The third fight in classic fight trilogies doesn't always live up to the lofty expectations set by the two previous meetings. In the case of UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic's rubber match with Daniel Cormier at UFC 252, however, the third meeting surpassed anything that happened in the first two bouts as Miocic managed to outwork Cormier over five rounds for a unanimous decision victory in a thrilling battle.
The big overhand right of Cormier that won him the championship by knockout in their first fight at UFC 226 landed with regularity throughout the fight, but Miocic was able to absorb the strikes and continue to fire back with his own as the early rounds were spent mostly going shot-for-shot between the two. The right hand was opened up early by the threat of Cormier's wrestling, with one actual takedown scored in the first round, and takedown feints after bringing Miocic's hands down and leaving him open to the winging shots to the jaw.
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At the end of Round 2, Miocic exploded with big strikes that dropped Cormier against the cage, leaving him seconds from being stopped before the horn sounded to save him from the TKO and allowing him to recover in his corner. Things got worse for Cormier in the third round as he spent the first half of the round recovering from being rocked before suffering a brutal eye poke late in the frame that left his eye swollen and his vision compromised for the rest of the fight. Cormier managed to fight through the rough situations, avoiding being knocked out as he was in the UFC 241 rematch where dropped the heavyweight title back to Miocic and actually firing back through the fourth round even after telling his corner he was unable to see out of his left eye.
Miocic executed a strong gameplan throughout the fight, alternating between landing sharp strikes and pushing Cormier into the cage while controlling the pace of the fight. The decision to work the clinch game was a new wrinkle in the fight after Cormier's wrestling was a major factor in allowing him to build a lead in their second fight before Cormier scored a late knockout.
Ultimately, the Octagon control provided by the clinch game served as the determining factor in the fight as Miocic was declared the victor on all three judges' scorecards, winning by scores of 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47.
Following the loss, Cormier stated he plans to hang up his gloves for good.
"I'm not interested for fighting for anything but titles," Cormier said. "I don't imagine there will be a title. That will be it for me."
For Miocic, he said his immediate plans are simply to return home to his family and enjoy the rest of summer before figuring out what's next in his already storied career.
"I don't really care, I'm going home, I've got the belt. For some reason, I just knew he was going to kick me, I don't why in the back of my head, the whole camp, I knew he was going to kick my shin," Miocic said after the fight. "I checked a couple of them, so I know they definitely didn't feel good for him. He's just real good at countering, for some reason I just couldn't get off what I wanted to, couple times I did, I almost caught him in the second, but he's an amazing fighter, that's why he does what he does, that's why he's won so many titles and beat so many good guys.
"It was real close, he fell, that's why he's a great fighter, he knew he was in trouble and he did the right thing. It's my birthday on the 19th, Modelos for days."
Miocic is now 8-1 since 2015, with six wins in championship bouts. Five of those victories have come over current or former heavyweight champions.
Elsewhere on the card, Marlon Vera scored a stunning upset of Sean O'Malley after O'Malley seemed to injure his foot in the first round. Vera went to work after the apparent injury, dropping O'Malley with a vicious elbow before adding some more follow-up shots.
Plus, Jairzinho Rozenstruik reminded fans of his destructive power when he stopped Junior dos Santos dead in his tracks in the second round with a vicious knockout.
CBS Sports was with you all evening bringing you results and analysis from UFC 252 in Las Vegas.
UFC 252 card and results
- Stipe Miocic (c) def. Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47)
- Marlon Vera def. Sean O'Malley via first-round TKO (punches, elbows)
- Jairzinho Rozenstruik def. Junior dos Santos via second-round TKO (punches)
- Daniel Pineda def. Herbert Burns via second-round TKO (elbows)
- Merab Dvalishvili def. John Dodson via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Vinc Pichel def. Jim Miller via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)
- Virna Jandiroba def. Felice Herrig via first-round submission (armbar)
- Danny Chavez def. TJ Brown via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Livia Renata Souza def. Ashley Yoder via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Chris Daukaus def. Parker Porter via first-round TKO (punches)
- Kai Kamaka def. Tony Kelley via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)