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UFC 241 predictions, preview, and analysis

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will stage its UFC 241: “Cormier vs. Miocic 2” pay-per-view (PPV) event this Sat. night (Aug. 17, 2019) inside Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., featuring the heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic.

“DC” stopped the part-time firefighter at UFC 226 last summer to claim the crown, then went on to defend it against Derrick Lewis a few months later. Miocic, meanwhile, opted to ride the pine until the promotion honored his request for an immediate rematch.

In the UFC 241 co-main event, Anthony Pettis will continue to do work at welterweight, a division not unfamiliar with the exploits of former lightweight slugger Nate Diaz, who makes his first appearance since wrapping up his Conor McGregor duties back in late 2016.

Before we start breaking down the UFC 241 main card, take a look at what Patrick Stumberg, who lives life like he’s stuck in Jumanji, had to say about this weekend’s “Prelims” on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for all the “Cormier vs. Miocic 2” action can be located here.

Let’s get to work.

265 lbs.: UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel “DC” Cormier (22-1, 1 NC) vs. Stipe Miocic (18-3)

Daniel Cormier stopped Stipe Miocic when they first fought for the heavyweight title last July. In order to build a case for a different outcome, namely a Miocic victory, we must first determine whether A) “DC” got lucky or B) captured the crown simply by being the better fighter. I don’t think anyone would call it luck, based on what the Olympian has done throughout his storied mixed martial arts (MMA) career, which means Miocic will have to be a better version of the fighter he was heading into UFC 226. Evidence to suggest he’s accomplished that goal remains scarce, as the Modelo spokesman opted to sit out until matchmakers granted him an immediate rematch. Is a longer, more disciplined fight camp enough to pull even with Cormier? Probably not, especially considering “DC” took a bout during that same span. Sure, it was an easy day at the office, but so was his Miocic fight.

I know it’s still hard for some fans to accept it, but Cormier is probably the second best fighter on the planet, behind Jon Jones. He’s fast, hits with power, and boasts Olympic-caliber wrestling. Five rounds is no issue for the longtime American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product and Miocic doesn’t have any of the intangibles that a fighter like “Bones” brings to the cage. Granted, the former champion performs at a very high level and has tremendous boxing, but his paint-by-numbers attack is hardly the kind of offense that will keep Cormier on his back foot. Miocic will have to stop the takedown, work the jab, and somehow keep “DC” from closing the distance. I’m not sure that’s something that can be sustained for 25 minutes and I really don’t see the champion being lazy enough to fall victim to the one-hitter quitter.

I’m just going to be blunt here. Miocic, who turns 37 in less than a week, came into UFC 226 as the most successful UFC heavyweight of all time, winning six straight with five finishes and notching three successful title defenses. And even at his peak, he was still put down by Cormier with relative ease. What can he bring to the table that wasn’t already there at UFC 226? Nothing, and I don’t know if I would bet the underdog on something like “Well this time it’s personal!” Cormier is the better fighter and is more cerebral inside the cage. I do think a smarter gameplan keeps Miocic from kissing the canvas, but he’s going to be outworked for all five rounds en route to a sweep on the judges’ scorecards.

Prediction: Cormier def. Miocic by unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Nate Diaz (19-11) vs. Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (22-8)

It would be unusual to pick a fighter coming off the bench after three years of inactivity, particularly in a sport as unforgiving as MMA. Precision, timing, and of course, conditioning, are difficult to replicate outside the combat sports environment and no matter how good a training camp is, there is simply no substitute for in-cage experience. Then I got to thinking about Nate Diaz and well, he doesn’t really fight like a technician anyway. He’s more like a professionally trained street fighter who can pull a rabbit out of his grappling hat if the situation calls for it (see McGregor, Conor). He’s also one of those cardio lunatics who competes in triathlons like XTERRA because he’s bored. Coupled with his job as a jiu-jitsu coach, you can expect Diaz to be ready to fight tomorrow night in Anaheim.

Will it be enough? That’s hard to say. Anthony Pettis has been all over the map — literally — so it’s difficult to know where he stands at this stage of his UFC career. I know the “Showtime” camp will tell you he’s “back” after he laid waste to Stephen Thompson at UFC Nashville, but they said the same thing in the wake of his featherweight win over Charles Oliveira at UFC on FOX 21. Pettis has not won back-to-back fights in nearly five years across a span of 10 fights, and let’s be honest here, this is not a legitimate welterweight contest. This is a bout between two lightweights who don’t want to stop eating carbs. That’s better for Pettis, who retains most (if not all) of his power, though I’m not sure a knockout is a realistic goal against a gamer like Diaz.

The problems Pettis had as lightweight champion have not magically disappeared with a change in weight classes. “Showtime” does his best work when his opponents give him room to breathe, which is how we end up with so many highlights, including his off-the-fence kick against Benson Henderson. But trying to find those openings while getting peppered with rat-tat-tat punches and fade away bitchslaps can be a daunting task. Diaz likes to get up close and personal, disrupting the rhythm while talking trash. A lot of fans think Diaz talks shit because he’s an asshole when in reality, it’s mental warfare and a tried-and-true tactic to disrupt focus, like those weird howls Bruce Lee used to emit with every strike. Pettis might have the cleaner, more polished offense, but this is a cage fight, not a taekwondo tournament. Barring an unexpected takedown, this fight will be three rounds of a frustrated Pettis trying to get out of first gear.

