Daniel Cormier vs Stipe Miocic
One year, one month and 10 days after their first meeting, Cormier and Miocic will meet for a second time with the heavyweight title once again hanging in the balance. Only this time, they enter in opposite roles.
Cormier claimed the title last summer with a stunning first-round knockout win, connecting on a short right hand out of the clinch that landed sharp and flush and made him the second fighter to ever hold UFC titles in two weight classes simultaneously. “DC” returned four months later to successfully defend the title against Derrick Lewis at UFC 230, submitting the hard-hitting challenger two minutes and change into the second round to push his record as a heavyweight to 15-0 and his overall record to 22-1 with one no contest.
As soon as he got backstage at UFC 226, Miocic began campaigning for a rematch and he never moved off that position. Rather than jump back into the cage, the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history spent the last year being a family man, as he and his wife welcomed their first child, a daughter, just a couple weeks after the International Fight Week headliner. He also remained laser-focused on securing a second fight with Cormier and doing everything in his power to ensure the results are different this time around.
That’s the big question heading into this one: can Miocic find a way to do what no one else has been able to do as of yet — beat Cormier at heavyweight?
Miocic found some success early in their first encounter, but was unable to land anything that really rattled his foe, as Cormier did a good job of rolling with the punches and parrying shots away. He also seemed to struggle with Cormier’s deceptive speed, getting caught with short, sharp combinations when the two exchanged in space.
For Cormier, he’s said the rematch will be a replica of their initial meeting — an affirmation of his standing as the top heavyweight in the UFC and another dominant effort to add to his already sterling resume.
Will Saturday’s main event set up a trilogy fight between the two combatants or will Cormier retain his title and remain unbeaten in the heavyweight ranks?
Anthony Pettis vs Nate Diaz
Just shy of three years after his last appearance in the Octagon, Diaz is set to return in a welterweight grudge match that should have a major impact on how things shake out in the final few months of 2019.
After splitting a pair of starts at lightweight in 2018, Pettis accepted a bout at welterweight against two-time title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in March, eager to jumpstart a move to the 170-pound weight division. With 10 seconds left in the second of five possible rounds, “Showtime” hit Thompson with a Superman punch and three pinpoint follow-ups to bring the bout to a jaw-dropping halt.
Diaz has been out of action since his second meeting with Conor McGregor at UFC 202, content to stay on the sidelines, pop up at the occasional event and wait for the right opportunity to return to present itself. Still one of the most popular competitors on the roster, the 34-year-old former lightweight title challenger has made no bones about his dislike of Pettis and hopes to use Saturday’s penultimate pairing as a means of catapulting himself back into the mix for another major fight later this year.
There are so many question marks surrounding this fight that it would take too much space to run through them all here, but the biggest one (at least for me) is what version of Diaz are we going to get at UFC 241?
When he’s at his best, the former TUF winner is pressing forward behind a ton of output, diving on openings on the ground and doing it all with the trademark Diaz Brother swagger. Pettis will most likely be willing to engage on the feet and is equally capable off his back so the potential is there for this one to be a high volume back-and-forth scrap that earns Fight of the Year votes.
UFC 241 Countdown: Pettis vs Diaz
UFC 241 Countdown: Pettis vs Diaz
Yoel Romero vs Paulo Costa
These two middleweight specimens have been circling each other for the better part of a year now and finally, after a false start last fall and a missed opportunity earlier this year, they will meet in the center of the Octagon on Saturday.
This will be Romero’s first appearance since his razor-thin decision loss to Robert Whittaker in their outstanding championship clash at UFC 225. While he once again looked like an ageless terror and came painfully close to securing the victory, it marked the second consecutive bout where Romero missed weight and after more than a year away, it will be interesting to see if he can win the battle with the scale on Friday before venturing into the cage the following evening.
Costa has also been out for more than a year, having last fought at UFC 226, where he pushed his record to 12-0 with a second-round stoppage victory over Uriah Hall. The 28-year-old Brazilian brandishes undeniable power and has never seen the third round as a result, using a pressure style and thundering strikes to get things done inside the distance.
This is a major step up in competition for Costa, who is 14 years Romero’s junior. As much as every strike will be thrown with bad intentions, the biggest factor in this fight could be how each man’s gas tank holds up and if Romero is able to rely on his veteran savvy and experience advantage to hand the Brazilian rising star the first loss of his career.
Gabriel Benitez vs Sodiq Yusuff
This week’s example of how talent-rich the featherweight division is at the moment is this clash between the surging Contender Series alum Yusuff and the dangerous, but unheralded, Benitez.
