ANAHEIM, Calif. — Daniel Cormier hoped a second win over Stipe Miocic would solidify his place as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history.
Instead, he found himself without a belt and contemplating his future after Miocic regained the title with a fourth-round knockout in the main event of UFC 241 on Saturday at Honda Center.
In the co-main event, welterweight star Nate Diaz returned to the cage almost three years to the day after he lost a rematch to Conor McGregor and showed no signs of rust, winning a unanimous decision over former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis.
Cormier appeared well on his way to another win over Miocic, whom he took the belt from with a first-round knockout in July 2018, with a dominant first two rounds that included a body slam and several big elbows and punches.
Miocic endured the damage and got back into the fight by establishing body shots, eventually opening up Cormier for the head shots that eventually ended the fight in the fourth.
“He’s a tough guy,” Miocic said after regaining the belt he held from 2016 until losing to Cormier. “I’ve got to give it to him. I saw some weakness in that third round and then in that fourth round I caught him with that right hand, thank god, because he’s tough. It’s a fight, anything can happen. I felt like that hook to the body was hurting him, his hands were dropping, so I came over the top more. My coach told me to use that right hand. I knew I was hurting him, I just had to keep working until something opened up.”
A tearful Cormier stopped short of retiring in the cage after the fight, but the 40-year-old Olympian and former two-division champ said he would make “an educated decision” with his wife.
Diaz guaranteed more big fights in his future with a sparkling comeback.
He seized control of each of the first two rounds by working Pettis to the ground and dominating position with his grappling.
He wore Pettis down enough to dominate on the feet in the final round, almost stopping him with a series of knees along the cage.
Diaz blamed his inactivity on a lack of interesting opponents.
“The reason I was off is because everybody sucked and there was nobody to fight,” he said.
Pettis was intriguing enough to draw Diaz back into the cage, and the win probably sufficed in earning him a place at the front of the line for the monstrous payday of a rubber match against McGregor. But Diaz has another fan favorite in mind, as he called out Jorge Masvidal after his five-second flying knee knockout of Ben Askren last month.
“All respect to the man, but there ain’t no gangsters in his game anymore,” Diaz said. “I know my man’s a gangster, but he ain’t no West Coast gangster.”
Middleweight contender Paulo Costa won the first two rounds of a thrilling slugfest and withstood a strong final round by former title challenger Yoel Romero to win a unanimous decision and remain undefeated.
Both fighters landed monstrous shots, particularly in a wild first round.
Rising featherweight prospect Sodiq Yusuff shook off a knockdown to knock out Gabriel Benitez moments later.
Yusuff found his legs and landed a big right hand before pouncing on Benitez and forcing the stoppage at 4:14 of the first round.
Middleweight contender Derek Brunson earned his second straight win after two consecutive losses with a unanimous decision over Ian Heinisch to open the main card.
Heinisch had won his first two UFC bouts after earning a contract through Dana White’s Contender Series.
The first six fights on the preliminary card went the distance before plus 650 underdog Khama Worthy snapped the trend with a stunning knockout of lightweight prospect Devonte Smith.
Worthy, making his UFC debut, had just accepted the fight this past week against his longtime friend when Smith lost a second opponent in two weeks to injury.
During the run of fights to go to the judges, Cory Sandhagen’s unanimous decision over perennial bantamweight contender Raphael Assuncao carried the most divisional relevance.
Fellow bantamweight Kyung Ho Kang picked up a split decision over Brandon Davis in the only verdict that divided the judges.
Lightweight Drakkar Klose defeated Christos Giagos in the most entertaining bout of the preliminary card.
Sabina Mazo dominated Shana Dobson on her way to a women’s flyweight division win, and Hannah Cifers knocked off Jodie Esquibel in a women’s strawweight bout.
Casey Kenney got the best of Manny Bermudez in a bout that was contested at a 140-pound catchweight after the commission decided before weigh-ins that it would be better than having them both cut to 135 pounds.
Saturday’s main card results at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.:
— Stipe Miocic (19-3) def. Daniel Cormier (22-2, 1 No Contest), knockout, fourth round (4:09), to take Cormier’s heavyweight title
— Nate Diaz (21-11) def. Anthony Pettis (22-9), welterweights, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
— Paulo Costa (13-0) def. Yoel Romero (13-4), middleweights, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
— Sodiq Yusuff (10-1) def. Gabriel Benitez (21-8), featherweights, knockout, first round (4:14)
— Derek Brunson (19-7) def. Ian Heinisch (12-2), middleweights, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)