Stipe Miocic (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 226 Preview and Predictions

UFC 226 has all the makings of being a true summer blockbuster for the UFC as the card features two stellar title fights along with a number of marquee match-ups. Headlining the card is a true superfight as two of the best fighters in their divisions face off against one another when UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic defends his heavyweight title against UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel “DC” Cormier. Before becoming UFC light heavyweight champion, Cormier enjoyed a perfect 13-0 run at heavyweight, including becoming the winner of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. While “DC” dropped to 205 pounds and dominated the competition, Miocic suffered a few setbacks in his rise to the top but is currently riding a six-fight winning streak that saw him become the only man to defend the UFC heavyweight title more than two times.

The evening’s co-main event also features a title fight as two of the most exciting featherweights in the world square off when UFC champion Max “Blessed” Holloway faces rising contender Brian “T-City” Ortega. Holloway is in the midst of an impressive 12-fight winning streak, including back-to-back TKO finishes of former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Holloway has become a true fan-favorite for his personality outside the cage along with his performances once the Octagon door closes. Opposing him will be another fan-favorite as “T-City” sports an undefeated record and has finished his last six opponents before the final bell. Included in those finishes are MMA veteran Clay Guida and top featherweight contenders Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar.

Also on the card is potential “Knockout of the Year” candidate with Derrick Lewis facing Francis Ngannou, a lightweight contest between Michael Chiesa and former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis and the UFC 226 opener features former TUF finalist Khalil Rountree Jr. facing off against former GLORY kickboxing champion Gokhan Saki.


The 12-fight event kicks off with three bouts streaming live on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET. Four additional prelims follow on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card concludes on pay-per-view beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

Light heavyweight titleholder Daniel Cormier steps up to the heavyweight division to challenge current kingpin Stipe Miocic. Does Cormier become a two-division champion?

Quiggins: It’s been years in the making but the UFC has finally set up a “superfight” worth watching in this main event clash of Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. Miocic, win or lose, will go down in the history books as being the first UFC heavyweight champion to defend his belt more than twice. Cormier, on the other hand, is widely considered to be one of the best fighters around and seems to be getting better with age.

This is a tough one to talk about for a few simple reasons. Miocic has shown the heart and determination needed to continue reigning above the elite in the heavyweight division. He has dispatched former champions in Fabricio Werdum and Junior Dos Santos, both in the first round. His devastating knockout of Alistair Overeem is still one of the defining moments of his career and his round-by-round dismantling of Francis Ngannou showed a fight IQ very rare in the heavyweight division. But he may be facing a new challenge in Cormier, who’s wrestling will certainly be the key to his victory in this bout. Add in the fact that Cormier previously fought at heavyweight and certainly Cormier has an advantage right? Not so fast.

It has been five years since Cormier stepped inside the cage with a heavyweight when he fought Roy Nelson all those years ago. Cormier never had to face an agile heavyweight like he will when he takes on Miocic. His win over former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir came in the middle of Mir’s four-fight losing streak. His win over another forner UFC champion in Josh Barnett, albeit incredibly impressive, was a long time ago. This is where Cormier’s past at heavyweight is going to come at more of a hindrance than an advantage.

Cormier knows that he can hang with the elite of the division at light heavyweight and save his duo of bouts with Jon Jones, he implements his game plan very well, even surprising with his striking in his last bout against Volkan Ozdemir. Cormier has the tools to win this fight but it seems harder and harder to bet against Miocic. Miocic has a quickness that escapes most heavyweights and this isn’t a secret to Cormier. It’s highly doubtful that this fight sees a finish either, as both men are no strangers to five-round wars. In the end, I think that just like with Ngannou, Miocic will pick his shots well and defend as many takedowns as he can from Cormier. It’s a tough bet because DC could win this fight, but I am going to be going with Miocic to be getting his fourth title defense in what could be a fight for the ages.

Symes: This fight is truly tough to call as Mr. Quiggins points out. There are plenty of convincing arguments to make for both sides as to who should win this superfight. Miocic has been extremely impressive during his UFC title run, stopping a host of former UFC champions and taking out arguably one of the most terrifying men in MMA history, Francis Ngannou.

Likewise, “DC” has taken out everyone he’s faced that isn’t Jon Jones. He’s also enjoyed a great deal of success at heavyweight earlier in his career, capped off by winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix along with defeating former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir and former TUF winner Roy Nelson. As Matt points out, DC hasn’t competed at heavyweight in four years and while normally I’d say fighters might need some time to adjust to a new weight class, I don’t believe Cormier will feel out of place by not leaning on a towel to make 205 pounds (I kid, I kid). We’ve known for quite some time the weight cuts have been a major hindrance on Cormier and I don’t believe Cormier’s work ethic and competitive edge will slack because he can actually enjoy a well-rounded meal during training camp. If anything, we may see an improved Cormier due to him being able to spend his training camp focusing on techniques and gameplans as opposed to worrying about defeating the scale before his opponent.

