ANAHEIM, Calif. — Stipe Miocic waited over a year to face Daniel Cormier again, and his plan for the rematch didn't start to work until they were deep in the fourth round.
That's when the patient, determined firefighter from Cleveland finally got his revenge — and suddenly reclaimed his UFC heavyweight title.
Miocic stopped Cormier with a barrage of punches in the fourth, taking back his championship belt with a comeback victory at UFC 241 on Saturday night.
Miocic (19-3) lost the first two rounds on every judge's scorecard in his rematch with the 40-year-old Cormier (22-2). After making some progress in the third, Miocic steadily came forward through Cormier's blows in the fourth and finally hurt the champion with a punch to the body.
Miocic then landed several powerhouse right hands to Cormier's head, buckling his knees and eventually forcing referee Herb Dean to stop the fight with 51 seconds left in the fourth round. The 6-foot-5 behemoth leaped onto the wall of the cage and celebrated with fans still stunned by the fight's sudden turn.
"I saw some weakness in that third round," Miocic said. "And then in that fourth round, I caught him with that right hand. Thank God, because he's tough."
Miocic reigned as the UFC's heavyweight champion for 26 months, and he defended his belt a UFC-record three consecutive times before Cormier dethroned him in July 2018 with a first-round stoppage victory. Despite Cormier's decisive victory, Miocic campaigned for a rematch and eventually received it when Cormier said he "deserved it."
Cormier's quick hands were the difference early in the rematch. The 5-foot-11 Cormier also picked up his much larger opponent and slammed him onto the canvas during the first round, showing off the elite athleticism lurking in his dad bod.
"He got hit with everything but the kitchen sink, and he managed to stay in the fight," UFC President Dana White said of Miocic.
Miocic landed plenty of shots, but Cormier's blows were more frequent and more impactful — although not much makes an impact on the hulking Miocic. The fight turned quickly and decisively when Miocic finally hurt Cormier, who couldn't recover.
"I took the pressure off a little bit," Cormier said. "I don't know why. Maybe [I] tried to rest and recover for the fifth round, because he wasn't going anywhere. I don't know what the reasoning was, but it was a mistake."
Cormier didn't announce his retirement in the cage afterward, but the former two-belt champion planned to think seriously about quitting MMA after this fight, no matter its outcome. The former Olympic-level wrestler had always planned to get out of the sport before he turned 40, but Cormier pushed his deadline by five months after surgery prevented him from fighting last March.
"A lot of times you base decisions on emotion, and I don't want to be that guy," Cormier said. "I'm going to go back and talk to (my wife) Salina, talk to my coaches and figure out what's next. ... Losing any type of fight for me is terrible, but getting stopped is just insane. That's twice I've been stopped. That's not good. I'm smart enough to understand that."
White won't rush Cormier for a decision.
"I don't want to see him leave," White said. "I still think he's one of the absolute best in the world. Stipe is just one of the best heavyweights ever."