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UFC 252: Daniel Cormier Seeks Heavyweight Title in the Last Fight of His Career

Standing between Daniel Cormier and the final victory befitting his illustrious career is Stipe Miocic, the reigning heavyweight champion and one of only two fighters to beat Cormier in the Octagon.

Far more than just the title is at stake when Daniel Cormier challenges Stipe Miocic for the Heavyweight Championship this Saturday at UFC 252.

Cormier (22-2, 1NC) is adamant that this will be the final fight of his illustrious wrestling and mixed martial arts career, with Miocic—one of only two men to defeat him in the Octagon—standing between him and a befitting walk-off victory.

Miocic (19-3) first won the heavyweight belt in May 2016. He then rattled off four impressive title defenses before a first-round knockout defeat to Cormier in July 2018 at UFC 226. That was the night when Cormier had a post-fight showdown in the cage with Brock Lesnar. Seething with anger, Miocic vowed to defeat Cormier and regain his belt.

Cormier tasted defeat the following summer at UFC 241, as Miocic withstood punishment for three rounds before exposing a rare flaw in his heralded opponent. Cormier entered the fight out of shape, and Miocic wore him down, finishing the fight in the fourth round by TKO. Now Cormier has his shot at redemption this Saturday, in a trilogy fight with the heavyweight title, and his career, on the line.

“This is the end of my journey,” said the 41-year-old Cormier. “I have to be OK with winning and walking away. If I lose, I also have to be OK walking away. But I won’t lose.”

Daniel Cormier weighs in before UFC 241

Daniel Cormier weighs in before UFC 241, the last time he fought Stipe Miocic.

Cormier entered his last fight against Miocic overconfident and unprepared to defeat a fighter of such an elite caliber, with nonstop success dulling the competitive instincts of a man unhealthily obsessed with winning.

“When I became the heavyweight champion of the world, life changed for me,” said Cormier. “I’m winning ESPYs, I’m on broadcasts all around the world. There was comfort in that. I had the back surgery, and life changed a little for me. Losing that fight the way that I did made me readjust my thinking, and refocus on the things that are important.

“When you lose, it’s easy to be ultra-committed. I’ve done the things necessary to prepare myself. That won’t be an issue. I have confidence in my cardio. It was an issue last time, but there were a lot of outside circumstances that factored into that. But it was never an issue before that, and it won’t be this time.”

For Miocic, the firefighter fighting out of Independence, Ohio, this is more than a title defense. It represents his shot for a career-defining performance, ending Cormier’s career while putting a bright spotlight on his own.

UFC President Dana White told Sports Illustrated this fight will decide the UFC’s greatest heavyweight of all-time, and Miocic is aware of the added stakes.

“I love what do, so it’s cool to be in that conversation,” admitted Miocic, who is four years younger than Cormier. “But I can’t worry about that. I am focused on Daniel Cormier.

“He’s a gamer. He’s going to come and fight no matter what. He’s fought the best and he’s beat the best. He’s going to try to come and smash me. Let’s go, bring it. I’m ready for it, I’m excited for it and now it’s time for the fight.”

The future of UFC’s heavyweight division is slightly more uncertain if Miocic wins. The next opponent is likely Francis Ngannou, who Miocic defeated once before, but there is far more sizzle if Cormier regains the belt. Despite insisting this is his final fight, Cormier was honest when asked if he would return if Jon Jones was his opponent.

“Any chance to fight Jon Jones is exciting,” said Cormier. “But I’ve made a decision, and I think I can live by that. And I just want to focus on Saturday. My only focus is getting the belt off Stipe Miocic.”

A victory for Cormier also creates an interesting set of circumstances. Retiring after a victory, atop the industry, is a wonderful concept, but nearly impossible for fighters.

“Most guys don’t walk away on wins, they can’t do it,” said Cormier. “That win is a glimpse into what once was, and it makes you yearn for it again. A loss is showing you the door. Your opponent is telling you that you don’t have it anymore. If you win, especially beating the champion, you feel like you can do it again. Look at what Georges St. Pierre did, walking away after a win. That’s hard. It’s a lot easier if you lose. But I’m not going to lose.”

Cormier is planning on returning to his roots this Saturday, using his wrestling as the difference-maker in this fight.

“I’m going to get to those legs and make him work the clinch,” said Cormier. “I see some of the things he exploited last time, and I hope he goes to the well again. I’m ready to counter everything he’s had success with over the first two fights.

“My last memory in the Octagon is going to be fighting my ass off like I’ve done so many times before. I think back to the [Alexander] Gustafsson fight, all the fights where I had to pull myself up by the bootstraps and get to work. I want to fight to my potential, I want to do that one last time on Saturday.”

Cormier and Miocic share a tremendous amount of respect for one another, but each believes this Saturday will be his own coronation as the greatest heavyweight of all-time.

“Stipe is everything you want in a champion,” said Cormier. “He’s a family man, he’s a first responder and he fights his ass off every time he gets in the Octagon. I have a ton of respect for Stipe Miocic. I think he’s phenomenal, but ultimately, we’re competitors. I have respect for him and I’ll have that same respect after the fight, but right now, he’s public enemy number one. He has to be. I need to win this fight.”

Miocic countered with his own combination of praise, ending with a reminder that there will be no new champion crowned at UFC 252.

“He’s a great fighter, a great wrestler—besides me, he’s the best heavyweight,” said Miocic. “The title is coming back to Ohio, no question.”

Even if this is not the final fight for Cormier, the twilight of his career is looming. And he plans to relish every moment of this title bout, stepping into the cage, and back in time, for a few more fleeting moments as the best in the world.

“When I came to San Jose in 2009, I just hoped, at one point, I could main-event a UFC show or be a UFC champion,” said Cormier. “A lot of what I’ve accomplished is because of the support from the fans. They’ve loved me, they’ve hated me, they’ve booed me, they’ve cheered me. And the people that have supported me have supported me at a level that you can’t even comprehend.

“That brings me back every time. Don’t think for a second that it goes unnoticed. Even in a sea of boos, I hear every single cheer, and I know there are people rooting for DC. I love everybody that’s taken the time to tune and take notice of my journey, even if they’re booing me. I’m going to deliver on Saturday, the ol’ captain is going to get it done.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.