Nate Diaz beat Anthony Pettis in his first fight in three years.
Once again, the heavyweight champion of the world resides in Cleveland, Ohio.
Stipe Miocic regained the heavyweight title at UFC 241, knocking out Daniel Cormier in the fourth round after taking a beating for the first three rounds.
Miocic (19-3) now has a remarkable five wins in heavyweight title fights. His next fight is likely to be a third and decisive fight against Cormier (22-2-1). Although Cormier was non-committal after the fight, that is the money fight in the UFC heavyweight division.
With the win, Miocic is now the most accomplished heavyweight in UFC history.
The card also included a brilliant return from Nate Diaz. After nearly three years away from the Octagon, Diaz (20-11) showed no signs of rust as he manhandled Anthony Pettis (22-9). Following the victory, Diaz called out Jorge Masvidal for a future fight.
Another memorable fight was the middleweight battle between Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero that went the distance. Costa won by unanimous decision, but the two fighters delivered a performance that was undoubtedly the most exciting three rounds of the night.
Costa (13-0) stays undefeated with the victory, and defeating Romero (13-4), who shows no signs of rust at the age of 42, is the most impressive win of his career.
Sodiq Yusuff also put on a show in a victory against Gabriel Benitez (21-7). Yusuff (10-1) was too quick and too strong for his fellow featherweight, and he won the fight by knockout in the opening round. The card opened with Derek Brunson putting on a clinic against Ian Heinisch. Despite the heart and effort put forth by Heinisch (13-2), the skill and mental acumen of Brunson (20-7) were simply too much to overcome as he won by unanimous decision.
But even with a dazzling return by Nate Diaz, the night belonged to Stipe Miocic, who reclaims his place as the baddest man in the world.
Relive SI.com's live coverage of UFC 241 below:
Miocic knocks out Cormier in fourth round — 1:08 a.m.
Round 4: The belt is coming back to Cleveland.
Miocic’s body shots helped him win the fourth round—and the fight.
A tactical change in the fourth round saw Miocic go after Cormier with left hands to the body, and Cormier was unable to recover. Miocic caught Cormier with a flurry of right hands to end the fight and regain the heavyweight title in the upset of the night.
Round 3: Cormier had success with his jab-to-left hook combination, but Miocic continues to hold his own.
Both heavyweights were fatigued in the third round, and Miocic’s chin has held up against Cormier’s rock hard fists.
Entering the fourth round, Cormier is ahead on points. If Miocic wants to win, he needs to end this before it goes to the judges. And he needs to create some distance between himself and Cormier.
This fight is almost certain to end in the fourth round.
Round 2: Shockingly, this fight is going to a third round.
Miocic was throwing shots all round, and his chin held up against a brutal barrage of fists, but Cormier’s hands were slightly quicker.
This fight is bound to end in the third round, and Cormier needs to find a way to put away Miocic.
Round 1: The fight started with leg kicks from Cormier, which was a precursor to a dominating first round.
Cormier’s elite wrestling skills quickly put Miocic on his back, punctuated by a picturesque takedown.
Cormier’s heavy hammerfists did damage to Miocic as the first round came to an end. Although Miocic has already lasted longer than his first meeting against Cormier, he’s going to need to execute instead of merely survive.
Pre-Fight: Daniel Cormier is now set to defend his heavyweight title against Stipe Miococ.
How will Cormier look in his first fight since back surgery last December? Can Miocic overcome Cormier after getting knocked out in the opening round in their first fight?
Cormier has dominated any opponent not named Jon Jones, and I do not expect that to change at UFC 241. A win would redefine Miocic’s legacy, but a loss will effectively remove him from title contention.
Diaz beats Pettis in return via unanimous decision — 12:23 a.m.
Round 3: No surprise: Diaz wins by unanimous decision.
“The reason I was off is because there was nobody to fight,” said Diaz in his post-fight victory interview with Joe Rogan. “They all sucked.”
Diaz specifically called out Jorge Masvidal, who is coming off a dominant knockout win against Ben Askren.
Diaz delivered a systematic destruction of Pettis in the beginning of round three.
Incredibly, Pettis found a way to prolong the fight and gain a slight advantage. In addition to his toughness and athleticism, Pettis is also an incredibly smart fighter. But the night belonged to Diaz.
Diaz will win this fight, likely by unanimous decision, but Pettis put up a phenomenal showing in defeat.
Round 2: Pettis opened the second round with a knee to the knee of Diaz. He continued to smother Diaz, which forced Pettis out of his comfort zone.
Pettis was pressured into the fence, and constant jabs are wearing him out. Pettis had some quick counters, but those inflicted enough pain on Diaz—though he is wearing a nice cut above his right eye.
Diaz has exhausted Pettis throughout these first two rounds. Pettis will need to win by knockout or submission, because the score card belongs to Diaz.
Round 1: Diaz opened the fight with pressure, attacking the body of Pettis. The round favored Diaz by turning the fight into a boxing match, and Pettis ate the majority of fists.
Diaz secured a takedown and dominated Pettis on the mat, doing everything but finishing him.
Pettis needs to avoid the mat in the second round.
Pre-Fight: Daniel Cormier may very well be the best in the world, but the return of Nate Diaz is the fight this crowd is clamoring to see.
