Daniel Cormier's journey from career second-best status in both amateur wrestling and initial pursuit of a UFC title to where he stands today has been borderline Shakespearean.
Short of getting his hand raised against bitter rival and G.O.A.T. Jon Jones, Cormier (22-1, 1 NC) has evolved from an early villain status in the eyes of fans to almost a folk hero by winning UFC titles in two divisions and cementing his MMA immortality by knocking out former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic last summer.
On Saturday, the 40-year-old Cormier enters as a slight betting favorite when he faces off with Miocic, the most decorated champion in heavyweight history in terms of title defenses, in their rematch headlining UFC 241 in Anaheim, California.
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Will history repeat itself, perhaps strengthening DC's case for consideration as the greatest heavyweight in promotional history? Or will the 36-year-old Miocic (18-3) redeem himself and potentially force an era-defining trilogy bout?
Let's take a closer look at five reasons why Cormier will be the one who gets his hand raised inside the Octagon.
1. There's a reason why Cormier is 15-0 at heavyweight. Regardless of how Cormier closes out his surefire Hall-of-Fame career (or whether he secures a third shot at Jones), it would be hard to argue against the idea that the best version of him we have seen has been at heavyweight. Not only is DC unbeaten in the weight class, it has been outright scary how easily he has dominated the likes of Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Derrick Lewis over the years. Before being knocked out late in the opening round, Miocic enjoyed more success against the heavyweight version of Cormier than anyone before him. But even Miocic ultimately succumbed to DC's unique combination of quick hands and foot speed for a man his size with enough power (and the constant threat of his world-class wrestling pedigree) to make his opponent pay. The division also allows Cormier an opportunity to age much more gracefully compared to the elite light heavyweights who rely more on speed and quick-twitch explosion.
2. Cormier is a master strategist who proved his genius in the first fight. It's no wonder DC was tabbed by the folks at ESPN+ to host the MMA version of Kobe Bryant's "Detail," in which Cormier breaks down the game of UFC's biggest stars in precision (and almost surgical) detail. Cormier spent much of the build-up to his UFC 226 victory over Miocic last year talking openly about his opponent's biggest flaws and how he might expose them. In fact, Cormier outright mentioned the fact that Miocic often exits clinches with his hands down could end up being his downfall. It was. After absorbing early damage in order to get close enough to tie Miocic up and suffocate his offense, Cormier waited patiently for his opponent to break free and push off without protecting himself and delivered a right hand that floored Miocic and led to the stoppage.
3. Should he need it, DC's wrestling is superior. Miocic has long used his strong wrestling base as the perfect compliment to his calling card of knockout power in both hands. But Cormier, one of the most decorated amateur wrestlers to transition to MMA, simply operates at a different level. The former All-American at Oklahoma State was a two-time Olympian and captain of the 2008 U.S. team in Beijing. Should he decide to fall back on his ground game, especially if things should get hairy in the standup, Cormier has shown time and again the ability to ragdoll bigger opponents and have his way with them. What was most interesting about their first fight is that Cormier never attempted a single takedown and ultimately bested Miocic at what he does best in a boxing match. Given Miocic's long layoff, it could end up being a smart strategy for Cormier to attempt to drain the gas tank of Miocic on the ground to set him up for the finish.
4. Their time apart has favored Cormier. DC not only enters the rematch as the fresher fighter of the two, the self-proclaimed "old man" claims to feel reborn after quietly undergoing back surgery to repair an issue that Cormier aggravated following an aggressive sneeze ahead of his first title defense last November against Derrick Lewis. Cormier claims he feels so good, in fact, that he pushed back his original plans to retire in March upon his 40th birthday and has actively spoken about his desire to face Jones one more time to define his legacy. On the flipside, Miocic never returned to the Octagon in the 13 months since they first met and, according to Cormier, did nothing but whine and act like a "brat" after UFC chose initially not to go in his direction of an immediate rematch. There's certainly no question whether Miocic is hungry to regain what was once his but in many ways he was lucky to even be in this spot after former champion and current WWE star Brock Lesnar chose not to skip the line and return for a title shot. In this case, Miocic's inactivity can't be overlooked.
5. Cormier said it best himself -- he's just better. When Saturday's rematch was formally announced in July during a press conference in Las Vegas, the typically humble Cormier pulled no punches in why he believes the sequel will look a heck of a lot like their first bout. "When I think about the fight, I just don't think he's good enough to beat me," Cormier said. "Whether it's 25 minutes or two rounds, I just don't think he has what it takes to beat me." When it's all said and done, Cormier might be right. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Miocic will go down on the short list of greatest heavyweights in UFC history. But something has to separate two elite competitors when handicapping a big fight and Cormier, by winning titles in two divisions and thoroughly defeating everyone not named Jones, has gained rightful entry into the upper room of the greatest fighters to ever step foot in the cage.
Who wins Cormier vs. Miocic, and how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on all 12 fights at UFC 241, all from the incomparable expert who's up more than $22,000 on MMA in the past year, and find out.