LAS VEGAS — According to Daniel Cormier, true UFC superfights have much in common with cartwheel kicks, flying knee knockouts or inverted rolling triangle chokes.
Everybody in mixed martial arts loves to talk about them. Plenty of people try to make them happen.
And almost nobody actually pulls them off.
Cormier and Stipe Miocic are getting it done tonight. For only the third time in the UFC’s 25-year history, a reigning champion will fight a reigning champion from another weight class at UFC 226.
Cormier (20-1), the affable light heavyweight champ, is moving up to challenge Miocic (18-2), a Northeast Ohioan and the most accomplished heavyweight champion in UFC history, in the main event of the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view show of the summer.
“This is the ultimate thing you can do in this sport,” Cormier said. “This is the chance for both of us to prove what we can do in unique circumstances. Everybody wants to see this kind of fight, but nobody ever actually takes the risk and does it. So let’s do it.”
After the T-Mobile Arena cage door finally closes on this long-anticipated bout, both fighters agree we’ll finally know the identity of the biggest, baddest man in MMA.
“I know what he’s capable of doing, but it’s nothing that scares me,” Miocic said.
“Of course it’s great to get the opportunity to find out whether you’re better than another champion, because I respect Daniel a lot, and I know he respects me. This is the kind of fight you always wonder about.”
The UFC’s annual International Fight Week show in its hometown also includes a tantalizing heavyweight matchup between sluggers Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou. Featherweight champion Max Holloway was scheduled to defend his title against Brian Ortega, but Holloway dropped out Wednesday night with symptoms of an apparent concussion.
Cormier has spent the past five years fighting at the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds. Miocic has made a record three consecutive title defenses at heavyweight, where the limit is 265 pounds.
But the size disparity between Miocic and Cormier will be more vertical than horizontal.
Cormier is at least 5 inches shorter than the 6-foot-4 Miocic, who has a whopping 8-inch reach advantage. But when they stepped on the scales Friday morning, Cormier (246 pounds) actually outweighed Miocic (242 1/2).
“Not having to cut any weight is very pleasant,” Cormier said with a laugh.
Cormier fought extensively at heavyweight earlier in his career. He won the Strikeforce title and never lost a single round at heavyweight — not even during his career as a heavyweight amateur wrestler.
Cormier only moved down to light heavyweight when he joined the UFC because he didn’t want to fight former UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, his good friend and training partner in San Jose, Calif. His standout wrestling skills have been insurmountable for almost every opponent except Jon Jones, who has beaten him twice.
“Every person I fight is bigger than me,” Cormier said. “The last time I fought somebody I was bigger than was in 2010, and I felt like Muhammad Ali out there. That’s the only time I ever had the reach advantage. These guys, they’re all the same. I approach them all the same. I’m going to go forward, try to walk him down and exhaust him. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel at this stage in my career. I’m a grinder, and that’s what I’m going to do to Stipe.”
For all the talk about champion-vs.-champion bouts over the years in the UFC, their actual history is just two chapters long.
Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre pounded lightweight champ BJ Penn in a four-round stoppage victory in 2009, punishing Penn so badly that he didn’t remember the final two rounds.
At Madison Square Garden in 2016, featherweight champion Conor McGregor moved up 10 pounds to challenge lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, and the Irish brawler cemented his superstar status with a second-round knockout.
And that was it before Cormier and Miocic agreed to try it. Aside from the physical disparities preventing many bouts, some champions have too much to lose to step outside the usual confines of their ambition.
Anderson Silva constantly discussed changing divisions during his long reign as middleweight champion. Dominant flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson has been tempted to challenge the UFC’s bantamweight belt-holder over the years, but he hasn’t done it yet.
While Cormier is crossing off items on his limited to-do list before reaching his self-imposed retirement age of 40 next year, Miocic eagerly accepted the matchup for what will be the biggest payday of his UFC career. After reigning for more than two years atop a notoriously unstable division, Miocic didn’t hesitate to risk his belt in a career-defining bout.
“This is what people want to see,” Miocic said with a shrug. “Even if I already know what’s going to happen.”