Marcus Marinelli is relying on Octagon at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, on August 17, 2019. His boxer, Stipe Miocic, was in a cage, challenging Daniel Cormier for the UFC heavy belt.
In the fourth inning, when Cormier took the lead on all the cards, the Miocic landed with a massive body strike, followed by a stab and right hand into Cormier’s jaw. A few seconds later, the war ended. Miocic won against TKO to reclaim the title he lost against Cormier last summer.
When referee Herb Dean entered to call the fight, Marinelli was defeated. He screams in celebration and starts banging Octagon on the base as best he can. Then, he realized something was wrong inside his rubber gloves.
It was a replacement wedding ring he wore as a coach.
“I was very odd,” said Marinelli. “I was beating that with my hands, like ‘F — yeah!’ I broke my titanium ring into four pieces. It’s in my glove. I’m thinking, how did that piece of metal get in here? “
On Saturday, two days before that one-year victory anniversary, the Miocic will meet again with Cormier to compete for the heavyweight title at UFC 252 in a match that many think could decide who is the heaviest in history MMA.
And the body shots that helped decide the trio’s second leg are the key setting for Saturday’s main event. Cormier even seemed to taunt Miocic during an April interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani when he said Miocic should go get a body check earlier next time.
ESPN interviewed principals regarding the 2019 war for a first-hand look at the tactics that led to the Miocic regaining the title.
Editor’s note: The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Marinelli: After the third round, we were in the corner and I said to the other coaches, ‘Listen, I have to wake Stipe. I have to stabilize his mind. ‘Because he knows what to do, and he knows he can survive out there very well. Our job is to see what he can’t see and keep him safe. I lifted his ass a little bit and was like, ‘Listen, you’re better than this mother — er. You have it in you. You have to go back to what we have to do. ‘It really wasn’t that technical at the time. I know if we can make his mind realize what we should do, then I know it would be good.
Miocic: I remember Marcus saying, ‘Hey, I know you’ve got it in there, you need to bring it out.’ There was also some swearing in it. But he said, ‘I know you have this, you have to pull it out now. Reach deep and embrace it. Just try it. ‘
Javier Mendez, Cormier’s longtime coach at the American Kickboxing Academy: I remember myself and the other ‘Crazy’ coaches Bob Cook, Rosendo Sanchez and Leandro Vieira are going crazy because DC went so far from plan in the second round. He just hit it with him and wanted to beat him. We just begged him to go back to wrestling and do the active work. He’s not listening. He’s very competitive. You can’t say to DC that ‘You can’t beat me this way.’ He would say, ‘Oh no? AGREE.’ He will try to do what we say he can’t. But honestly, most of the time he does what we say he can’t and he succeeds in doing so.
At 1:55 of the fourth inning, Miocic fired a shot into the body, a left hook near Cormier’s liver. It was the Miocic’s first body shot to land since the second half. Five seconds later, the Miocic landed another one.
Dominick Cruz, UFC analyst, during the broadcast: Now he’s thinking, fourth inning, let’s start attacking the body. He realized that DC couldn’t move and dodge them, and he couldn’t counterattack. He just needs to eat them.
Miocic: I caught him once with a body shot on the second. I hit him in the fourth inning and I said, ‘Oh, let me try it again.’ I don’t want to do it too many times, because after a while the well dries up. I hit him again, he frowned. I was like, ‘Oh! OK, I found it. ‘
Marinelli: You could say that he played another field for that fourth inning. Hopefully some of what I say has worked. The proof is in the pudding. He went out there and started to get a little better vision of what was in front of him. Instead of just launching punches, he has a bit better vision and some tactical approaches are starting to come as well.
Cooking: You just know the body shot is not good. To be honest, Daniel fought the first round the way he coached. And he lost his temper a little and was trying to take him down. That became his focus, and he intelligently stopped fighting. It is certainly frustrating. It was DC fighting with emotion rather than intelligence. It was Stipe making some adjustments and digging the body and landing some really nice shots, and DC didn’t make adjustments, just continued on that path, ‘I’ll try to take you down me with my next punch. ‘ That didn’t work out.
Cormier: A full body photo is a picture of the body. But they are not so depressed you cannot fight. He hit me in the stomach, but I still punched him in the face. It’s not like I didn’t hit him. Obviously I noticed them, but I’m not panicking, since he was hitting me.
