisions.
3. The sexiest of all crossroads fights pits middleweight's past and future against each other. Even with a mouth-watering heavyweight title rematch and the endearingly carnival nature of Diaz's return, it wouldn't be a stretch to make the case that the best fight on Saturday's card is between Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa. This pivotal clash with future title implications at 185 pounds pits two of the most dangerous and chiseled athletes the sport has to offer. More importantly, the matchmaking will allow us to find out right now how good Costa, the 28-year-old Brazilian star-in-waiting, truly is. Fresh off of impressive knockout wins over Johny Hendricks and Uriah Hall, Costa will be stepping up to a whole new level against the ageless Romero, the 42-year-old Cuban block of granite whose only UFC defeats have come via disputed decision against current champion Robert Whittaker. Buckle up because this one will be explosive.
4. Business is picking up quickly in the bantamweight division. By lending his star power (and cringe social media humor) to the division following consecutive knockouts of former 135-pound champion TJ Dillashaw and the one most felt had next in Marlon Moraes, two-division champion Henry Cejudo has a lot of people talking about what happening at bantamweight at the moment. The truth is, however, that the restocked division is so talented that finding out who will be next in line to face Cejudo may turn out to be more fun than the eventual title bouts. With a perfect mixture of recognizable names, future stars and dangerous stalwarts, there is no shortage of fun matches to make within the top 10 of the bantamweight division. This weekend's Raphael Assuncao-Cory Sandhagen bout on the preliminary card is no exception. Assuncao is 11-2 since 2011, with his only losses coming to Dillashaw and Moraes. The 37-year-old Brazilian looks for one more run at what has been an elusive title shot and must get past the red-hot Sandhagen who is unbeaten in four UFC bouts, including an April decision win over John Lineker. Look for the winner to join the likes of Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan in making their case for Cejudo once he returns from injury.
5. Get ready to find out whether Ian Heinisch is for real. Heinisch, the 31-year-old middleweight contender from Colorado, may not have catapulted himself into being a household name through three UFC wins over the past year. But the 13-1 prospect endured one of MMA's most interesting journeys to get to the UFC after recently sharing his intriguing redemption story, which saw him serve time in prison for drug trafficking in Europe. The well-built Heinisch has been solid yet unspectacular thus far in transitioning back to his MMA career but enters undoubtedly his toughest test to date on Saturday when he faces veteran Derek Brunson. This is the perfect testing grounds to find out whether Heinisch is more than someone whose extravagant life story would fit perfectly on an action movie script and can truly compete with the best 185-pound fighters in the world.
For coverage through fight week from Anaheim, keep up withthat will have previews, features and picks leading up to the main event on Saturday night.
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