Yusuff has gone 2-0 inside the Octagon since graduating to the UFC following a masterful effort against Mike Davis on Season 2 of the Contender Series. The 26-year-old Nigerian-born prospect is quick and polished, using excellent fundamentals and a keen understanding of what he does well to clinically outwork his opponents, allowing opportunities to finish to materialize on their own rather than chasing something that isn’t there.
A contestant on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, Benitez has quietly amassed a 5-2 record in the Octagon, with wins over Sam Sicilia, Jason Knight and Humberto Bandenay. The 31-year-old has earned back-to-back victories and is easily the most battle-tested opponent Yusuff has faced to date.
This is a great measuring stick fight for “Super Sodiq” — a pairing with a proven name with a quality record and the kind of bout every hopeful needs to win in order to take the next step forward in their careers.
Will Benitez show that the rising star is not yet ready to face the top tier of talent in the 145-pound weight class or will the gifted upstart from “The DMV” keep rolling?
Derek Brunson vs Ian Heinisch
The main card kicks off in the middleweight division with a crucial matchup between a Top 10 fixture and a hard-charging sophomore looking to continue his rapid rise up the rankings.
Brunson has spent the last several years floating around the lower half of the Top 10, taking on veterans and hopefuls alike while developing into an advanced level gatekeeper of sorts. After going 0-2 in 2018, Brunson got back in the win column earlier this year with a unanimous decision win over Elias Theodorou in Ottawa, and now he’s back to resume his role as the guy you’ve got to beat in order to be considered a potential contender in the 185-pound weight class in Saturday’s pay-per-view opener.
Heinisch earned his UFC contract with a first-round smashing of Justin Sumter on the Contender Series, then expedited his climb towards contention with a pair of short-notice victories over Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Junior. The Factory X representative is a cardio machine who never stops coming forward and if he can extend his winning streak to six by outworking Brunson, he’ll find himself in the thick of the chase in the middleweight division heading into the final three months of the year.
Devonte Smith vs Khama Worthy
The final preliminary card fight of the evening underwent a facelift at the start of the week, but remains an intriguing pairing between one of the brightest rising stars in the lightweight ranks and a dangerous newcomer looking to make an immediate impact in the UFC's deepest division.
Tabbed to replace Clay Collard, who in turn replaced John Makdessi, the 32-year-old Worthy enters his short-notice debut on a five-fight winning streak, registering the most recent of those victories just a couple weeks ago. Looking up and down his record reveals that the veteran has most been beaten by noteworthy talents who are now competing (or set to compete) inside the Octagon, including Canadian Kyle Nelson, recent Contender Series graduate Billy Quarantillo and "The Irish Dragon," Paul Felder, who got the better of things when the two went head-to-head in the third fight of their respective careers.
The surging Smith earned his UFC deal one week after his teammate Heinisch, finishing Joe Lowery in under three minutes before adding consecutive first-round stoppage victories over Julian Erosa and Dong Hyun Ma to his resume since matriculating to the Octagon. Lightning quick and adept at reading his opponents inside the cage, Smith has shown he only needs to land one heat-seeking missile in order to alter the complexion of a fight, having earned all 10 of his wins inside the distance.
This is a no-lose opportunity for Worthy — a chance to step into the UFC cage and go for broke against an emerging talent on a massive fight card. He's largely been a "finish or be finished" fighter over the course of his seven-year, 20-fight career and that shouldn't change on Saturday. As for Smith, he's already shown an ability to be patient and counter, knocking out Erosa with a blistering response to a lazy low kick, and if Worthy comes forward aggressively as expected, this one should produce fireworks.
Raphael Assuncao vs Cory Sandhagen
A veteran stalwart and the hottest emerging talent in the division clash in this must-see bantamweight matchup.
You have to feel for Assuncao —he’s 11-2 since moving to bantamweight and his only losses have come to TJ Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes in rematches. The Brazilian standout is currently ranked No. 3 in the division and remains one of the most skilled and accomplished competitors on the roster.
After amassing three wins in his first 12 months in the UFC, Sandhagen started his sophomore campaign with a narrow split decision victory over John Lineker at the end of April, edging out “Hands of Stone” in an entertaining back-and-forth contest than made it clear the up and coming Elevation Fight Team member was very much a contender. The 27-year-old has won six straight and shown an impressive blend of skill, style, poise and toughness over his first four appearances, earning three finishes and impressing at every turn.
This is a classic “veteran versus upstart” battle and one that will have a significant impact on the upper tier in the 135-pound weight class. Can Assuncao maintain his place in the Top 5 or will Sandhagen become just the third man to beat him at bantamweight — and the first to do it on his first try?
