Wrestling vs. body shots? Daniel Cormier, Stipe Miocic talk tactics ahead of UFC 252 trilogy fight
LAS VEGAS – While the first fight between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier ended quickly, the rematch at UFC 241 showed us more of the two heavyweights’ respective qualities.
Both men found success using specific strategies, but ultimately Miocic (19-3 MMA, 13-3 UFC) was able to reclaim his UFC heavyweight title as he avenged his first-round knockout loss to Cormier (22-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC) a year earlier at UFC 226.
The pair will settle things in the rubber match Saturday in the UFC 252 headliner, which Dana White says will determine the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Before Cormier was stopped in Round 4 of the rematch at UFC 241, he was finding plenty of success using his wrestling. He was able to pick Miocic up and slam him, and controlled him well on the mat. But Cormier understands that he can’t expend too much energy chasing the takedown and that he needs to mix things up.
“The easiest path for me is to try to take him down and hold him down,” Cormier told reporters, including MMA Junkie, on Thursday at the UFC 252 pre-fight news conference. “When I got the takedown the first time, I held him there for about three minutes. But it takes energy to do that. But I don’t want to just take him down. I want to fight him. I like punching him in the face. It’s fun. I enjoy it. His head kind of just stays there. I like punching him, so I’m gonna punch him, I’m gonna wrestle him, I’m gonna do everything. Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you’re an Olympic level wrestler, just go take this dude down.’
“Dude knows how to wrestle. He knows how to wrestle. I felt it immediately when I grabbed his leg. I understand that he has the skills to defend takedowns. (He) took me down. So it’s not as simple as I just go take him down. But I do believe if I get to his legs, and I can extend the wrestling sequences, then I’ll come out on top. Because I feel like I can do that against anyone. But I just want to fight him. I don’t want to just wrestle him.”
Miocic was able to make crucial adjustments to stop Cormier in the rematch, which he set up with some brutal body shots. The tactical change paid dividends and allowed Miocic to turn things around in the fight.
It was a recipe for success, but Miocic said he isn’t necessarily doubling down on that strategy in the trilogy fight.
“I don’t know,” Miocic said. “We’ll see. I think the one thing I need to do is move my head. He says it stays in the same place. (I’ll) work on that by Saturday. But, yeah, listen, we worked on a lot of things this camp. We’ll see what happens.”
Cormier doesn’t believe him, though.
“He’s gonna go back to the body,” Cormier said. “I mean, you’d be an idiot not to. They had too much success there. The reality is, when you make an adjustment like you did last time, you get to do that one time. Because I go home and I fix that, and I work and I work diligently to try to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. He’s still gonna hit me, and he will land body shots.
“There’s no way I’m gonna block every one that he throws, or I’m gonna counter every one that he throws. It’s a fight, he’s gonna land. It’s on me to be more prepared and ready to go as long as this fight goes. But, yeah, he’s going back there. … Why wouldn’t he? Until I stop him from doing it.”
With the trilogy bout taking place in the UFC Apex’s smaller 25-foot cage, there has been a suggestion that the smaller fighting area will favor Cormier and his wrestling-based approach. Miocic acknowledged it and Cormier will look to take full advantage.
“I’ve been able to get closer faster in the smaller octagon in those spaces that I’ve been training,” Cormier said. “I’ve got a style that goes forward anyway. I’m trying to pursue guys, and there’s just not as many exit routes. I was watching the last fight, and there were a number of times where I got Stipe close to the side of the octagon, I went to punch, and he would disappear. I just think that there’s a few steps less as you start to press a guy toward the side of the octagon.”
UFC 252 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN/ESPN+.