The final fight in this heavyweight championship best-of-three between Miocic and Cormier is about far more than just the UFC heavyweight title.
Whoever emerges victorious will lay claim to being the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, full stop. A 2-1 series win over the other man in this matchup, plus the quality of the resumes they’ve each assembled outside of their rivalry would make it difficult to even argue that someone else could hold that position.
This one is also personal, as the tension between Miocic and Cormier has grown with each subsequent booking. Initially, it was a clash between dogged competitors looking to prove their superiority, but when Miocic held out for a rematch, Cormier started picking at the former champion on social media, and that has increased as they’re again reversed roles and looked to make this trilogy bout happen.
The challenger has spoken about mistakes he made in the second fight that needed correcting and will be adjusted by the time they step into the Octagon together for a third time, while Miocic has always simply accepted the results of his last outing and moved forward, so it will be interesting to see what kind of changes Cormier implements this time around and how they impact the outcome of this fight.
Stylistically, nothing has changed — Miocic remains the bigger man with greater one-shot power and more fluid boxing, while Cormier must still rely on getting inside and using volume, pressure, and pace to chip away at the champion in order to create high-impact openings.
We talk about legacies a great deal in this sport, trying to determine where a fighter stands in the pantheon of all-time greats before they’ve finished fighting and we have a compete picture of their careers, but it’s different with these two. Miocic has already beaten the best heavyweights of his time and a second win over Cormier would be the icing on the cake of an excellent career, even though other challenges remain on the horizon, while the excellence Cormier has displayed across two divisions cannot be denied and a second victory over Miocic would make it very difficult to leave him off of any All-Time Top 5 lists in the future.
Each of the first two fights were “edge of your seat” type encounters and there is no reason to believe the third instalment in this trilogy will be any different.
Get your popcorn ready, settle in, and enjoy — this is going to be good.
Bantamweights with designs on entering the title conversation before the year is out clash in the co-main event as “Sugar” Sean O’Malley squares off with Marlon “Chito” Vera.
The breakout star from Season 1 of Dana White’s Contender Series and arguably the best prospect in the entire UFC, O’Malley has looked outstanding in a pair of 2020 starts, earning first-round stoppage wins over Jose Quinonez and Eddie Wineland. More impressive than his marksman-like striking has been O’Malley’s patience and maturation as a fighter, as he’s eschewed the flash that caught everyone’s attention early and replaced it with laser-focus and a more measured, tactical approach inside the Octagon.
Vera has been on a strong run of late as well, registering victories in five straight before dropping a debated decision to Song Yadong back in May. Questionable scoring aside, the former TUF Latin America contestant has grown by leaps and bounds since being on the reality competition, sharpening his natural talents and keen finishing instincts under the guidance of Colin Oyama to become a Top 15 talent in the treacherous bantamweight division.
This is the right matchup, at the right time for both men, as O’Malley needs another quality victory in order to merit Top 10 consideration and Vera has yet to prove he can decisively beat a ranked opponent. Additionally, Vera has always operated with a chip on his shoulder, feeling like he’s an overlooked member of the emerging class in the 135-pound ranks and this is a tremendous opportunity to prove his point by knocking off the unbeaten O’Malley and usurping his position.
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out as both are capable finishers on the feet with strong submission games that often serve as fall-back plans, meaning no matter where this one goes, it should be exciting and the potential for an explosive finish is very high.
With the heavyweight championship being decided in the main event, it’s only fitting that UFC 252 provides some clarity a little further down the rankings as well as former champ Junior Dos Santos locks horns with 2019 rookie standout Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
Though he still carries championship aspirations, Dos Santos’ results over the last five years show that he’s settled into a comfortable position as the guardian to the elite tier in the heavyweight division. He’s knocked off hopefuls and veterans like Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis, but came up short in matchups with the division’s elite, making him the perfect dance partner for ascending fighters looking to prove they’re legitimate contenders.
Rozenstruik was on that path after a wildly successful 2019 campaign that saw him collect four stoppage victories, including a last-second finish of Alistair Overeem in December. Following that win, “Bigi Boy" called out Francis Ngannou and at UFC 249, he found out the hard way that doing so was a mistake, as “The Predator” stopped him in just 20 seconds.