With that said, I think Miocic is the perfect heavyweight to defeat Cormier. He’s fast enough to keep up with the speed of Cormier, he’s light enough to maintain a solid pace over the course of five rounds and he has the heart not to wilt under the constant forward pressure of Cormier. There are two X factors in this fight, with the first being Cormier’s wrestling. Miocic has never faced anyone who could really threaten him with a takedown like Cormier. If he finds his feet out of position, don’t be surprised to see Cormier throwing Miocic through the air like he has with Josh Barnett and Alexander Gustafsson. The other X factor for me is the war of attrition both men have or haven’t been through. Cormier has been through a number of tough fights such as his battles with Jones, his bout with Gustafsson and nearly getting his head taken off by one of the hardest punchers in MMA history, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. The training practices at American Kickboxing Academy are also notoriously grueling and unforgiving on the human anatomy. Meanwhile outside of the first rounds of the Ngannou and Overeem fights, Miocic has been able to avoid taking any major damage during his recent run.

Cormier winning wouldn’t surprise me, but I’m going to pick Miocic in this one.

Brian Ortega has marched his way to a featherweight title shot following victories over Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar. Will Ortega maintain his unblemished record and claim the crown when he meets Max Holloway in the evening’s co-headliner?

Symes: What a barnburner this could be, eh? With superfights and money fights becoming the norms in the language of MMA, this truly feels like a big fight that’s about the thing that used to matter the most in MMA, a title belt. I’m okay with the UFC making big fights outside of straight up title fights but when the prize everyone is supposedly chasing after suddenly means as much as an interim belt, it kind of undercuts the whole “sport” aspect of the UFC. But that’s a discussion for another time.

In this bout you have two fighters who are riding incredible waves of momentum. In Max Holloway, you have a fighter with an incredible winning streak (12!) defending his title against a surging contender in Brian Ortega, a fighter who’s yet to taste defeat in MMA. Both guys have shown the ability to stop their opponents by (T)KO or submission so it would come as no surprise to me if this fight were to be stopped at any moment. That’s part of what makes this exciting. Besides two young guns at the top of their game facing one another, it’s a fight that you don’t want to blink during for fear you might miss something.

The winner of this fight is going to be the one who wins the inevitable scrambles, both on the feet and on the ground. We’ve seen what Ortega can do if you give him just an inch of space when grappling and we’ve seen Holloway put his opponents away when he realizes they’re done. I imagine these scrambles occurring both on the mat, with Ortega looking to lock in a submission with Holloway aiming to avoid any prolonged time on the mat, and on the feet with both fighters looking to score damaging blows while avoiding the receipt from one another. Both fighters have experience going to the later rounds but I’m not sure if Ortega is ready for the pressure Holloway will bring in the later rounds. I fully expect Ortega to show he belongs as a top contender and possibly set up a rematch down the road. This fight is going to be a close one on the judge’s scorecards and don’t be surprised if the Monday morning headlines are filled with breakdowns of how analysts scored each of the rounds.

Quiggins: I will have to agree 100 percent with my colleague on this one and I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. Max Holloway is the featherweight champion that the UFC needs right now. He is marketable, charismatic, exciting, and he does this strange thing where he actually defends his title. Who would have thought?!

Every single time that I have bet against Ortega, he has proved me and the world wrong in devastating fashion. His last win over Frankie Edgar really showed that he is no longer the dark horse or just a rising prospect; he is a true contender and fully deserving of this title shot.

With that being said, Holloway isn’t going to let anyone take that title from him for a while.

Ortega’s best chances here will come due to his submission skills and the fact that Holloway has some lengthy extremities that I’m sure Ortega will be looking to lock up. Holloway will look to keep the pressure on Ortega but will be smart enough to not engage Ortega on the ground where I feel he is most dangerous. It may be bold but look for Holloway to end this fight in the closing minutes of the fourth round by TKO.

Does the heavyweight battle between Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis live up to expectations and end in a knockout? If so, who scores the big finish?

Quiggins: This is another tough one. Everyone thought that Ngannou was going to steal the belt away from Miocic in his last bout but was exposed for his lack of cardio. Lewis, on the other hand, is fighting in his second bout since announcing his pseudo-retirement after his loss to Mark Hunt back in June of 2017 and coming off a big win against Marcin Tybura back in February.

Plainly put, the only way that this fight lives up to its expectations is with a first-round knockout. There is no other way around it. The previous cardio issues will start to show later in the second and third rounds and that is the last thing the fans will want to see unless both men have grown strides. I’m going to take Ngannou in this one. The last man to defeat him is fighting in the main event and his eyes are going to be set on redemption.

