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September 25, 2018

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At UFC 226, Cormier and Miocic put their belts and legacies on the line

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Steve Marcus

Stipe Miocic of Independence, Ohio celebrates after defeating Shane Del Rosario of Ivine, Calif. during UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday, May 26, 2012.

UFC 226

• When: Saturday, July 7

• Where: T-Mobile Arena

• Schedule: UFC Fight Pass preliminary bouts, 3:30 p.m.; Fox Sports 1 preliminary bouts, 5 p.m.; pay-per-view main card, 7 p.m.

• Pay-per-view: $64.99 HD, $54.99 standard

• Tickets: $90-$805; tmobilearena.com

• Other main-card bouts: Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega for the featherweight championship; Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis; Anthony Pettis vs. Michael Chiesa; Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Roundtree

So much for Conor McGregor being the only current fighter capable of headlining a massive UFC event.

That perception should be shattered with the topper of this year’s International Fight Week—Saturday night’s UFC 226 pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena. For the first time in promotional history, the heavyweight and light heavyweight champions will square off against each other.

Here’s a closer look at Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier heading into their showdown.

Stipe Miocic

• Heavyweight Champion

• 36 years old

• 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

• Fighting out of Independence, Ohio

• 13-2 MMA, 12-2 UFC

Before fighting: Formulating a list of sports in which Miocic hasn’t excelled would be easier than listing all of his athletic accomplishments. He was a two-sport athlete at Cleveland State University—wrestling and playing third base for the baseball team. He also tried out boxing after college, advancing to the national quarterfinals of the Golden Gloves tournament before focusing on mixed martial arts.

Career highlight: Miocic dominated Francis Ngannou in January, winning every round for a lopsided unanimous decision despite coming into the bout as an underdog. The victory was his third straight defense of the heavyweight title, a feat no previous champion had ever pulled off.

Career low point: UFC journeyman Stefan Struve spoiled Miocic’s first headlining bout in September 2012 by catching him with a flurry of punches for a stunning second-round TKO upset victory. Miocic almost immediately fixed the areas that failed him against Struve, namely his defense and conditioning, but the perplexing defeat still illustrates the inherent volatility of a heavyweight fight.

What’s at stake at UFC 226: The longest reign in heavyweight history and the belt that comes with it. Win or lose, Cormier will leave T-Mobile Arena a champion, as his light heavyweight belt is not up for grabs. That’s not true for Miocic, who risked everything by agreeing to the super fight. Seeing his two-year run as champion come to an end against an opponent from a smaller weight class would be devastating.

Final word: “He goes for broke, and I go for broke. We’re going to go out there and lay it all on the line. I’ll walk out with the belt still wrapped around my waist, and everything’s going to change.”

Click to enlarge photo

Light Heavyweight Title fighter Daniel Cormier checks his eye after an accidental poke from Jon Jones during their UFC182 fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, January 2, 2014.

Daniel Cormier

• Light Heavyweight Champion

• 39 years old

• 5-foot-11, 205 pounds

• Fighting out of San Jose, California

• 20-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC

Before fighting: “DC” spent a decade competing at wrestling’s highest levels before entering the cage. He won two national championships at Colby Community College and was named an All-American at Oklahoma State. That led to an Olympic career; Cormier made the United States national team for both the 2004 games in Athens and the 2008 games in London.

Career highlight: Cormier realized his dream of hoisting a championship belt in May 2015 when he submitted Anthony Johnson via rear-naked choke for an upset victory at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Possessing a title looked out of the question only four months earlier when Jon Jones defeated Cormier in a light heavyweight championship bout at the same venue. But Jones was forced to vacate the belt after being arrested for a hit-and-run, giving Cormier a second chance on which he capitalized.

Career low point: The only two setbacks of Cormier’s time in MMA have come against archrival Jones. The latest, which took place last July, was particularly devastating, as Cormier was knocked out for the first time in his career, leading many to believe he would retire. Cormier received a reprieve, however, when Jones tested positive for a banned substance post-fight for the second time. The loss was overturned to a no contest, and the title returned to Cormier.

What’s at stake: His legacy, and maybe his career. With a victory, Cormier would join McGregor as the only fighters in UFC history to simultaneously hold belts in two different weight classes, which would secure his spot in the pantheon of all-time greats. A loss could end Cormier’s career, as he has insisted he doesn’t want to fight once he turns 40 in March.

Final word: “If I become the heavyweight champion and the light heavyweight champion, I’m not only the baddest man on the planet; I may be the greatest fighter of all-time—holding two belts, that’s history.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.