It lacked the cleanliness for which he had hoped, but Stipe Miocic nevertheless seized the unequivocal mantle of Ultimate Fighting Championship alpha male.
The Strong Style Fight Team ace retained his heavyweight title with a unanimous decision over Daniel Cormier in the UFC 252 headliner on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three cageside scored it for Miocic—49-46, 49-46 and 48-47—providing the Euclid, Ohio, native with a 2-1 edge in a historic trilogy that stretched across three years.
Cormier cracked his counterpart with clubbing right hands throughout their 25-minute battle, dazing the Marcus Marinelli protégé in the first and fourth rounds. Miocic fought fire with fire, nearly finished it at the end of Round 2 and pinned the two-time Olympic wrestler to the fence in a frustrating clinch for long stretches. However, his efforts were not without controversy: A third-round eye poke resulted in significant damage to Cormier and compromised his vision for the second half of the fight. Still, the American Kickboxing Academy captain gave every indication that he would follow through on his plan to retire.
In the aftermath of UFC 252 “Miocic vs. Cormier 3,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou: His rivalry with Cormier finally complete, Miocic can now focus on the rest of the heavyweight division; and there are plenty of options available to him. Unless longtime light heavyweight champion Jon Jones follows through on often-teased move up in weight, Ngannou becomes the obvious choice as the No. 1 contender. The Cameroon-born Frenchman lost a lopsided decision to Miocic in 2018 but finds himself on a destructive four-fight tear during which he has defeated Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik in less than three minutes combined.
Marlon Vera vs. Yadong Song: Vera introduced himself to a much wider audience, as he stopped Sean O’Malley with elbows and punches in the first round of their bantamweight co-main event. Suffering from the effects of a debilitating calf kick and the resulting lower-leg injury, the previously unbeaten O’Malley met his end 4:40 into Round 1. Vera, 27, has rattled off six wins in his last seven appearances to emerge as a potential dark horse at 135 pounds. The lone misstep? A controversial decision defeat to Song at UFC on ESPN 8 in May that saw him land at a more efficient rate and account for the fight’s only two takedowns.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Alexander Volkov-Walt Harris winner: Rozenstruik handled his business in a decisive manner, as he put away the aforementioned dos Santos with punches in the second round of their heavyweight showcase. Dos Santos succumbed to blows from the explosive Surinamese kickboxer 3:47 into Round 2. A 20-second knockout loss to Ngannou now looming larger than ever, Rozenstruik could find himself in the kind of holding pattern that necessitates a lateral move until the top of the heavyweight division becomes less crowded. Volkov and Harris will collide at UFC 254 on Oct. 24.
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Cody Stamann: In the midst of a breakthrough, the relentless Dvalishvili has become a grave concern for the other contenders who populate the 135-pound weight class. The Serra-Longo Fight Team brute extended his run of consecutive victories to five by pitching a shutout against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 winner John Dodson in their three-round bantamweight feature. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27. Dvalishvili outstruck “The Magician” by close to a 3-to-1 margin and kept him occupied with 20 takedown attempts, and while he only completed two of those takedowns, he effectively short-circuited Dodson’s efforts to get in gear offensively. Stamann last appeared at UFC on ESPN 14, where he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Jimmie Rivera.
Daniel Pineda vs. Hakeem Dawodu-Zubaira Tukhugov winner: Pineda returned to the Octagon for the first time in more than six years and shined in his underdog role, as he took care of Sanford MMA standout Herbert Burns with a volley of elbow strikes in the second round of their featured pairing at 145 pounds. Burns bowed out 4:37 into Round 2. His foothold in the featherweight division re-established, Pineda maintains a 100 percent finish rate as a professional: All 27 of his victories have come by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Dawodu and Tukhugov have been booked opposite one another at UFC 253 on Sept. 19.