Losing to Ngannou doesn’t mean he’s not capable of being a contender in the heavyweight division, as the finisher from Cameroon has been running through everyone that has stood across from him of late, but it does increase the importance of this matchup. Beating Dos Santos would give extra credence to Rozenstruik’s initial run of success last year and put him back in the win column with a major victory.
Those are two very different potential landing spots for the kickboxer from Suriname and plenty to think about as you’re preparing to face a former heavyweight titleholder, but the stakes are high when you get into the upper reaches of any division.
By the time the dust settles on Saturday night, we should have a clearer picture of where these two stand in the division and how thinks are lined up in the heavyweight ranks heading into the fall.
Just as there are two heavyweight pairings on Saturday’s pay-per-view main card, there are also two crucial contests in the bantamweight ranks as well, as John Dodson and Merab Dvalishvili kick off the alternating sequence to close out the show.
Dodson has gone from being a perennial contender at flyweight to a fixture in the Top 15 in the 135-pound ranks. Each of his four losses have come against Top 10 fighters and all four went the distance, plus he’s also posted victories over the likes of Eddie Wineland, Pedro Munhoz, and Nathaniel Wood, so you know he’s still capable of handling his business inside the Octagon.
But the wave of new names rising through the ranks and his longevity in the game have combined to shuffle Dodson into the background, but he can change all that by halting Dvalishvili’s climb up the rankings this weekend.
A long-time teammate and training partner of top contender Aljamain Sterling, Dvalishvili has morphed into a dark horse contender himself over the last two years, posting four straight victories. The native of Georgia is a relentless wrestler and has been piling up takedown numbers at an alarming rate during his winning streak, using his ability to dictate the terms of engagement to grind out victories.
What makes this pairing so intriguing (at least to me) is that Dodson is one of the most difficult fighters in the division to corner and keep on the ground, while his hands remain sharp and powerful. While Dvalishvili will undoubtedly look to close the distance and bring this fight to the canvas, he’ll have to contend with quick, powerful defensive fire coming his way as he looks to get inside and get his hands on “The Magician.”
Will the veteran Dodson lean on his experience and send the upstart back to the drawing board or can Dvalishvili continue his dominant run and pick up the biggest victory of his career?
It’s fitting that Jim Miller is taking part on this week’s requisite reminder of how deep and talented the lightweight division is because Jim Miller is the living embodiment of how deep and talented the lightweight division has been for more than a decade.
The veteran from Sparta, New Jersey has the most wins in the history of the division (21) and is one of six fighters with 20 or more UFC victories. He’s never challenged for championship gold, but there has also never really been a point in the last 10 years where Miller has been that far removed from the Top 15 either, plus he enters Saturday’s final preliminary card bout having won three of his last four and coming off an impressive submission win over Roosevelt Roberts in late June.
Pichel also heads to the Octagon coming off a victory over the Contender Series graduate, having handed Roberts his first professional loss last summer in Minnesota. The 37-year-old TUF alum has been sidelined following hip surgery ever since, but is ready to return and has a chance to once again start building some momentum by knocking off the veteran stalwart this weekend.
This is the kind of matchup the star-crossed Pichel needs to win in order to finally take the next step forward in his career, which has been plagued with injuries since his time on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter. For Miller, it’s an opportunity to move one step closer to achieving his goal of fighting literally everyone in the division at least once and to continue showing that he’s still got plenty left in the tank even after more than a dozen years slinging hands inside the Octagon.
Strawweight hopefuls looking to get back in the win column clash in this one as Ashley Yoder faces off with former Invicta FC champion Livinha Souza.
A cast member on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter, Yoder stumbled out of the gate, dropping her first three UFC appearances before rebounding with a pair of decision wins over Amanda Cooper and Syuri Kondo. Her run of success was halted last time out when she landed on the wrong side of a split decision verdict in a fight with Randa Markos, resulting in the 32-year-old “Spider Monkey” heading into this one in need of a victory.
Souza began her career with eight straight victories, which included winning and successfully defending the Invicta FC strawweight crown with a submission finish of Katja Kankaanpää and DeAnna Bennett, respectively. She dropped the belt to Angela Hill in a close, entertaining scrap, then rattled off four straight victories, including victories in each of her first two Octagon appearances.
But “The Brazilian Gangster” got outworked by Brianna Van Buren last time out and now looks to rebound from a setback for only the second time in her career.
Who will get back into the win column and who will leave Las Vegas with a second consecutive defeat?
