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Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic II: Heavyweight title fight preview, breakdown

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor

Just over a year after their first meeting, heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and immediate past champ Stipe Miocic will rematch Saturday at UFC 241. Below, we break down some key areas of the fight to help you get ready for this weekend’s main event.

Stand-up striking

Most heavyweights have serious striking power, and Miocic and Cormier are no different. Where they differ from many of their fellow big men, however, is how they throw in voluminous combinations while on the feet.

Both fighters throw in bunches and change levels of their strikes up, from toe to head, and everything in between. Miocic is great at length, using his jab, leg kicks, head movement and footwork to strike and stay out of range of opponents.

He did not use his length well in the first fight with Cormier. Miocic was certainly effective with strikes against Cormier, especially at the start of the fight, and repeatedly dinged the two-division great, but most of his punches were jammed up and came at a range that the much smaller Cormier could either return fire in or grab onto Miocic’s body with a clinch from.

Cormier is excellent on the inside, where he doesn’t just use great throws but also effective short strikes. That’s precisely where he won the last bout with Miocic.

Cormier’s win over Miocic is often discussed as a one-punch KO, but it wasn’t. Cormier swam a left underhook in on Miocic and then landed a short right hand as Miocic turned to face him, dropping the then defending champ.

Cormier seamlessly followed up on the ground with strikes as well, however, which is crucial against a guy like Miocic who has sustained a lot of head trauma over his career but who is also well-conditioned. That is to say that it’s easier to hurt Miocic (as Alistair Overeem did) than it is to finish him, and capitalizing on dropping him is likely necessary to beat him.

Before all that, however, Cormier also landed a short right hand to the head from the clinch at least one other time on Miocic in their first fight. Cormier found the same hole multiple times in that fight and hit it several times.

Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier face off during the UFC seasonal press conference at T-Mobile Arena on July 5, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

From the outside range Cormier also stung Miocic with punches just moments before he landed the big shot on the inside. The fact is that Cormier chipped away at Miocic with lots of big punches before he was able to drop him.

He can do it again, especially if Miocic follows the same game plan of stalking Cormier and closing the distance for him. If Miocic is at his most patient and insists on staying on the outside and making Cormier come to him, he can do real damage, himself.

Cormier often uses what can be charitably described as a long guard with his arms and hands – he reaches out, arms far away from protecting his own head, tries to intercept his opponents’ strikes, parry and counter them, and force grip and grappling battles.

That long guard, combined with his quick but dramatic head movement has mostly served Cormier well, though he still almost always responds to punches on the left side of his face by bobbing and leaning heavily over to his right side (a tendency which southpaw Jon Jones capitalized on with a left high kick in their second fight). The long guard for Cormier also theoretically leaves him open to wider punches.

If Miocic can catch Cormier reaching for a punch that isn’t there, with feints, he may be able to come around the side and hit him with the left hook. Overall, it seems like Miocic’s best broad plan would be to stay away from Cormier on the feet and not chase him.

If Miocic can get the champion to chase him, he’ll be able to use his length and height advantage, and also shift the tone of the fight.

Wrestling

Cormier has the wrestling advantage against anyone in MMA not named Jon Jones. Still, Miocic is capable of getting the takedown against the Olympian, especially early when they’re both relatively dry, or late on the strength of his being a natural heavyweight and having excellent conditioning.

Ground work

Both fighters do what wrestlers call “ride,” quite well. Cormier has great ground control and has a penchant for finding opponents’ backs. Miocic is great on top as well, has the ability to control opponents’ hips well and is a sharp and consistent striker from on top.

Cormier may be better at scrambling up to his feet than Miocic given his high-level wrestling skills, but at his age we have to wait and see with each fight to find out how much quickness he’s retained on the mat. Neither man has shown consistent finishing ability from front chokes so if the scrambling man can turn and face to re-shoot, he will likely be relatively safe, regardless of who it is.

Either can finish from the back, however, and so if any get-up attempts from either man involve exposing the back without using the cage wall to cut off the opponent’s access to it, they could find themselves in deep water.

Daniel Cormier punches Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during UFC 226 inside T-Mobile Arena on July 7, 2018 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

Conditioning

To be brief, neither man has shown us particular reason to doubt their conditioning. Both Miocic and Cormier set and manage pace well and have gone the distance, repeatedly. However, we have to at least consider the possibility that at 40 years of age, and as overweight as he is at heavyweight, that Cormier might slow over five rounds in a way he did not, say, back in January 2015 at light heavyweight against Jones.

More mass takes more oxygen to move around, and Cormier’s incredible skill and heart have thus far hidden the fact that he essentially has a welterweight’s frame. His extra weight may never catch up to him in the cage as he benefits from the added power he gets from it, but it is possible that if he has to go five rounds against a natural heavyweight like Miocic at this point in his life, Cormier may slow down a tad.

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