A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 241 on Saturday at Honda Center in Anaheim, California:
Daniel Cormier (22-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Stipe Miocic (18-3)
Class: For Cormier’s heavyweight title
Line: Cormier -140
Storyline: Both fighters came in about 10 pounds lighter than they did for the first meeting a year ago, signifying the emphasis they are placing on speed in the rematch. Cormier answered any questions about his power transferring to the heavyweight division after several years at light heavyweight with a quick knockout of Miocic. Now the questions about Cormier seem to be about motivation. He always said he didn’t want to fight after age 40, and he hit that milestone in March. He’s been champion in two weight classes and can make a case as the best heavyweight in UFC history. He said he’s putting that legacy on the line in every fight, but is that enough to overcome Miocic’s quest for revenge? Miocic probably will try to stay outside after running into danger in the clinch in the first fight.
Anthony Pettis (22-8) vs. Nate Diaz (20-11)
Line: Pettis -135
Storyline: It has been three years since Diaz’s last fight, a loss to Conor McGregor in their rematch of a bout that Diaz won. It’s unclear what he’s been doing since that loss. He said he has been training and waiting for the right opportunity, but there were skeptics after he smoked what he said was a CBD joint during open workouts this week. Pettis is dangerous as a striker and is a threat on the ground. It’s why the matchup finally was enough to get Diaz to end his hiatus. It seems like a poor matchup for Diaz with those factors going against him, but he always appears ready to fight no matter what else is going on. He’s always in phenomenal shape and puts opponents on their heels with volume striking. Pettis probably will try to counter with leg kicks, especially early, an attack to which Diaz has shown vulnerability.
Yoel Romero (13-3) vs. Paulo Costa (12-0)
Line: Romero -160
Storyline: None of Costa’s UFC opponents have withstood his pressure and power, as he has left a string of beaten and battered bodies in his wake. Romero is not just another speed bump. He is by far the most difficult matchup to date for Costa, who never has been out of the second round in his pro career. Romero is a perennial contender whose only two losses in the past eight years have been against champion Robert Whittaker. He has been knocked out only once, in 2011. He dealt with cardio issues earlier in his career, but has mitigated it by employing a more cautious approach early in fights. Costa should look to exploit that and come out swinging. The two might be the division’s most powerful fighters, so don’t be surprised if the bout doesn’t go the distance.
Gabriel Benitez (21-7) vs. Sodiq Yusuff (9-1)
Line: Yusuff -260
Storyline: This would be a fight-of-the-night favorite if Pettis and Diaz weren’t matched up. Yusuff is a massive prospect with tremendous power for the division. The biggest key for him will be controlling distance. He will look to cut off the cage and stay inside as much as possible to limit Benitez’s top weapon, his left foot. If Benitez can’t create the space to make that effective, he could be in trouble. Yusuff also can be effective with his kicks, though the matchup should dictate a more swarming approach to take advantage of his punching ability. He also might attempt an occasional takedown to make Benitez uncomfortable throwing kicks, particularly because Benitez’s takedown defense has been questioned. The winner will have three straight victories and make a major move in the division.
Derek Brunson (18-7) vs. Ian Heinisch (12-1)
Line: Heinisch -150
Storyline: Heinisch has won his two UFC bouts in similar fashion, maintaining his composure through early struggles and wearing down his opponent en route to capturing a decision. He might rely on a similar formula against Brunson, a top 10 veteran who has had cardio issues. The problem is it might be hard to survive the early swarm from someone with as much power as Brunson, whose last six wins have been by knockout. Part of Heinisch’s ability to wear down opponents is the way he maintains a fast pace for three rounds, so if Brunson can’t finish early, he could be in trouble.