Christos Giagos vs Drakkar Klose
Here’s this week’s example of how packed with talent the UFC lightweight division is at the moment.
Klose is 10-1-1 overall, 4-1 in the UFC, and enters Saturday’s event off back-to-back decision wins over Lando Vannata and Bobby Green. The 31-year-old has followed long-time coach Eddie Cha to the Fight Ready gym and after missing out on the opportunity to face Beneil Dariush last month, he looks to make the most of this quick rebooking and hopefully move one step closer to cracking the Top 15.
Giagos went 1-2 in during his eight-month cup of coffee with the UFC earlier in his career and then lost his return bout against Charles Oliveira last September. He’s since rebounded with consecutive wins over Mizuto Hirota and Damir Hadzovic, showcasing his improved wrestling, and if he can push his winning streak to three on Saturday, he’ll be the one inching towards the rankings.
Manny Bermudez vs Casey Kenney
While Assuncao and Sandhagen are battling for position in the upper echelon of the bantamweight division, these two are duking it out to see who moves forward in a clash of emerging young talents.
In an age of generalists, Bermudez is the rare specialist — a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace who has finished 11 of wins by submission, including all three of his UFC appearances to date. The 25-year-old Massachusetts native has won 20 consecutive fights dating back to his amateur days and has only been out of the first round once in his last six outings.
Kenney split a pair of appearances during Season 1 of the Contender Series, but responded by winning four straight under the LFA banner, including interim belts in two divisions. Eight days after winning his second title, the 28-year-old grappler got the better of Ray Borg in his UFC debut, pushing his winning streak to five and making him one of the more intriguing names to track in the bantamweight division.
The 135-pound weight class is flush with talent at the moment, but both of these men are eager to keep things moving forward in their respective careers. Kenney has a leg up in terms of the most high-profile win between the two, but Bermudez is the more heralded prospect, so it will be interesting to see which one emerges victorious and moves another rung up the divisional ladder at UFC 241.
Hannah Cifers vs Jodie Esquibel
Tough strawweights entering in very different positions clash in the final bout of the early prelims.
Cifers picked up her first UFC victory last time out, coming away on the happy side of a split decision verdict against Polyana Viana. She had her five-fight winning streak snapped by Maycee Barber in her short-notice debut against the unbeaten rising star, but showed toughness and resilience to rally back and edge out the Brazilian back in March.
While Cifers arrives in Anaheim off the high of her first UFC win, Esquibel heads to the Honda Center on a three-fight losing streak, having dropped consecutive decisions to Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Jessica Aguilar and Angela Hill. After starting her career with five wins in six starts, the 33-year-old New Mexico native has dropped four of her last five, in addition to getting bounced from Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Will the quiet newcomer turn her March triumph into the start of a winning streak or will the veteran finally break through and get her hand raised in the Octagon for the first time?
Kyung Ho Kang vs Brandon Davis
If you’re looking for a sleeper candidate for Fight of the Night, look no further than this featherweight matchup.
Davis is seemingly allergic to boring fights, having impressed and earned a contract in a brawl with Austin Arnett on the Contender Series before going 2-3 in his first five starts inside the Octagon. Last time out, he snapped a two-fight slide with a masterful performance against Randy Costa, choking out the previously unbeaten Massachusetts product to earn his 10th career win.
All Kang has done since returning from his two-year military hiatus is bookend an entertaining split decision loss to Ricardo Ramos with first-round submission wins over Guido Cannetti and Teruto Ishihara. Like Davis, “Mr. Perfect” brings excitement and entertainment every time he steps into the UFC cage and this one should be no different.
Sabina Mazo vs Shana Dobson
Flyweights with finishing power meet in Saturday’s opener as the highly touted Mazo looks to rebound from the first loss of her career against the TUF 26 alum Dobson.
Consecutive head kick knockouts of Jamie Thorton and Linsey Williams in 2017 made Mazo a rising star on the regional circuit, where she won and defended the LFA flyweight belt with decision wins over Shannon Sinn and Carol Yariwaki. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old Colombian, things didn’t go as smoothly in her Octagon debut, as Mazo was outworked by Maryna Moroz and handed her first loss.
Dobson lost early in the tournament to crown the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion, but made the most of her opportunity at the finale, catching Ariel Beck with a series of clean right hands to secure the second-round stoppage win. She dropped a decision to Lauren Mueller in her follow-up outing and has been out of action ever since, with Saturday’s contest ending a 16-month absence.