Triumphant returns to the ring

Stipe Miocic punishing Daniel Cormier with a heavy blow during their UFC 241 heavyweight title bout at Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday. Miocic won with a fourth-round knockout. PHOTO: DPA
Stipe Miocic punishing Daniel Cormier with a heavy blow during their UFC 241 heavyweight title bout at Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday. Miocic won with a fourth-round knockout. PHOTO: DPA

Miocic reclaims UFC heavyweight crown; popular Diaz wins after 3-year hiatus

LOS ANGELES • Stipe Miocic waited a year to face Daniel Cormier again, and his plan for the rematch did not start to work until they were deep in the fourth round.

That was when the patient, determined firefighter finally got his revenge and reclaimed the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight title at UFC 241 on Saturday.

Miocic (19-3) stopped Cormier with a barrage of punches in a stunning comeback victory - he had lost the first two rounds on every judge's scorecard in his rematch with the 40-year-old Cormier (22-2) - at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

After making some progress in the third, Miocic, 36, steadily came forward in the fourth and finally hurt his opponent with a punch to the body.

Miocic then landed several hard rights to Cormier's head, buckling his knees and eventually forcing referee Herb Dean to stop the fight with 51 seconds left.

"I saw some weakness in that third round," Miocic said. "And then in that fourth round, I caught him with that right hand. Thank God, because he's tough."

Cormier said after the loss: "I took the pressure off a little bit. I don't know why. Maybe (I) tried to rest and recover for the fifth round. I don't know what the reasoning was, but it was a mistake."

TIME FOR ME

I'm not going to take a fight just to make a name for someone else. I've been making names for other fighters my whole career.

NATE DIAZ, UFC fighter, on his next bout. He beat Anthony Pettis at the UFC 241 event on Saturday.

In the co-main event earlier, the wildly popular Nate Diaz claimed a decision victory over Anthony Pettis after a three-year hiatus.

It was an impressive welterweight display by the 34-year-old (20-11) in his return to the ring since splitting two bouts with Conor McGregor in 2016.

Despite a serious cut near his eye, Diaz punished American compatriot Pettis (22-9) in stand-up striking and on the ground.

"I wasn't sure if there would be some rust or not, so I just treated it like there might be," Diaz said.

While UFC brands itself as the counterculture edge of the sports world - brash, bloody and unscripted - mixed martial arts have morphed into the mainstream.

Diaz, though, remains a mutineer. He is the pot-smoking, straight-talking, renegade who, at the top of his career, had the gall to disappear for three years.

He stands out in a tent of circus performers by doing nothing but being himself. That much was on display when he strolled into his open workout on Wednesday smoking a joint from his own cannabis business and proceeded to pass more out to fans.

Put it this way: A 22-year-old Diaz once completed a submission finish with his legs while simultaneously thrusting two middle fingers in the air.

"Myself and the fans, his fans, have just come to learn that he is very unique," UFC president Dana White said in a phone interview. "He looks at things completely different than most people do."

In his first bout with McGregor in March 2016, Diaz won with a second-round submission. It was then the biggest pay-per-view event in mixed martial arts history.

The upset rocketed Diaz from crowd-pleasing journeyman to genuine star.

In the rematch five months later, which raised their pay-per-view record, Diaz lost by split decision.

A defeat without disgrace, there was instant talk of a trilogy, but it did not happen. McGregor cashed in the next year by boxing Floyd Mayweather. Diaz mostly disappeared.

At a time when UFC seems a bit lost, needing to fulfil its media contracts and finding few stars, one of its biggest was in his backyard, looking lean, smoking pot and telling stories.

Fighting is a job to Diaz but entertainment to everyone else. He has no patience for the false rituals of showmanship, angling instead to be the anti-McGregor.

"I'm a little politically incorrect, but by accident," he said.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that even after Diaz's layoff, today's UFC might need him more than he needs UFC.

UFC called the Diaz-Pettis and Cormier-Miocic bouts "co-main events" but there is little question where true anticipation lies.

Last week, YouTube viewership of the Diaz-Pettis breakdown reached one million views in less than 24 hours, nearly triple that of Cormier-Miocic.

Diaz has no long-term plan. He does not know where this fight leads, but he wants what is left of his career to be about him.

"I'm not going to take a fight just to make a name for someone else," Diaz said. "I've been making names for other fighters my whole career."

ASSOCIATED PRESS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline 'Triumphant returns to the ring'. Print Edition | Subscribe