ANAHEIM, Calif. — The MMA circle of life ushered in a new star, reacquainted the world with an old one and likely shoved one of its most iconic figures into a well-earned retirement on Saturday at UFC 241 at the Honda Center.
Paulo Costa introduced himself to the MMA world at large with a thrilling Fight of the Night victory over Yoel Romero that should cement his status among the sport’s most exciting fighters.
As good as Costa was, though, he was overshadowed in the co-main event by Nate Diaz.
A bit more than five years ago, UFC president Dana White said in Dublin, Ireland, that Diaz “is not a needle mover.” Diaz’s last two fights prior to Saturday’s match with Anthony Pettis were the second-and-third largest in terms of pay-per-view sales in UFC history.
He hasn’t fought since dropping an agonizingly close decision to Conor McGregor in Las Vegas on Aug. 20, 2016, at UFC 202.
His return was the major story of this event. The crowd roared every time his image was displayed on the video board throughout the arena, and several times during his fight, the crowd chanted “Diaz! Diaz! Diaz!” in tribute.
Whatever issues White saw before no longer exist. He’s a full-fledged star along the lines of a McGregor or a Ronda Rousey.
“He’s a needle mover,” a beaming White said.
Diaz dismantled Pettis, and nearly finished him after connecting with a crippling knee in the third round. It was as if he’d fought 10 times in the last three years, not zero.
He said he hadn’t fought in the last three years because there were no fights that interested him. He criticized his peers for not calling him out and for not having staying power.
“I don’t think they know how to do it,” Diaz said of other fighters failing to seek the toughest fights. “ … They’re scared or something. But like I said, I don’t want to sound all full of myself, and riding around on a high horse and talking s---, but I’ve got way too much money to be fighting someone who is not interesting.”
But the story of the night was the tale of two heavyweights. Daniel Cormier was comfortably ahead of Stipe Miocic on all three scorecards after three rounds in their battle for the heavyweight title in the main event.
But Miocic, who had been regarded as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history prior to his first-round knockout loss to Cormier 13 months ago in Las Vegas, made an adjustment that changed not only the fight but the course of the careers of the two men in it.
Miocic went to the body that began to slow Cormier. The finish came when Miocic crushed Cormier with a hook to the body and then followed with a jab and a right hand. Cormier didn’t see the right and went down.
Miocic, who spent the last year since his loss playing with his infant daughter, Meelah, didn’t waste time finishing. For him, it was a form of vindication, but it was a point of giving Meelah a life lesson. He also felt he owed it to his fellow firemen, who were crushed by his loss.
“There’s a lot of reasons I wanted this fight,” Miocic said. “There are a lot of reasons. It was about me, but it was more. [Cormier] was the better fighter that night. But I wanted to show my daughter that times get tough and you have to dust yourself off and get back up. A bunch of guys at the station, when I lost, they cried. That really bothered me.”
Cormier didn’t cry after this defeat after he did following a 2017 defeat in this building to Jon Jones, but he got emotional at times.
The natural thought was this would mark the end of his career, but he said he didn’t want to make a rash decision. He said he’ll talk to his wife, Salina, his coaches, managers and trusted friends before coming up with a decision.
He turned 40 in March and is widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history. Nothing that happened on Saturday will change that.
“He’s very bummed out, but there’s nothing to be bummed out about,” White said.
One of the reasons Cormier is so great is because he takes losing so personally. That may make him think of making one final run at a belt, but he’s so talented and has done so much for the sport that he has nothing left to do.
The money that would come with another big fight would be attractive but the legacy is secure.
He’s great because he thinks things through and makes the right decision, and that’s what he’ll do in this case.
“Being finished is insane,” he said.
The storybook finish would have been for him to go out on top after a triumphant win. But the fight game isn’t a place for warm and fuzzy happy endings.
Cormier has beaten the game. He’s rich, famous and beloved and is one of the sport’s most iconic figures.
The circle of life in this sport never ends. As one moves out, another moves in.
This may be the last we see of Cormier inside the Octagon, but he set an example for generations to come about how to do it the right way.
More from Yahoo Sports: