In the final edition of our six-part series, we look back on Stipe Miocic as he established himself as the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all-time.
Fight-day has arrived. If things didn’t feel as though they were sufficiently hyped then now, with us just hours away from UFC 226, perhaps the sheer magnitude of its main-event fixture will be more apparent.
History will be made one way or another as Daniel Cormier steps up to face the heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. It’s a super-fight that deserves that billing perhaps more than any we have ever seen in this sport before – a true clash of pound-for-pound greats with each of their legacies already set in stone.
A win here would elevate the victor to another level entirely.
With us now up to date on the career of DC, this final part to the Super-Fight Spotlight series will focus on the most recent years of Miocic and how he established himself as the most successful champion in the history of the division.
When we last left him he was in a fit of pure excitement – fresh off of a first-round KO of the legendary Fabricio Werdum and sitting on the side of the octagon with his team roaring ‘I’m a world champ’.
We barely believed it as much as he did. His talents were not in any doubt, but to see him stiffen the great Werdum like that in his home-country of Brazil was a sight in itself.
So Stipe left the venue that night as the new champion of the UFC’s heavyweight division. It was an impressive win, for sure, but virtually no one could have predicted how far this Cleveland-native would run with it.
Heavyweight always seemed to have something of a curse on it. For all the Aldo’s, the GSP’s, and the Silva’s to be found within the lighter weight-classes, the narrow margin for error with the bigger men never allowed one fighter to truly take the division by the scruff of the neck and dominate.
No more than two successful title-defences had been recorded before Stipe came in and made his own slice of history.
Alistair Overeem stood as his first opponent as champion. The Dutchman is, of course, an iconic figure in both MMA and kickboxing and while his physical attributes and ability to take a shot had for sure seen better days when he stepped up to fight for the belt at UFC 203, he was by no means an easy fight.
His approach over the years had seen him develop something of a more conservative style – one that allowed him to protect his limited gas-tank and fading chin but with Miocic – despite cracking him early, he just wasn’t able to keep him off him.
One defence in and already Stipe’s stock had doubled. His first bout as champ was indeed a thrilling matchup but it was also one in which he was able to showcase the improvements he had been making consistently over the course of the last few years. His next outing, however, would be one in which he would be able to get one back over the man who stood as his defining dance-partner during his rise.
Junior dos Santos met Miocic a few years before in an absolute classic over five-rounds. The momentum of that fight ebbed and flowed and while it was close, JDS probably did enough to warrant the victory he was awarded.
The second time around, however, things were very different.
Despite absorbing some pretty vicious leg-kicks at the hands of his Brazilian adversary, it did not take long for Stipe to figure out a way to his admittedly aged opponent’s chin – getting him out of there in the very first round.
The problem that surrounded heavyweight division for quite some time was that weathered fighters who were past their peak were getting into title-contention and getting shots at the belt simply by defeating other weathered fighters and up-and-comers who simply weren’t up to scratch.
JDS came into his fight with Stipe having gone 3-3 in his last six but with no fresh new talent, this was the way things would have to stay.
Francis Ngannou entered that division as perhaps the most exciting new prospect we had seen in years. There was a new era being ushered in at 265lbs. Curtis Blaydes, Tai Tuivasa, Alexander Volkov and more. It seemed as though the old guard were to be swept aside in favour of the new breed and Francis Ngannou was at the very front of that charge.
Stipe fell somewhere between that new wave and old generation. And while he was very much in his prime as an athlete, a surprisingly large portion of the MMA community had picked his opponent to bring his title-reign to a brutal end – just one win short of becoming the first to achieve three defences as champ.
You could even get the sense that the UFC were hoping that the younger, more powerful and, of course, more marketable fighter in Ngannou would get the job done but again, Miocic would not be moved.
Nullifying the power of his fearsome opponent, Stipe passed the most dangerous test of his career with flying colours – beating down his opponent for five-rounds and with that, set up the super-fight we’ll have the honour of watching tonight.
If the fans haven’t gravitated towards this hard-handed heavyweight by now, chances are that a victory over Daniel Cormier won’t change that massively but make no mistake, Miocic is the very best on the planet right now and while virtually nobody will write off DC, this man is the favourite for a reason.
Each edition of this series will be linked below as they are published.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena