UFC 226 might have lost its co-main event with concussion issues around featherweight champion Max Holloway, but the drums beat loudly for two major heavyweight matches here as Stipe Miocic takes on Daniel Cormier in a showdown worth its salt, and two bruisers in Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis meet and thrown down in a fist fight of might. Who lands first in the latter will leave Dodge with his senses.
The main event, though, billed as a super fight, has a white elephant in the room. A long-standing, disappointing, unfulfilling white elephant. A fistful of gold and diamonds. Jon Jones. The absence of Jones, out of the sport on a drugs ban, and a man who has twice bettered Cormier. Dominantly.
Miocic versus Jones really would have been a mega-event for the ages. And yet 'If only...' we will continue to say. Like an eternal return.
Jones, and indeed Conor McGregor - plus the two Diaz brothers - basking those last three in the spoils from their Octagon nights, are arguably the UFC's biggest pay per view draws. The real big sellers. The key is getting them back in the Octagon.
So even if Cormier does emerge victorious here at the T-Mobile Arena, and a grand triumph its would be, there will still be that doubt about his level of greatness given that his nemesis Jones hangs over his career.
Take nothing away from Cormier, and in spite of Jones having been stripped of both the 205 title and the interim belt for testing positive for banned substances, and having fought just twice in the last 30 months, his name is noosed around Cormier's career record. He knows, we know.
For Cormier, it is clearly the most significant fight thus far in a decorated resume. The UFC's light-heavyweight champion has never lost at heavyweight, of course. “This is the biggest fight of my career. I’m fighting the most successful UFC heavyweight champion of all time," offered Cormier. "The baddest man on the planet. Nothing I’ve done to this point is bigger than this."
"The reality is these guys sitting up here doing international fight week, but this is where I lived. I’ve lived in these moments since I started fighting, this is just another fight to me. Saturday I go fight Stipe, great fighter, great champion but I win again.”
— UFC (@ufc) July 6, 2018
Cormier has benefitted from training over the years with former champion Cain Velasquez. “He’s been massive. I rely on my partners for everything that I do, winning or losing. Those guys give every bit of themselves to me. My team are 20 people, it takes a village to build a champion and to get two titles it takes even more. This performance is dedicated to them - my wife, my kids and my team-mates. Without them I couldn’t get it done.”
Cormier believes Velasquez would be champion now if he were not injured. “Yes he would. Listen, Stipe is a great champion, he’s been phenomenal. But I still believe there’s nobody like Valesquez. I’ve trained with him a long time, fought a lot of heavyweights but there’s nobody like him.”
The man known as 'DC' insisted the size is not an issue. “Every person I fight is bigger than me. When’s the last time I was bigger? Last guy I fought who was smaller than me was Jeff Monson. That was in 2010 and I felt like Muhammed Ali out there. It’s the only time I’ve had the reach advantage."
"But these guys are all the same, I approach them the same. Someone asked me what’s my approach to fighting Stipe, it’s going to be the exact same thing. i’m going to go forward, walk him down and exhaust him. I’ll try and take him down, wear him down and pressure fight him. I’m not reinventing the wheel nine years into my career. I’m five eleven, at best, in my tall shoes. I’m a grinder and that’s what I’m going to do to Stipe on Saturday."
Miocic, meanwhile, the record-holding heavyweight champion - with three defences of the crown - plans to finish the night early if he can, with some observers feeling that Cormier can claim a victory by taking the champion into the late rounds, grinding through with his great cardio and wrestling.
“I think everybody wants to get end the night early. Who doesn’t want to get the knockout and go home early, unscathed. I’m going to do what I do," explained Miocic. "Whether it’s knockout, submission or decision I don’t really care, I’m going to get my hand raised.”
There was no animosity between the two men. Just respect. “(Cormier is a ...) great guy. We had a great time on Ultimate Fighter. Listen I’m in the fire department, I get my balls busted everyday. I’m the little guy. They always tell me right after the fight to get to work. Clean the floors or clean the trucks. Nobody is getting under my skin. Only my wife knows that button.”
