Saturday's UFC 226 pay-per-view at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will feature a rare "superfight" between heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and light heavyweight titleholder Daniel Cormier.
This is, annually, one of the biggest weeks of the year for the UFC. ESPN's Cheat Sheets are here to tell you everything you need to know about the headline attraction.
Stipe Miocic (18-2) vs. Daniel Cormier (20-1)
Odds: Miocic -230; Cormier +210
Ah, yes. The superfight. A champion-vs.-champion attraction that people who follow this sport love to talk about but rarely get to actually witness.
Rarer still is a superfight in which each champion still has something to prove. It almost contradicts the entire idea, which is to pair two champs who have cleaned out every challenge in their respective divisions.
To suggest Miocic, the longest-reigning champion in UFC heavyweight history, or Cormier, arguably one of the greatest fighters of all time, still has something to prove -- that probably isn't quite right. Their combined record of 38-3, which is compiled across two volatile weight classes, speaks for itself.
But for Cormier, 39, who intends to retire by April, it's a chance to finally distance his legacy from Jon Jones (while, ironically, potentially bringing him closer to a third fight against him). Cormier has twice come up short against Jones, but if he can beat Miocic on Saturday, he will achieve something significant that Jones never has.
"This is so much bigger than Jon Jones," Cormier told ESPN. "I mean, this is way bigger than him. I never thought I would be able to say that in my career -- that there is something bigger than him. But this is bigger, due to the fact he openly said himself, 'I don't know if I would ever [fight the heavyweight champion].'"
And for Miocic, the steady, non-trash-talking firefighter from the Midwest, this fight is a chance to perhaps prove he can be a mainstream star for the UFC -- something he says he doesn't care about, but which he certainly deserves.
He's defended the heavyweight title more than any champion before him, but the renown that usually comes with that has been slow to arrive. He's said UFC 226 will mark the first time he's truly happy with what his contract will pay him. And although he's the betting favorite, he says he still feels like an underdog based on Cormier's reputation.
"I feel a lot of people are thinking he's going to win," Miocic said. "Just like every fight. I feel like everyone's not giving me a chance, they feel like I've fought washed-up fighters or something like that."
A win over Cormier would elevate Miocic's profile in a way his entire title reign probably hasn't. And it could position him for a title defense against WWE star Brock Lesnar. Or Jones, possibly.
Saturday's headlining superfight is about Miocic's heavyweight title. And it's about a one-night, champion-vs.-champion event. But it will also have a significant rippling effect on both men's legacies -- more than you may have expected for two established, proven champions.
Daniel Cormier is the undisputed "King of the Grind," which is a double whammy in some respects.
Not only does he embrace the grind (meaning, he places you into a steady meat tenderizer for the duration of a fight), he has done so in a division not especially known for its love of the grind.
In other words, most heavyweights don't grind. They prefer to throw in combinations of one, and steal the occasional breather. The big guys are not go, go, go. And when they do happen to find themselves in that kind of fight, they're prone to running out of gas.
Cormier has used this to his advantage. When he fought at heavyweight, and even more recently at light heavyweight, he's set a higher pace than his opponents wished to fight at, and eventually drowned them in it. And in addition to the pace, Cormier holds intangibles like heart, work ethic and a championship mindset -- which sounds cliche, but all of it combined means it's nearly impossible to keep up with him the deeper a fight goes.
Enter Stipe Miocic.
Miocic is one of the few heavyweights who actually has a career work rate similar to Cormier's. One difference, of course, is his fights have generally not lasted as long. So, whether he can maintain that pace for an entire 25-minute fight with Cormier, we'll see. But the point is, he's not a slow, plodding heavyweight.
Cormier's equalizer may need to be his wrestling. If the former Olympic wrestler can take Miocic down with any consistency, he can sap the heavyweight champ's energy level and eventually turn the fight into the smothering performance we're accustomed to seeing from Cormier. But if he has no success getting Miocic to the floor, his pace won't have the same effect it usually does.
Because if it comes down to Cormier winning exclusively on the feet, that's a dangerous proposition. Miocic throws accurate, compact punches that somehow still carry a ton of power.
Prediction: Miocic by decision.