Diaz finally makes his return tonight, and he has a legitimate challenge ahead in the form of Anthony Pettis.
If Diaz wins, the fight world will be listening closely to hear if there is a challenge to Conor McGregor.
Costa defeats the 42-year-old Romero via unanimous decision — 11:43 p.m.
Round 3: Costa continues his undefeated run with a unanimous decision over Romero.
Now 13-0, Costa has the third longest active win streak in the UFC with five. This win sets up a phenomenal matchup in Costa against interim Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Costa took a finger to the eye in the third round, causing the fight’s second stoppage. Just like the groin shot from earlier, it appeared to have no lasting effect other than giving both fighters a much-needed breather.
Costa’s unrelenting body shots were answered by shots to the head by Romero. The crowd absolutely loved this fight, and Costa taunting Romero added even more excitement.
The third round belonged to Romero, who lured Costa into his pace, but he was unable to land the knockout shot. Romero showed no sign of fatigue, which is incredible at the age of 42, but Costa answered every doubt by going the distance.
The winner will be decided by the judges, but should be in Costa’s favor.
Round 2: Costa pummeled Romero to open the second round, but he seemed to barely notice.
The upcoming third round is obviously critical, but this is Costa’s fight to lose. He has controlled the pace, but he more questions to answer in round three, which is his longest fight against his toughest opponent. This is the first time Costa has ever had to go to a third round.
Romero ended the second round with a takedown, but in order to win this fight, he needs a knockout or a tap out as the first two rounds belonged to Costa.
Round 1: There was more action in the first 90 seconds of Romero-Costa than we saw in some of the fights at UFC 240.
Costa controlled the pressure, but Romero is a beast that won’t be easy to put away.
There was a break after Costa accidentally connected his knee to Romero’s groin, and the remaining 85 seconds of the first round was a slugfest full of power shots from both fighters.
Pre-Fight: Will Father Time ever catch up to Yoel Romero?
If anyone can help facilitate that introduction, it’s Paulo Costa.
We’ll see if the 28-year-old Costa can defeat the 42-year-old Romero, restructuring the balance of the middleweight division in the process.
Yusuff knocks out Benitez in first round — 11:06 p.m.
Round 1: Yusuff came out firing, and it was a struggle for Benitez to keep up in the opening round.
Benitez landed a very stiff left hand in the opening round, and it did damage, but not enough.
Yusuff struggled to keep his right eye open, but he dropped Benitez with a vicious counter right hand and won the fight by TKO.
“Super” Sodiq Yusuff lived up to his nickname, and the victory puts himself in position for a “Fight of the Night” bonus.
Pre-Fight: Sodiq Yusuff is a heavy favorite, but Gabriel Benitez will be a challenge to finish. A win for Yusuff would catapult him in the featherweight division.
I’m not expecting this to go the distance.
Brunson convincingly defeats Heinisch via unanimous decision — 10:42 p.m.
Round 3: Brunson preserved his energy and fought an extremely smart fight against Heinisch, who was unable to land a knockout blow.
Brunson simply wore Heinisch down in this fight, forcing him to hold onto his Cinderella story for another day, and was declared winner by unanimous decision. This marks the second win in a row for Brunson, and he did so in convincing fashion.
Round 2: The second round favored Brunson, who has paced himself far better throughout this three-round fight.
Heinisch needs to win this fight by knockout. Brunson is the better wrestler, and he also had the edge in significant strikes throughout the second round.
Despite the fatigue, Heinisch is going to be incredibly hard to put away in the third round.
Round 1: Heinisch opened the fight with a ferocious head kick, but Brunson somehow stayed composed and fairly unaffected.
The fight appears headed for a knockout very soon with the way in which both fighters are swinging and just missing. Heinisch is the aggressor, initiating the exchanges, but both fighters have knockout power.
Brunson was unable to get Heinisch onto the mat, which will be a priority for him in round two.
Pre-Fight: The opening fight at 241 is Derek Brunson vs. Ian Heinisch.
Both fighters are looking to use this fight as a way to elevate themselves within the middleweight division, but there is no question that a Heinisch success story would be incredible for the UFC. Heinisch served time at Rikers Island prison, and his transformation into a MMA star is incredible.
But he needs to solve the Brunson puzzle before moving forward.
UFC 241 will forever be known as Nate Diaz’s return to the Octagon.
Diaz has not fought since he dropped a contested decision against Conor McGregor in August 2016. Tonight marks his return, against a wildly talented opponent in Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Diaz enters the fight as a slight underdog, which makes sense given his absence from the cage and Pettis’ dominating win over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson this past March.
The main event is a rematch pitting heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier against Stipe Miocic. Cormier won the belt from Miocic 13 months ago after an opening round knockout, and he looks to continue his dominance again tonight. In 24 fights, the only opponent to defeat Cormier is Jon Jones—and that is a fact that is unlikely to change tonight.
Middleweights Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa should combine for the most entertaining fights of the night, and there is potential for exciting matchups in Gabriel Benitez-Sodiq Yusuff and Derek Brunson-Ian Heinisch. With wins, Costa, Yusuff, and Heinisch have the potential to emerge as top stars for the UFC.
241 offers the most depth of any UFC card this year, and now we get to see if the reality meets the hype.