Daniel Cormier’s NCAA wrestling career ended with a loss to the legendary Cael Sanderson. Cormier’s Olympic wrestling run ended with him not being able to compete because of kidney issues related to weight cutting. On Saturday, Cormier’s MMA run seemingly came to a close with a decision loss to Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight title fight.
Cormier gave it his all in his third battle against Miocic, but the adjustments Miocic and his team made seemed to be more effective and meaningful. That and the coaching Miocic received during the fight seemed to make the difference in the trilogy bout, which headlined UFC 252.
Below are the winners and losers from Saturday’s pay-per-view card.
Stipe Miocic: Miocic had not fought since he knocked out Cormier at UFC 241. In that contest, Miocic started out slow and was likely behind on the scorecards when he decided that he should try to score some points with body shots. He did that in the fourth round. Not only did he score with those blows, Miocic used them to set up the finish and regain the UFC heavyweight title.
Miocic made some good adjustments for his third fight against Cormier. The defending champ had a faster start in this fight and he went to the body early. His corner was also incredibly vocal and made sure he followed the game plan throughout the five-round battle.
The thing that stood out the most for me was that sense of team from Miocic’s corner. I believe the work they put into their fighter and Miocic’s willingness to listen and trust that team was the difference maker in this contest. Miocic’s team might not be the biggest or best known, but they work well with their fighter.
Marlon Vera: Vera had a chip on his shoulder heading into his matchup against Sean O’Malley and you can’t blame him. The way O’Malley was being featured in the lead up to UFC 252 Vera seemed to be an afterthought — a bump in the road for O’Malley.
When a foot injury hobbled O’Malley in the first round, Vera could have rushed in and looked for a finish, but he remained calm and waited for the right time to wrap things up. When he found his opening and got the fight to the mat, Vera delivered some nasty ground strikes to bring referee Herb Dean in to wave things off.
There will be talk about the end of the fight and the legitimacy of Vera’s win. I don’t think anything should be taken from Vera. He took what the fight gave him and finished it. To quote Gus Johnson, “sometimes these things happen in MMA.”
Jairzinho Rozenstruik: As the second round of the heavyweight bout between Junior dos Santos ticked down, I wrote the following in my notes about Rozenstruik, “too reluctant to throw, looking for the perfect spot.” With that, Rozenstruik landed a huge counter that dropped dos Santos. The former champ briefly regained his feet, but Rozenstruik dropped him again for the finish.
With that I’m left to wonder, was Rozenstruik reluctant or just patient? In the end I guess it doesn’t matter too much, he got the knockout win.
Daniel Pineda: Pineda had not fought in the UFC since he went 3-4 between 2012-2014. He made his return in a big way on Saturday when he overcame the odds and dominated Herbert Burns on the pay-per-view card of UFC 252. Pineda showed no concern about the ground game of Burns and willingly battled the jiu-jitsu ace on the mat. On paper that might have been a bad choice, but the reality was that Pineda took the fight to Burns and used his ground striking to earn the stoppage win. A huge win for Pineda in a fight where he was a significant underdog. I’m not one to rave about performances, but Pineda deserved rave reviews for his performance against Burns.
Merab Dvalishvili: Dvalishvili earned his fifth consecutive win thanks to his endless cardio, patience and speed. He used all of those facets to his game to top John Dodson. Dvalishvili never allowed Dodson to use his counter striking abilities during this 15 minute contest and did a good job when the fight went to the clinch in tenderizing Dodson’s legs. Dvalishvili has some of the best cardio in the game. With that, he can wear down many other bantamweight fighters. If he remains patient in his future fights, Dvalishvili will continue to climb the 135-pound rankings.
Vinc Pichel: Pichel picked up a huge win on Saturday when he outworked Jim Miller at the top of the UFC 252 prelim card. Pichel’s strength, striking power and fearlessness were all on display when he scrapped with Miller. What stood out the most was Pichel’s willingness to tangle with Miller on the mat. He handled himself well against the skilled submission expert and put a lot of damage on Miller. This victory should give a boost to Pichel’s standing in the lightweight division.
Virna Jandiroba: Jandiroba opened her bout opposite Felice Herrig with a quick takedown. From there she used a heavy top game to keep Herrig on the mat. Jandiroba never stopped pursuing a submission. She scored that stoppage in less than two minutes. The former Invicta straw weight champion looked excellent and fight fans should put a star next to her names as someone to watch in the 115-pound division.
Daniel Chavez: Chavez made the most of his opportunity with the UFC. Making his UFC debut after 14 years in the MMA game, the 33-year-old showed out against T.J. Brown. Chavez displayed good power and speed in hands and kicks.. He also showed focus as he didn’t attack needlessly or recklessly in pursuit of a finish.
Chris Daukaus: Daukaus had a good speed advantage in his heavyweight bout opposite Parker Porter and he used it to touch up Porter. When Daukaus hurt Porter, he did nice work with a strong combination to get the first-round finish. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do against an established UFC heavyweight. Daukaus’ next outing in the UFC will be a telling one.
