If you’re a native Clevelander and/or a huge fan of MMA like I am, this Saturday qualifies as something of a holiday. We get to see the third installment of the Miocic vs Cormier trilogy, in what is arguably the biggest fight in UFC heavyweight history as the headliner of UFC 252. This fight will be a history maker and could either settle or fuel the flames of the debate of who the greatest heavyweight of all time is, but more on that later.
The remainder of this card is quite fun as well, but it did take a hit losing the Cutelaba vs Ankalaev fight after Cutelaba returned a positive COVID-19 test. Losing that fight in and of itself is extremely unfortunate for the fans, and brings the total fights on the night down to just 10. It appears the Herbert Burns vs Daniel Pineda fight will take the place of the canceled bout on the pay per view portion of the card.
The co-main event will push a bantamweight up the rankings as the favored Sean O’Malley attempts to turn from touted prospect to contender in his stiffest test to date in Marlon Vera. The pay per view portion of the card will also feature a heavyweight slugfest between Jair Rozenstruick and Junior Dos Santos and a bit of phenomenal stylistic matchmaking as Merab Dvalishvili takes on John Dodson.
Let’s take a look at some of the best fights of the night.
Stipe Miocic (C) pickem vs Daniel Cormier.
Fight is five rounds at heavyweight and is -195 to end inside the distance.
For the UFC heavyweight championship.
This is the rubber match of the trilogy between these two fighters, after each fighter scored a KO in the first two matchups. Most believe the winner of this fight will not only snag the heavyweight championship, but also the title of the heavyweight GOAT. Cormier has a long resume at both light heavyweight and heavyweight, but beating Miocic twice would be arguably the greatest accomplishment of any heavyweight in and of itself. Miocic is already a two time champion that has set the record for most defenses of the title, and was already talked about as the heavyweight GOAT prior to the Cormier trilogy. While Miocic has no plans to retire, all signs are that this is it for Cormier. Everything, including legacy, is on the line on Saturday.
So how will this third matchup play out? What should each fighter look to do?
On the Cormier side, the successful outcome of the first fight was at least somewhat taken for granted in the second fight. The flash KO of Miocic in the first round of the first fight surely didn’t repeat itself, and the Miocic chin was unbelievably stout in the rematch. Cormier hit Miocic with everything he had, landing a whopping 181 significant strikes, but they weren’t enough to stop the fight. This level of chin from Miocic was likely the biggest factor in the second outcome, and it led to a tired Cormier getting stung to the body often in the fourth round, before being finished. Cormier likely does not have the gas tank to make it 25 minutes in a striking heavy affair with Miocic and should look to his wrestling as the most effective and clearest path to victory in this fight. The first round was easily the best round for Cormier in the last fight, and that was because he landed a takedown. More importantly, he was able to control Miocic on the floor and get in some solid ground and pound. In top position, Cormier is simultaneously landing damage, not taking damage and conserving his gas tank, as he will always be a better conditioned grappler than striker. It was somewhat puzzling that Cormier essentially abandoned his wrestling after that first round in the first fight, and he has made comments he intends to wrestle more in this fight. On the feet, the shorter Cormier has done a great job keeping both of the first two fights in boxing range. He has essentially negated the 7” reach disadvantage, but as mentioned, it came with a price in the second fight. This version of phone booth fighting is organically going to create high volume output and will be a drain on any fighter’s gas tank. Cormier will have to keep this range while on the feet but will also have to mix in takedowns to conserve some energy or risk the gas meter hitting E again and being unable to compete with a fresher Miocic later in the fight.
There is something of an elephant in the room when it comes to Cormier and how the first two fights played out. He poked Miocic in the eyes multiple times in both fights and the reason for the delay on this third fight was Miocic needing a retina injury repaired. Miocic has stated he will address eye pokes before this fight with the referee. When asked if Miocic had a legitimate complaint on the topic, Cormier said he did, so expect the leash to be much shorter for eye poke fouls in this fight. This rings particularly true now that we know the referee will be Marc Goddard, who, regardless of what you might think of him, is not remotely afraid to inject himself into fights he’s overseeing.
On the Miocic side, he will need to learn from the first two fights and not make the same mistake Cormier did in assuming a repeat performance. Miocic was successful in a number of areas throughout the first two fights, but allowed too much cage time to be dictated to him by Cormier. The Miocic corner was asking for more movement and to keep at range in the second fight, and it mostly did not happen. When Miocic threw the jab and threw leg kicks, he was extremely successful, those strikes just did not come out often enough. He instead agreed to brawl, which saw him take more shots than he landed, albeit in close rounds from a scoring perspective (rounds two and three of fight number two). Another fairly simple thing Miocic did not do enough of in the second fight was push forward. Even when advancing but not landing strikes, he was able to push Cormier to the fence multiple times. This allowed periods where Miocic was able to lean on Cormier and drain him, which clearly paid big dividends later in the fight. All in all, more movement of the feet from Miocic will be wildly beneficial, whether it be advancing or lateral and backwards movement to keep optimal range. On the grappling side of things, Miocic was only taken down one time in the first two fights, but that one certainly cost him a round and he will need to return to his feet far more quickly than he did in round one of the previous fight. Miocic did land a takedown in each of the first two fights and does have a wrestling pedigree, but he showed no ability to control the extremely high level Cormier and any offensive grappling should be reserved for getting himself out of an unfavorable spot or simply showing it in an attempt to get Cormier to drop his hands. Miocic should waste no time going back to ripping the body with the left that set up the finish for the last fight. Cormier claims those shots won’t be available in this fight, but that can leave the head available to be hit, particularly by the rangier fighter.