At 2:22 of the fourth installment, the Miocic landed on the upper left side of the Cormier. Five seconds later, the Miocic lowers another hook to the liver area, followed by another.
Cruz: That hurts DC. The current [Miocic has] Adjustments have been made. Smart from that Stipe.
Marinelli: We told Stipe to continue looking for body photos. And we were actually looking for that right hand [to the head] after that, because I can see Stipe hit him so hard and you can see Cormier’s body position change. Cormier beautifully cocked his head from his right hand and furniture, but then it did not move. So we tried to get Stipe to confess.
Miocic: All is good training. They tell me what I need to see and the like. They have helped me throughout my training career, during the game. They told me, if you see this, you see that, move on to this. You see loopholes, let’s move on to this one. You have a plan. Sometimes those plans don’t work and you turn to other plans.
The Miocic performs a hard left hook at 2:48 of the fourth inning, followed by three seconds later and another three seconds thereafter. Another hard shot takes place at 3:13 and another at 3:18. Cormier turned with two strong punches in the face of Miocic, one right and then left.
Mendez: I just saw the removable DC power source. Along with the matches he fought, those scenes made DC even more tired. When you are influenced by clean shots, I don’t care how great in shape you are. Many of those pictures will take you a long time. If you’re tired, it gets even worse. I kept begging him to go back to wrestling. Wrestle and mix everything up. You are coming and just punching the guy. You don’t rock anymore. ‘I need you to get back to MMA – it’s MMA.’ Do everything. I can’t remember word for word what I said, but I can tell you I want what he did in the first round.
Marinelli: You must have a vision of your playing field. I think Stipe finally has a vision of that playing field. Sometimes when you get caught up in that chaos, you react with chaos. That’s what happened in the first three innings.
Stipe Miocic said that dancing after he took down Daniel Cormier was “stupid” and he “shouldn’t have done that.”
At 3:46 of the fourth installment, the Miocic lowered a left shovel hook, almost like an upper cut, into Cormier’s body and then followed with his right hand. Miocic shot Cormier straight, crossed the corner, then cleared the ball with 1-2 – a hit, then a cross on the right – at 3:59. Combination shook Cormier, and that was the beginning of the end.
Miocic: I saw him frown, that’s why I left. It took me 3 rounds to tilt to the left. I hit him 1-2 and he caught his chin. It worked very well.
Cormier: Great body photos. But I always say, you can’t get punches in a row. That’s when it became an issue. I have no shape. If I hadn’t been too tired, I might have fought over that. I may have shot one leg [takedown attempt] or something to try and keep yourself in the fight. But everything that was comfortable in the training camp did not allow me to do that.
Miocic grieved to see that Cormier was injured. He landed with his right hands and then a series of levers. Dean stepped in and started the match at 4:09 of the quarter. After 14 body shots and some great finishes, the Miocic regained the heavyweight title.
Marinelli: We’ve been doing body shots since the day Stipe walked into the gym. He’s really good at body shots. We work with them all the time. But Stipe made that call. I saw it in front of me. We wanted him to go to the body – we called it before. But he was the one who saw it and made the call. His combat IQ is extremely high.
Cormier: I think I fought in the stupidest war I’ve ever fought. My hand was low. I still have some injuries after back surgery [in December 2018]. There’s a lot of comfort in my training camp. And because of that comfort, I lost my physique. I’ve had to have some really serious questions about myself lately with Bob Cook.
I injured my body, then I hurt my head. And one of the reasons I fell was because I was tired. I’ve been injured worse in many situations and have fought my way. Alexander Gustafsson injured me worse than I was injured there. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson hurt me a lot. Even when Jon Jones kicked me in the head, I was injured even more and I was trying to take him down and hit back. I’ve had a better heart rate.
The Miocic raised her hand and performed a belt-like movement. He implements an Irish jig in the center of an Octagon, which he later says he regrets.
Joe Rogan, UFC Analyst, during the broadcast: Wow! Those annoyed left hands began to drain the barrel and then Stipe poured it over and regained his title.
Cruz: It’s not an easy thing to do. DC fought an utopian war. The whole time he is ahead – until Stipe makes adjustments.
Marinelli: There are a lot of emotions there. I can feel Stipe’s glee. It’s like, ‘oh my gosh’ – unbelievable.