Symes: This has the feeling of being one of those fights you hype up to your friends as “someone is going to sleep” and then it turns into a snoozer. The expectation for a spectacular knockout is so high with this, anything less is going to feel like a disappointment. Both guys are equally frightening when standing on their feet, but could we see one go for a takedown? Lewis has shown a knack for doing unconventional things like takedowns and flashy attacks and you have to wonder if Ngannou wants to show that he’s dedicated himself to becoming a well-rounded MMA fighter, not just a terrifying puncher. I think Lewis finds himself in trouble early but gets in enough offense and mixes in some grappling to take home the victory.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 226?

Symes: Can I take the cheap way out and say the fans? UFC 226 (on paper) has the makings of being one of the best cards in recent memory. We were saying the same thing about UFC 225 but it seems as though the hype oversold the eventual results. With UFC 226, there’s something for everyone. You have Lando Vannata vs. Drakkar Klose and Dan Hooker vs. Gilbert Burns highlighting the UFC Fight Pass portion of the card. Following that you have guys like Raphael Assuncao, Rob Font, Paul Felder, Mike Perry, Uriah Hall and The Brazilian Incredible Hulk Paulo “Borrincha” Costa all competing on cable TV. On the pay-per-view card, Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree Jr. has the makings of “Fight of the Night” before Michael Chiesa and Anthony Pettis put on an entertaining fight. The evening will be capped off by two title fights including a true superfight between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. AND, before those you have Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis. I know it’s entirely possible but how do you not enjoy every part of this fight card?

Quiggins: My excitement for this card has been curbed for a while due to all the injuries that seem to occur leading up to the fights. But honestly, the biggest winner will have to be the fans and the fighters alike. For once, a superfight is happening with pertinent relevance to the divisions. Jon Jones will fight again and his trilogy bout with DC could potentially ride on a DC win. The light heavyweight division would have no one sitting on the throne with plenty of challengers waiting for their chance. It moves every division involved along in the right way.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 226?

Quiggins: There are a lot of people who are going to disagree with me here but I think the biggest loser is going to be Mike Perry. Perry has dropped his last three bouts and while all have been exciting, he needed a big win over a relevant opponent within his division. Instead, Yancy Medeiros gets pulled and is replaced with Paul Felder, a true lightweight. Perry has a lot more pressure on his shoulders now due to taking on the short-notice Felder. If Perry wins, he beat a relevant guy but in the wrong weight class. If Perry loses, it may end up leading to his exit from the promotion. Perry will need a quick finish and a short turnaround fight in order to maintain his status in the division and the UFC.

Symes: Although it kills me to say it, I’ll say Daniel Cormier will be the biggest loser. I’m only saying that because if he loses against Stipe Miocic, the big money fights with Brock Lesnar and a potential third bout with Jon Jones all but go down the drain. Cormier has said he might hang up the gloves if he doesn’t get his hand raised Saturday night and you’d hate to see one of the all-time greats leave. But if it does in fact happen, Cormier is already set with a coaching gig at AKA and has been one of the best media personnel the UFC has used during its broadcasts.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Symes: The sleeper fight for me is Lando Vannata vs. Drakkar Klose. Fighting on Fight Pass means you have zero to little hype heading into the event and unless you do something spectacular, there will be very little conversation about your bout following the event. That doesn’t seem to be the case with these two exciting fighters facing off against one another.

An honorable mention I’ll note is Paul Felder vs. Mike Perry. This fight has the potential to be an early Fourth of July fireworks show.

Quiggins: I’m gonna have to go with Curtis Millender vs. Max Griffin. Griffin will be looking to notch another win after defeating Perry back in February and Millender will have to work harder to top his knockout victory over former title challenger Thiago Alves. Both of these men are really looking to make a name for themselves within the organization and this is their time to shine.

Pair this card with…

Quiggins: It’s the Fourth of July Weekend (kind of), so pair this with anything other than hot dogs and burgers.

Symes: Thoughts and prayers. No, really. Pray that nobody gets pulled on injury day (aka weigh-in day) and that this card stays intact.

Fight Picks

Fight Quiggins’s Pick Symes’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
HW Championship: Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier Miocic Miocic
FW Championship: Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega Holloway Holloway
HW: Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis Ngannou Lewis
LW: Anthony Pettis vs. Mike Chiesa Chiesa Pettis
LHW: Gökhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree Rountree Saki
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
MW: Paulo Costa vs. Uriah Hall Costa Costa
WW: Paul Felder vs. Mike Perry Perry Felder
BW: Raphael Assunção vs. Rob Font Font Assuncao
WW: Max Griffin vs. Curtis Millender Millender Griffin
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
LW: Gilbert Burns vs. Daniel Hooker Hooker Burns
Women’s StrawW: Emily Whitmire vs. Jamie Moyle Moyle Moyle
LW: Lando Vannata vs. Drakkar Klose Vannata Klose