Heavyweight newcomers who have been plying their trade on the East Coast regional circuit meet here as Chris Daukaus and Parker Porter make the walk to the Octagon for the first time to face one another.
The older brother of Contender Series alum and current UFC middleweight Kyle Daukaus, the 30-year-old Philadelphia native has won six of his last seven, with his lone setback coming against UFC vet Zu Anyanwu. Daukaus has only been the distance once in his career, which is also the only time he’s seen the third round, so expect him to come out firing and looking to finish quickly once the referee says “Fight!” on Saturday night.
A pro since 2007, the 35-year-old Porter has gone 3-1 since returning to action following a 30-month break at the start of 2018. Like Daukaus, he’s not particularly fond of the scorecards and has shown more diversity in his repertoire, splitting his finishing 70/30 between strikes and submissions over the course of his career.
Both of these guys are arriving in the UFC later in their careers than most newcomers, so don’t be surprised if they both come out swinging, looking to make an immediate impression now that they’re finally getting the chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
Nearly two years after her last appearance in the Octagon, Felice Herrig returns, looking for a fresh start in a showdown with former Invicta FC standout Virna Jandiroba.
Herrig enjoyed the best two-year run of her career from the start of 2016 to the close of 2018, collecting four straight victories to climb into the Top 10 and solidify her place as one of the stalwarts in the 115-pound weight class. Consecutive losses to Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Michelle Waterson halted her climb and then a torn ACL sent her under the knife and onto the sidelines, where she’s been stuck ever since.
Just like Livinha Souza, Jandiroba began her career with an unbeaten run that included a strawweight title victory and defence under the Invicta FC banner. She was paired off with Carla Esparza in her promotional debut and landed on the wrong side of the scorecards, but rebounded nicely with a second-round submission win over Mallory Martin last time out in December.
This is a key fight for both win, but for very different reasons. Obviously, Herrig wants to end her two-fight skid and show that she is still a factor in the 115-pound weight class despite her recent layoff, while Jandiroba aims to topple the tenured veteran and continue ascending the rankings.
Where this fight is contested should play a major role in determining the outcome, as Herrig will likely have a significant edge in the striking department and clinch, while Jandiroba is the superior grappler.
The clubhouse leader in the 2020 Rookie of the Year race looks to further bolster his candidacy as Herbert Burns goes in search of his third straight UFC victory in a pairing with returning veteran Daniel Pineda.
Burns earned a UFC contract last summer with a first-round submission win over Darrick Minner on the Contender Series and has followed it up with back-to-back first-round stoppage wins this year, pushing his overall winning streak to five. After icing Nate Landwehr with a beautiful knee up the middle in January, “The Blaze” submitted veteran black belt Evan Dunham in June, needing just 80 seconds to secure the tap.
Pineda made seven appearances inside the Octagon earlier in his career, going 3-4 with three submission victories while proving to always be a tough out. That has continued to be the case over the last several years he’s been competing outside of the UFC as well, as the 35-year-old has gone 8-2 with a pair of no contest results.
This is an interesting challenge for Burns and a solid test for the promising featherweight and younger half of “The Battling Burns Brothers.” Pineda is a durable, experienced veteran who is difficult to finish and savvy enough on the ground that Burns is going to have to work for anything he gets, and how this one plays out should provide further understanding about where the Brazilian fits in the talent-rich featherweight division.
Featherweights open the show as Contender Series graduate TJ Brown makes his second walk to the Octagon against Miami-based newcomer Danny Chavez.
A teammate and training partner of rising featherweight Bryce Mitchell, Brown punched his ticket to the UFC on the final episode of last summer’s instalment of the Tuesday night talent search by wrapping up a third-round submission win over Dylan Lockard. Unfortunately for Brown, he was the one getting tapped in his first foray into the UFC cage against Jordan Griffin in February, and now he looks to rebound in his sophomore showing on Saturday night.
A member of the MMA Masters team that counts UFC competitors Ricardo Lamas, Miguel Baeza, and Cezar Ferreira amongst their ranks, Chavez heads into his Octagon debut on a three-fight winning streak and fresh off a first-round stoppage win over former prospect Dylan Cala. This is a step up in competition for the 33-year-old UFC newcomer, but he’s surrounded by experienced training partners and has been extremely sharp over his last three outings, so don’t be surprised if he pushes his winning streak to four on Saturday night.