Miocic stops Cormier, reclaims heavyweight belt at UFC 241

Daniel Cormier, right, fights Stipe Miocic during a heavyweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 226, Saturday, July 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Stipe Miocic stopped Daniel Cormier with a barrage of punches in the fourth round, reclaiming his heavyweight title with a stunning comeback victory at UFC 241 on Saturday night.

Nate Diaz also returned from a three-year hiatus with a dominant decision victory over Anthony Pettis at Honda Center.

Miocic (19-3) appeared to be losing the first three rounds of his rematch with the 40-year-old Cormier (22-2), who added the heavyweight belt to his light heavyweight title by stopping Miocic in the first round in July 2018.

In the rematch, the determined firefighter from Cleveland kept coming forward through Cormier’s blows and finally hurt the champion with a punch to the body. Miocic then landed several powerhouse right hands to Cormier’s head, buckling his knees and eventually forcing referee Herb Dean to stop the fight with 51 seconds left in the fourth round.

Miocic was the UFC’s heavyweight champion for 26 months, and he defended his belt three times before Cormier dethroned him last year. Despite Cormier’s decisive victory, Miocic campaigned for a rematch and eventually received it when Cormier said he "deserved it."

Cormier’s quick hands were the difference early in the rematch. The 5-foot-11 Cormier also picked up the 6-foot-5 Miocic and slammed him onto the canvas during the first round, showing off the elite athleticism lurking in his dad bod.

Miocic landed plenty of shots, but Cormier’s blows were more frequent and more impactful — although not much makes an impact on the hulking Miocic. The fight turned quickly and decisively when Miocic finally hurt Cormier, who couldn’t recover.

Cormier didn’t announce his retirement in the cage afterward, but the former two-belt champion planned to think seriously about quitting MMA after this fight, no matter its outcome. The former Olympic-level wrestler had always planned to get out of MMA before he turned 40, but Cormier pushed his deadline by five months after surgery prevented him from fighting last March.

Right before Miocic’s win, the 34-year-old Diaz (20-11) cemented his wild popularity with an impressive performance in his first fight since he split a pair of bouts with Conor McGregor in 2016.

Diaz punished Pettis (22-9) in standup striking and on the ground, winning 30-27 on two judges’ scorecards and 29-28 on the third. Fighting through a serious cut near his eye, Diaz repeatedly hurt the former lightweight champion and nearly got a finish several times in the third.

"I wasn’t sure if there would be some rust or not, so I just treated it like there might be," Diaz said. "I didn’t want to sit around and think about it. Just ignore it and go."

Diaz’s popularity didn’t wane while he declined a series of matchups over the last three years. He sounds interested in fighting more frequently now, and he used his post-fight interview to call out Jorge Masvidal, another popular veteran brawler.

Unbeaten Brazilian middleweight Paulo Costa won a bruising decision over Cuba’s Yoel Romero in a long-anticipated fight that was also worth the wait. Three previous bookings of this matchup fell through due to injury, but the two cartoonishly muscled 185-pounders captivated the crowd with a spectacularly physical fight that Costa won 29-28 on all three scorecards.

Khama Worthy, a 32-year-old veteran making his UFC debut on short notice, pulled the upset of the night with a first-round knockout victory over touted prospect Devonte Smith on the undercard.

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