Cormier is unsure what he will do, should he win. “I’m really selfish and I don’t want to give up one of the belts. It’ll be a fight between Dana and I. We’ll see what happens. Either I fight at 205… I mean I’ve already got a challenger, Derrick Lewis told me he was going to knock me out before we walked out of here."
— UFC (@ufc) July 6, 2018
"I know there are guys who are lined up to fight me. He’s one of the guys sizing me up since I got here. He said “You’re a lot smaller than everyone else”.”
"I haven’t fought at heavyweight in five and a half years. I just know when I went down there were things at 205 that I never felt at heavyweight. Anthony Johnson hit just as hard as any heavyweight I ever fought. Jones did things that I don’t think a heavyweight can do. So I’ve experienced so much more at a much faster pace at 205."
"That’s why I feel good about going back up. I know Stipe is a different kind of heavyweight. I know that he’s fast and I know that he’s quick, but he’s still a heavyweight. And there are things that you see in lower weight divisions that you don’t see in the heavyweight division."
"It’s evolved and that’s why you see guys like Stipe and Cain really sprint out ahead of everybody else because they were before their time. He’s the face of the division, as he should be. He’s a great champion and I’m excited about it.”
Dana White, UFC president, added: "What was awesome was these guys, the heavyweight champion and light heavyweight champion, accepted the fight. After their last fights I thought this was the funnest fight to make. They both agreed to it. Another great heavyweight fight (Ngannou-Lewis). We’ve got Perry vs Felder. We’ve got Chiesa vs Pettis. Prelims are awesome too.”
Dana White weighs in on Max Holloway concussion, gets key to the city of Las Vegas
On the situation surrounding Max Holloway, the UFC featherweight champion who was withdrawn on Wednesday by his team due to concerns of his health, the UFC president added: “It’s concussion related. They haven’t really got down to the bottom of what it is. According to him, he feels fine but obviously he’s not fine. We’re going to continue to try and figure out what’s wrong with Max Holloway. In the mean time there’s no way this guy is going to fight anytime soon.”
“I can’t remember exactly what the time frame is. But he was getting ready for a fight and that fell out, then he was getting ready for another fight and couldn’t make weight, the list goes on and on. The guy’s been training and cutting weight for three fights in a row. It’s very weird, we’ll figure it out.”
"We’re running him through every test there is. I just got in today so I’m still getting in the loop on all the stuff, but he needs to go to a clinic and do a full treatment. He’ll go through every type of testing there is and finding out what’s wrong with him.”
“Originally this happened on Monday. He went through a bunch of tests at the hospital and they thought he was fine. Then they did that interview with Michael Bisping and people started to realise something wasn’t right. They brought him back in and started testing him again.”
It was what it was. Respect to Ortega and his team. Thank you @danawhite and the @UFC staff for making my health priority. Also thank you to @lilheathenmma and @frankieedgar for being about that champ life and stepping up. I see you. To all the fans I know this rollercoaster can pic.twitter.com/I094Gv74CK
— Max Holloway (@BlessedMMA) July 6, 2018
White admitted its is frustrating but these are the variables in fight sports such as mixed martial arts. “It’s impossible to be sure what happened with Holloway doesn’t happen. We’re dealing with human beings. People get sick, things happen. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. There’s nothing you can do about it."
"We’ve done everything we can do to make these guys healthier, to give them a safer place to train and eat the right things for free at the institute. We’ve done everything we can possibly do to limit these things.”
International Fight Week here in Las Vegas also saw notable figures added to the UFC Hall of Fame: Ronda Rousey, Bruce Connell, Art Davie, Dan Henderson, Matt Serra.
It was a week for White to celebrate himself. The key to the city of Las Vegas was presented to him by the mayor, for the industry the UFC has brought to the city. “It’s obviously very special. We’re proud to be from Vegas and as an organisation we try to represent Vegas. It’s an honour and I appreciate it.”
But the show goes on, and it's fight time. Time of the heavyweights.
Listen to the UFC Buzz Podcast on UFC 226, hosted by MMA Correspondent Gareth A Davies