For the better part of the last three years, Stipe Miocic’s entire fighting career has been consumed by Daniel Cormier.
After he toppled the seemingly unstoppable Francis Ngannou at the start of 2018, the Cleveland, Ohio native was booked for a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter opposite Cormier prior to their first meeting that July. On that night, Miocic lost his heavyweight title as Cormier celebrated his achievement of becoming a two-division UFC champion.
Thirteen months later, Miocic exacted his revenge with a fourth-round TKO as he became the first person (on record) to finish Cormier as he reclaimed UFC gold. Another year has passed and neither Miocic nor Cormier have fought or faced anyone since their previously encounter.
That’s an awful lot of time spent focusing on a single opponent … a fact that’s certainly not lost on Miocic as he stands just days away from his third and hopefully final meeting with Cormier.
“Three years of it I guess,” Miocic said with a laugh when responding to MMA Fighting about how well he knows Cormier at this point. “Every fight’s different, he’s got a different game plan himself, so do I. We’re working on weaknesses, trying to exploit them on their part.
“It’s what I do. It’s part of the game. I’m a competitive person and I love competition. This is it. After this and we’re done with the trilogy. Finally it’s over. The trilogy is over.”
Considering he’s spent nearly 25 minutes in the cage with Cormier not to mention months upon months of preparation, Miocic and his team have dissected just about every nuance possible heading into the third fight.
What started as a friendly contest between acquaintances has quietly turned into a fierce rivalry after splitting a pair of fights. While it’s not likely you’ll hear Miocic or Cormier say a bad word about the other outside of the competition itself, there’s definitely an intensity shared between them that ratchets up the anticipation for this third and final showdown.
Regardless of what’s been said in the past, Miocic makes it clear that he holds Cormier up with the utmost respect, especially when asked to describe what he’s learned about the former two-time Olympian after spending so much time in the octagon together.
“He’s a great fighter,” Miocic said. “That guy keeps coming, he doesn’t stop. There’s a reason he’s at the top. He’s a hell of a fighter. He’s going to bring it again here on Saturday. I’m ready for it.”
On the flipside, Miocic was forced to dig deep into his own psyche after falling to Cormier the first time and then mounting an epic comeback to finish him in the rematch.
In particular, the 37-year-old heavyweight champion had to figure out why he struggled so much in the early going during that second meeting to ensure it doesn’t happen again on Saturday night.
“I felt like, especially with the rematch, I got off to a slow start until the third round when I started moving around,” Miocic stated. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever started that slow in a fight, but I still finished it. Hopefully I keep it that way. You learn a lot. Just don’t be an idiot and don’t start slow.
“I just do what I do and remember everything we’ve been doing and just fight like every fight. Keep my hands up and everything my coaches have been planning over the past 10 weeks, I think I’ll be fine. I think if I do what I do and go after him, I’ll be fine.”
In the weeks leading up to UFC 252, Cormier has loudly declared his intention to use his wrestling to best Miocic after they both avoiding grappling exchanges for the most part in the previous fights. Some of that could be Cormier playing mind games in an effort to get Miocic looking for the takedown, which might then cause him to miss a left or right hook barreling towards his head.
Then again, Cormier could just be laying out his most effective path to victory as one of the most accomplished wrestlers to ever set foot inside the octagon. Either way, Miocic promises he’s ready for whatever Cormier throws at him.
“I’m confident,” Miocic said. “We worked on it, we worked on everything, we worked on every aspect of MMA. We worked on standing, we worked on the ground, we worked on wrestling, worked on jiu-jitsu, worked on boxing, kickboxing, we’re doing everything.
“We’re going to be ready for it. If he takes me down, I’ll get right back up.”
In a perfect world, Miocic would only focus on the fight and his preparation to face Cormier and leave all of the other promotional bluster surrounding this event to the side.
He’s not thinking about a potential rematch with Francis Ngannou or Cormier’s inevitable retirement after he’s said numerous times that the third fight with Miocic will be the last time he ever competes in mixed martial arts.
If there’s one subject that does get his attention ahead of Saturday night it’s the overwhelming feeling that the winner of the UFC 252 main event will be declared the greatest heavyweight in history. Miocic may be soft spoken about a lot of things but he’s not afraid to stake his claim to the legacy he’s building in the sport.
“Definitely. I believe so,” Miocic said when asked if the winner of the trilogy will be considered the best heavyweight of all time. “I think we’ve done so much. Unfortunately for him, it’s going to be me.”
With so much on the line, Miocic is fully aware that he needs to put a stamp on this rivalry by retaining his title in the most dominant fashion possible. Of course, Cormier has no problem telling him that the first fight ended in a knockout and the rematch appeared to be headed in a similar direction until Miocic mounted his comeback.
That’s why Miocic would love nothing more than to end this particular chapter with an exclamation point.
“Hell yeah, a knockout’s the way to go,” Miocic said. “End the night early, come out of there unscathed. Listen, I’m definitely going for a knockout.
“If it goes five rounds, it goes five rounds, I really don’t care. I’m going to get that win. That’s legit all I care about.”
When it’s all said and done, Miocic fully intends to leave the UFC APEX with the heavyweight title around his waist with plans to move forward in his career without ever crossing paths with Cormier as an opponent again.
No matter the result or the rift that’s grown between them over three fights, Miocic will gladly end Saturday night by shaking Cormier’s hand and wishing him well in retirement.
“I’ve got no bad blood towards him. Not at all,” Miocic said. “I’m going out with the belt around my waist but I’ll definitely shake his hand say it was a hell of a time.”