Kai Kamaka III and Tony Kelley: Wow. Kamaka and Kelley were not on the UFC roster last week, but they looked like seasoned veterans when they faced off on the opening fight on the card. Kelley used a fast pace and excellent clinch work throughout most of the fight. Kamaka used power and mixed up his targets to hurt Kelley to the body. The only galling error during the fight was when Kelley dropped for a failed guillotine early in the third round.
The featherweight bout was a superb showing from both men and it should have everyone looking forward to see what these two can do with full camps.
The fight was also a reminder that the $12,000 first fight deal the UFC pays most fighters is far too low.
Sean O’Malley: O’Malley got the full court press from the UFC’s PR department heading into this fight. ESPN even got in on the act with Stephen A. Smith bloviating about the greatness of O’Malley. It was an over the top video clip and it immediately made me think something bad would happen to O’Malley. Why? Because that’s just the way MMA seems to work.
Well, something bad happened to O’Malley. He hurt his foot early in the fight and when his opponent, the seasoned Marlon Vera, found his opening, he put O’Malley on the mat and closed the fight out with nasty ground strikes.
It was an unfortunate way for O’Malley’s winning streak to end. With that said, the concern should be about O’Malley’s recovery, not the level of hype around him or his first loss.
Junior dos Santos: Physically, dos Santos looked great. His boxing looked good as always, but once he got tagged by his opponent, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, dos Santos could not get his feet under him and he dropped his third straight fight by knockout.
Dos Santos opened his career on a 16-2 run. Since then he has gone 5-6. All six of those losses have come by knockout. That’s not a good sign.
Herbert Burns: Burns weighed in more than three pounds heavy for his featherweight bout opposite Daniel Pineda. Things went worse for Burns on fight night when Pineda dominated Burns on the mat, a place where Burns is supposed to be beyond reproach. The loss ended Burns’ five-fight winning streak. The stoppage will significantly reduce the hype Burns had after winning his first two UFC bouts by first-round stoppage.
John Dodson: Dodson fought another John Dodson fight at UFC 252. That means he moved around a lot and looked for the perfect counter while fighting off takedowns, but not landing any significant offense. It’s frustrating to see Dodson fight in this manner, but he does and it does him no favors.
Jim Miller: This one pains me. Miller is a fighter’s fighter. He’s the kind of guy who just goes out there and looks for the finish. He did that again in his UFC record 36th UFC bout. Miller dded two more submission attempts to his UFC record number of career submission attempts while inside the octagon with Vinc Pichel. Miller seemed to have a hard time dealing with the strength of his opponent, which seemed to sap his cardio. Despite that, Miller had enough left in the tank to go for a submission late in the fight.
Felice Herrig: Herrig had not fought since October 2018 and things could not have gone worse for her at UFC 252. Virna Jandiroba took her to the mat early and largely kept her there until Herrig tapped to an armbar. The loss could prove to be a disastrous one for Herrig, as it was her third consecutive defeat under the UFC banner.
T.J. Brown: In his second fight with the UFC, Brown struggled to find an opening for his strikes against Daniel Chavez. He found spots for occasional counters, but not nearly enough to justify fighting defensively as he paid an enormous cost as he ate a ton of heavy kicks and punches from Chavez, who earned a decision win.
Ashley Yoder: Yoder dropped to 2-5 with the UFC with her loss to Livia Renata Souza. When the fight was in the open, Yoder didn’t do well with her striking defense, but she controlled things when the fight went to the fence. Yoder was active, but not very accurate with her striking and her willingness to attack the back of her opponent at awkward times did her no favors.
Parker Porter: Porter was matched against a more athletic heavyweight and it showed from the start. He really had nothing to offer Chris Daukaus in their prelim bout before Daukaus knocked him out in the first round. Porter might be one and done in the UFC.
Daniel Cormier: It’s hard to not feel bad for Cormier. After his wrestling career ended on a down note, he had the opportunity to leave MMA as the UFC heavyweight champion. He gave it a valiant effort, but he fell short when he lost a decision to Stipe Miocic at UFC 252.
Cormier made positive changes from his UFC 241 scrap opposite Miocic, including better defensive striking and improved energy management, but it was just not enough to overcome the improvements that Miocic made.
Cormier came to MMA relatively late and it didn’t take him long to become a dominant force in the sport. He won’t leave MMA as the UFC heavyweight champion, but he will be remembered as someone who accomplished a great deal while he was involved in the sport.
If Cormier’s career is over — as he said it is — the focus should now be on his recovery from the eye poke that sent him to the hospital after the event came to a close.
Livia Renata Souza: Souza’s striking was much better than Ashley Yoder’s, but her tendency to throw one big strike and not follow up was a noticeable problem for Souza. She only threw 70 significant strikes during the fight and her inactivity allowed Yoder to close distance. Souza seems to have a good upside, but she needs more activity in her striking or she will have trouble with higher-ranked opponents.
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