Prediction: Diaz def. Pettis by unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Paulo “The Eraser” Costa (12-0) vs. Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero (13-3)

I can’t believe the betting line is so close for this fight. Paulo Costa is only a +120 underdog when in reality he should be +500. That’s right folks, “The Eraser” is going to have his mind erased by Yoel Romero — who may be shorter but has the longer reach — and it’s going to be one of those violent knockouts that has you questioning your love of MMA. Think I’m being too harsh? Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

Costa has just four fights inside the Octagon. His first two wins came over Garreth McLellan and Oluwale Bamgbose, who are no longer with UFC. Probably because they are a combined 1-7 dating back to 2016. His third win came over Johny Hendricks, a natural welterweight who retired from UFC after losing seven of 10, only to get knocked out in his bareknuckle boxing debut. Costa’s fourth and final win came over Uriah Hall, who is not even ranked in the Top 10 and sports a .500 record in UFC middleweight fights. This is the kind of resume that has people talking about title shots?

Times like this I wish my column came with a laugh track.

Romero has been competing against the best of the best, including a pair of five-round wars against reigning middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker. Outside of his “Reaper” fights, “Soldier of God” laid waste to three former UFC champions. His wrestling was good enough to earn him an Olympic medal and the Cuban hits so hard, I hear they still haven’t found all of Luke Rockhold’s teeth. Probably because they haven’t yet looked on the moon. The biggest knock on Romero is that his weight cuts are a complete shit show, which makes me wonder just how scary he would be slinging leather at 205 pounds. We may never find out if he murders Costa and Israel Adesanya goes on to upset Whittaker at UFC 243, but let’s not put the cart before the proverbial horse.

Bamgbose landed 33 significant strikes and two takedowns against Costa ... what do you think Romero will do?

Prediction: Romero def. Costa by knockout

145 lbs.: Gabriel “Moggly” Benitez (21-6) vs. “Super” Sodiq Yusuff (9-1)

A lot of fans (and pundits) have already crowned Sodiq Yusuff the next featherweight champion, which is not surprising when you consider his performances inside the cage. After doing enough to impress Dana White on season two of “Contender Series,” Yusuff notched back-to-back wins over Suman Mokhtarian and Sherman Moraes. I don’t want to shit in anyone’s Cheerios, but I need to point out that Mokhtarian was making his UFC debut after failing to make the grade on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27, while Moraes has a losing record inside the Octagon. Probably not the kind of resume that is going to have Max Holloway looking over his shoulder, but we can also recognize that both were, indeed, “Super” performances that demonstrated his maturity as a fighter.

Benitez, on the other hand, has already matured and proven to be one of the tougher outs at 145 pounds. The former TUF: “Latin America” standout has been criminally underutilized by the promotion and has not competed since his lights-out finish over Humberto Bandenay at UFC Santiago back in May 2018. “Moggly” has outstruck six of his seven opponents — even in defeat to the wrestle-heavy Enrique Barzola — but did show a glaring hole in his takedown defense, previously exploited by Clay Collard at UFC 188. I’m not sure that’s going to be much of an issue against Yusuff, who has yet to score a takedown or submission in UFC. Both fighters share a similar height and reach, so it comes down to who has the better hands.

While I don’t think Yusuff has done enough to warrant his considerable hype, he does show a ton of promise. Benitez showcases more nuts-and-bolts offense and can outwork most fighters with his grit, but I think this one gets away from him. Yusuff has more tools in the shed and does a better job of wielding them, so look for a fairly convincing decision handed down after three rounds of fan-friendly action.

Prediction: Yusuff def. Benitez by unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Derek Brunson (19-7) vs. Ian “The Hurricane” Heinisch (13-1)

I hate to be a Negative Nancy right out of the gate, but at age 35, I think we’ve seen the best we’re going to see from Derek Brunson, who crossed over from Strikeforce with pretty high expectations — and failed to live up to any of them. In fact, Brunson was violently finished by most of the major players at 185 pounds, including Robert Whittaker, Israel Adesanya, Yoel Romero, and Ronaldo Souza. The fact that he remains ranked in the Top 10 should give you a pretty good idea of how top-heavy the middleweight division has become in recent years, though Ian Heinisch does have the opportunity to breathe new life into those stagnant waters.

“The Hurricane” is also a graduate of Dana White’s “Contender Series,” thanks to his brutal finish over Justin Sumter last summer. In the wake of that impressive performance, Heinisch drew two Brazilian veterans in the form of Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Jr., resulting in two more victories and a spot in the division Top 10. While his knockouts are the talk of the town, he’s no rookie on the ground, previously recording a pair of scarf-hold armlock submissions while plying his trade on the regional circuit. He also spent time on Riker’s Island, so don’t expect him to be intimidated by the step up in competition — or anything else for that matter.

Brunson is a well-rounded combatant with experience against some of the best fighters in the world. Unfortunately, he does not have the defensive prowess to keep himself off the canvas and simply makes too many mental mistakes when the shit hits the proverbial fan. I would not be surprised to see a closely contested first round as both fighters find their rhythm, but Heinisch is eventually going to settle down, lure Brunson into a fire fight, and land the fight-ending kill shot.

Prediction: Heinisch def. Brunson by technical knockout

There you have it.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 241 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the UFC Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

For much more on UFC 241 click here.

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