All in all, a pickem line is appropriate for this fight and it certainly has the potential to be an all timer. The first round has been the best round for Cormier and it stands to logic that he will need an earlier finish if he’s to win this fight. Even if he’s able to work his wrestling more in this fight, it is difficult to see him keeping up with Miocic in the championship rounds. On the other side, I see that advantage late in the fight for Miocic, along with a potential blueprint on which strikes can get through and cause damage to Cormier. I am picking Miocic to win this fight via KO, but take it with a grain of salt. I can be objective with my breakdown of what each fighter should do, but not with the pick itself. No matter who you’re rooting for here, enjoy every second of this one.
Sean O’Malley -315 vs Marlon Vera
Fight is at 135 lbs and is -120 to end inside the distance.
This is a measuring stick fight for Sean O’Malley, who has seemed to turn a corner from high ceiling prospect to ascending contender. O’Malley has looked phenomenal in his most recent fights and quickly put out Eddie Wineland in his last fight. His striking is at a truly high level and he starts quite quickly in his fights. This could truly be a key as Marlon Vera is something of a slow starter, but he is not a fighter that will be steam rolled in any event and does eventually get his game going if he starts slow. Vera has never been finished in 14 UFC fights, so if O’Malley is able to snap that streak, it will be the first very real feather in his cap and the hype will be absolutely warranted. O’Malley will be the more dangerous and more precise fighter on the feet and that is where he will need the fight to take place.
It is somewhat cut and dry that O’Malley will touch Vera up in the standup portion of this fight. That is, however, where the advantages end as the advantage shifts to Vera both in the clinch and on the floor. It will be paramount for O’Malley to have his cardio on point if he is unable to secure a first round KO. The reason for this is Vera will absolutely bring the cardio and if and when he starts pushing forward at the middle and ending stages of the fight, he will be the stronger and more dangerous fighter in the clinch, where he can truly inflict damage, and perhaps even more so on the floor. That is to say he’s more dangerous on the floor, not where he will inflict more damage. While Vera can be punishing in the clinch, he is a submission ace on the floor that brings a high end BJJ skill set. O’Malley is no slouch on the floor but I believe there are levels between him and Vera, levels that I don’t believe he overcomes if he’s unable to remain on his feet. If wagering on this fight, I think it would be prudent to follow the strengths of each fighter and their paths to victory. Laying over three to one on O’Malley here is something of an impossibility, but there are plus figure wagers if you have a strong lean to O’Malley. He currently sits at +135 to win via KO and at a whopping +325 to win in round one. On the other side, taking Vera flat is not a prudent play in essentially any of his fights. Of his nine wins in the promotion, eight have come via finish, but all five of his losses have come via decision. If playing Vera, take the value on the props. All of Vera round two win +1200, Vera round three win +1500 and Vera via submission +695 are all extremely more attractive than a flat play on him.
Vinc Pichel -125 vs Jim Miller
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -115 to end inside the distance.
This fight is not on the pay per view portion of the card but is the featured prelim fight leading up to it. I opted to break down this fight because I feel it’s the most misplaced betting line of any fight on the card. Vinc Pichel is something of a threat on the feet and is not incapable of landing a KO, but I believe this to be a stylistic nightmare for him. Pichel has quite sound offensive wrestling and he uses it well with strong top pressure. His takedown defense on the other hand is suspect, as strong wrestlers have had their way with him. The problem he faces in this matchup is that Jim Miller will equal him on the feet, but will have a tremendous advantage on the floor, and is quite a good bet for submission in essentially any fight he takes. If Pichel works his offensive wrestling, he is entering Miller’s world and putting himself at risk. If his takedown defense fails, again, he’s in Miller’s world and is likely to be submitted if Miller finds himself in any dominant position. Even if we are completely absent from grappling exchanges in this fight, Pichel doesn’t put enough volume out to run away with a decision, and Miller would be quite live for a win on the scorecards despite not getting a decision call since 2016. All four of Miller’s wins since that time have been first-round submissions and have all come in the last two calendar years. Miller is okay as a flat play, but the props are where the real value is. Miller via submission sits at a silly +305 and that is the avenue to attack.