The most significant title bout in UFC history delivered the goods for the third time as Stipe Miocic defended his heavyweight title against former champion Daniel Cormier on Saturday at UFC 252 to conclude their classic rivalry.
The third bout between these all-time legends went to the scorecards for the lone time in their trilogy as Miocic used his boxing and clinch work to claim unanimous scores from the judges.
Let's take a closer look at what we learned from this historic pay-per-view main event.
1. Cormier has no one to blame but himself for the eye poke: Understandably dejected during the post-fight interview in which he mentioned his inability to see out of his left eye following a stiff poke from Miocic in the closing seconds of Round 3, Cormier summed it up to Joe Rogan as, "it is what it is." Sadly for Cormier, that's the right answer. Was it bad luck for Cormier that such a significant illegal strike, and one that referee Marc Goddard missed completely, held such a key role in DC's eventual loss? Yes. But it's also karma, just the same. Cormier got away with noticeably bad eye pokes in both of the first two fights during key moments that allowed him to have major success. He also poked Miocic once more in Round 1 of their trilogy bout. Cormier's infraction in the rematch was so vicious that Miocic needed surgery and delayed their third bout more than a year as some questioned if he would ever fight again. Cormier simply has no ground to stand on to try and complain or blame the foul for his loss just as he has no one to blame but himself for abandoning his wrestling after the opening round of both fights against Miocic that he lost. Had Cormier never established the eye pokes as a pattern to their rivalry, there may have been more sympathy thrown his way for how much it affected him in this third fight. But not this time, not like this.
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2. Crown him: Miocic is the best heavyweight in UFC history: Let's bury this debate, which has hung over the three fights between Miocic and Cormier, once and for all. Miocic not only has the best resume of any heavyweight to step foot in the Octagon, he proved again against Cormier why he's also the greatest. Having previously relied on his stamina and mid-fight adjustments to rally past DC in their second bout, Miocic was the smarter and stronger fighter when it mattered in the third fight. His rock-solid chin played a huge role, but he was also more fit and calculated than his more famous foe. Miocic is 11-2 since 2013 and has avenged both losses by knockout. The two-time champion also holds wins against every single big-name opponent available to him over that stretch with the majority of them coming by knockout. There is no debate. Overlooked at times and regularly picked against, the blue-collar Miocic just grinds again and again.
3. Cormier retires as the bridesmaid of two divisions in his era: There was certainly more at stake in terms of legacy for Cormier in this one and although he dared to be great by accepting such a dangerous and important challenge for the final bout of his career, the results are what they are. Cormier is an all-time great fighter and one of the rare two-division champions in UFC history. He was also decisively second best during his prime in both weight classes in which he was UFC champion after losing twice to Jon Jones and Miocic. All four of DC's defeats (although his rematch with Jones was later changed to a no contest due to a failed drug test) came in particularly heartbreaking fashion as he scratched and clawed as close as he could only to make key mistakes or find out he wasn't as good as his two biggest rivals. None of this takes away from the surefire Hall-of-Fame career that Cormier has authored, but it does prevent him from consideration in the larger G.O.A.T. debate in which his initial move back up to heavyweight to win the title helped him stick a foot in the door of.
4. This really was the greatest trilogy in UFC history: Full respect goes out to the trio of exciting bouts put on by Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, but these three title bouts simply meant more to both the sport and the respective legacies of both fighters. Both Miocic and Cormier entered this feud with most of how we will remember them largely secure. But what happened next was a showcase of what makes the sport great as two all-time great fighters traded knockouts before co-authoring an exciting five rounds in their rubber match. The fights were all competitive and action packed as each fighter made key championship adjustments and were forced to show incredible heart and dare-to-be-great intangibles to make the fights so special.
5. Somebody get Jon Jones up in the bullpen: A third Jones-Cormier fight, which most expected would happen had DC won (and despite his refusal to speak of anything but retirement) was simply not meant to be. But Jones was an active contributor on social media late Saturday and seemed to let it be known he's ready for a long-awaited move up to heavyweight. Should UFC decide to let allow Jones to fast-track into an immediate title shot, a fight against Miocic would be one of the biggest the sport could make. Given that vicious slugger Francis Ngannou remains on deck, it could also be the boost of longterm intrigue and commercial boom the division hasn't seen outside of this trilogy since Brock Lesnar was champion.