What mattered most at UFC 252 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Stipe Miocic is the heavyweight GOAT
Eye poke controversy aside, Stipe Miocic has earned his due. He is the best heavyweight MMA has ever seen, and he proved it by winning his trilogy fight with Daniel Cormier by unanimous decision to defend his belt.
He’s not the most flashy fighter and certainly doesn’t have the headline-grabbing personality, but one look at Miocic’s resume should leave no doubt. Yes, Fedor Emelianenko had a mesmerizing run, but for Miocic to go through the murderer’s row of competition that he has is truly telling.
Has Miocic had his hiccups? Most certainly. However, he’s shown moxy in picking himself up every time. He’s avenged his only two career losses since becoming a true heavyweight elite, and has beat Cormier twice after losing to him two years ago.
Miocic has fought and beat the best heavyweights of the era before him and the ones he came up with, as well. He’s beaten the next generation, too, with his title defense over Francis Ngannou. He’ll have to do it again, though, then there’s some tough tests coming.
If Miocic can put another run of title defenses together, there’s no telling where his legacy will stand not just in heavyweight history, but among the greats in any division.
2. Daniel Cormier’s bittersweet farewell
It was a gut-wrenching exit for Daniel Cormier. Watching him stand there being interviewed by Joe Rogan post-fight, with no title over his shoulder and an utterly mangled eye that tuned out to be a torn cornea, was not the scene many, including myself, expected to see at the end of the night.
That’s the cruel nature of this game, though. When all the stars seem to be aligning for something great, the carpet gets pulled out. That’s what Cormier experienced.
This loss doesn’t take from Cormier’s greatness, but it also doesn’t enhance it. Is he the heavyweight GOAT? No. And he’s not at light heavyweight, either. He’s offered us some of the most memorable fights, rivalries and moments in UFC history, though, and that needs to be appreciated.
We don’t need to run over the specifics of every accolade. We’ll surely get into all that in the coming days. All the should really be noted now if Cormier should go out with his head held high.
Going out on this loss is going to burn at Cormier for the rest of his life, no doubt. Especially now that we know how badly his eye was injured. He will learn to accept and move on from it, though, and the future remains bright.
It’s wild to think Cormier was one of the best of all-time, but his contributions to the sport in his post-fighting life through being an analyst and mentor to others might be even greater when all is said and done.
3. Concern for ‘Suga Sean’
Should we be concerned about the fragility of Sean O’Malley? That seems to be a genuine question, even expressed by UFC president Dana White, after an in-fight injury set up his first-round TKO loss to Marlon Vera.
According to “Chito,” his specific leg kicks attacks were the culprit behind O’Malley being compromised and failing to defend himself in the stoppage loss. That may be true, but regardless, this is the second time we’ve experienced this scene with O’Malley and him being stretchered out of the octagon.
The first time against, against Andre Soukhamthath at UFC 222 in March 2018, O’Malley was able to overcome a hobbling leg injury to win a unanimous decision. That wasn’t the case this time around, though.
According to a report from UFC’s Megan Olivi on the broadcast, the injury O’Malley sustained against Vera could be the same as what happened against Soukhamthath. That presents a red flag.
Even with this loss, O’Malley is still one of the brightest prospects in the bantamweight division. He’s only 25, and the world in his oyster in this sport. It would be a travesty, however, if that was derailed because he can’t keep healthy.
4. Junior Dos Santos’ skid
Junior Dos Santos treaded further into uncharted territory in his career with his loss to Jairzinho Rozenstruik. After the second-round TKO defeat, the former UFC heavyweight champion is on the first three-fight losing skid of his career.
There’s something to be said for the fact Dos Santos is going in there every time against the top-ranked contenders available. The fight with Rozenstruik broke a stretch of seven consecutive main event spots for the Brazilian, so that should say it all about the level he’s been competing.
Unfortunately for Dos Santos, he’s lost more than he’s won in that run, and he’s been stopped with strikes every time he’s fallen short. UFC president Dana White said post-fight that he’ll have to evaluate Dos Santos’ future with matchmakers next week. That, at the least, is a concerning sign.
Given the enthusiasm he showed about his career before the loss, there’s no way Dos Santos is going to be persuaded to retire now. He’s probably earn some more rope with his career accomplishments, but at this point the move seems to be to give him a step down in competition. If he falters there, then there could be some credence to opinions “Cigano” should hang up his gloves.
5. Merab Dvalishvili’s new wrinkle
We’ve known Dvalishvili is a relentless takedown and control artist, which is what got him the wins to fight a two time title challenger like Dodson. But what happens when he can’t put his opponent on the ground with consistency? Would he get exposed? The answers, at least against Dodson, revealed he was just fine.
Not only did Dvalishvili survive on the feet against Dodson – who on paper should be the much more dangerous person – but he thrived in the position. He threw techniques such as the spinning backfist with plenty of comfort, and was able to do well in between the moments he wasn’t trying to get it to the mat.
Make no mistake: Dvalishvili’s Plan A will always be to grapple. It was in this fight, as was evident by his 20 takedown attempts. Just landed just two of those, though, and still won the fight 30-27 on all scorecards. That says a lot about his potential.