Dubai: They traded bombs, eye pokes and even compliments. But sport is an unforgiving business and only one of them would leave with the heavyweight belt for company.
After 25 minutes of attrition, that man was Stipe Miocic, who willed his way to a hard-earned second successive unanimous-decision victory over Daniel Cormier, one of the greatest fighters of his generation. Perhaps the greatest.
Miocic is a monolith of a man at 6ft 4ins, who looked even bigger and more threatening once a smiling UFC supreme Dana White wrapped the gold-plated belt that weighs around 12lbs and costs $333,000, around his waist.
It was a historic moment in the UFC Octagon as MMA’s most popular promotion were celebrating its newest GOAT (greatest of all time) in the heavyweight division, that had hitherto been derided as weak and lacking depth.
But the final episode in the Miocic versus Cormier trilogy more than succeeded in resurrecting the division that has paraded some of MMA’s greatest fighter such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Randy Couture, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, Josh Barnett and Cain Velasquez.
Has Miocic transcended these Goliaths? Perhaps, but the jury is still out.
He may have beaten Cormier rather convincingly twice in row, but there are many questions that remain unanswered about Miocic v Cormier 3.
Most significantly was an incident towards the end of Round 3 that at the time did not seem anywhere near being critical, but would soon have serious implications on the rest of the fight. At least for Cormier.
As both fighters went for broke, swinging at each other like windmills gone berserk, Miocic’s extended fingers poked Cormier in his left eye, reportedly tearing the cornea.
Referee Mark Goddard was wrong sighted and missed the incident, telling Cormier it was OK and that it was a punch that had landed.
But it was far from that. The poke rendered Cormier blind in his eye for the remaining two rounds and although he did fight back and win the fourth, Miocic was all over him in the fifth to seal his place in history.
OK, so that’s one part of the story. However, what beats me were the tactics that Cormier adopted for this contest.
Cormier is a phenomenal grappler and his wrestling credentials are among the best in the business. But he did not bring them to the Octagon in what was the final fight of his career. Why?
His top game has been immense from day one yet he bizarrely did not employ his skills in Brazilian jiu-jitsu against a rangy fighter like Miocic.
Could there have been a fitness issue that we did not know about? Or was he concerned about his cardio, which takes a hit when you and your opponent are engaged in high-level wrestling? We may never know, because this is the last we’ve seen of a great fighter, at least in his fundamental role as an athlete, and one of the best that the Octagon has been privileged to host. It’s back to DC the UFC analysis from now on.