With UFC 226 just two weeks away, we break down headliners Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier in a pair of three-part series detailing their careers.
Two fighters. Two three-part series designed to take a look at both of the men who will engage in one of the most anticipated fights in the history of mixed martial arts.
As we edge closer to July 7, the achievements of both Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier are really placed into perspective. Both are athletes as decorated as any in the history of the sport and the more we see those promos and advertisements on our screens, the more that the sheer magnitude of this event is hammered home.
On Tuesday we took a look at the early years of the title-challenger, Cormier, as he transitioned from Olympian to heavyweight grand-prix victory and this time around, Stipe’s formative time in the UFC will be in focus.
Miocic always had that ‘underdog’ status tied to him. A truly gritty and immeasurably tough customer, it was almost as if he was too stubborn not to win a UFC title by the end of it all. After establishing himself as the most successful heavyweight champ in the promotion’s history, it’s easy to forget exactly how significant a growth he went through before our very eyes over the years. Taking his setbacks with a healthy mindset, Stipe is an example of what can be achieved through hard-work and perseverance.
Born in Euclid, Ohio to Croatian parents, Miocic actually began his training specifically as a mixed martial artist before zoning in on his skills as a boxer specifically – going on to become Cleveland’s Golden Gloves boxing champion. You can see that traditional pedigree for the sweet science even early on in his run in the UFC – the way he strings combos together effortlessly with excellent technique and poise.
A stint as an NCAA Division I wrestler at Cleveland State followed before he inevitably made his return to training for mixed martial arts.
Stipe is a big, powerful heavyweight and with his background in both boxing and wrestling, he did genuinely seem tailor-made to be an elite talent. Six wins from six on the regional scene saw him finish all of his victims with strikes but when the UFC came calling, he entered the fray with only a moderate level of hype behind him.
And that suited Stipe just fine.
His opening trio of UFC wins saw him encounter little in the way of adversity as he showed his slick boxing and countering ability to take home wins over Philip DeFries, Joey Beltran, and Shane Del Rosario.
Then came Stefan Struve. At 7’0″, he towered over his opponent for their Nottingham, England pairing and while Miocic had good success in the early stages, a second-round rally from the Dutchman sealed the win in his favour.
Getting knocked out by a fighter like Stefan Struve can happen. As the tallest fighter in the UFC by a good distance, the aptly-named Skyscraper is a tricky matchup simply because of the fact that he is so difficult to prepare for. How many sparring partners can you bring in that can replicate a man with that frame?
The Stipe who lost to Struve that day, though, was a very different man than the one who returned to the octagon to take on Roy Nelson in his next bout. A more measured approach that favoured better shot selection and defence saw him pick off both Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga on the way to the fight that would serve as the second major turning point in his career, his five-round war with Junior dos Santos.
One of the greatest matchups of the modern day heavyweight era went down. Stipe advanced early, mixing up beautiful boxing with some well-timed clinchwork to attempt to impose an almost Cain Velasquez output on the Brazilian.
The problem was that Junior didn’t fade like we thought he would. He had learnt from his mistakes and managed to get the upper hand as the fight moved into its middle portion.
It was a tight call but it favoured JDS.
A brutal loss for Stipe no doubt, but one that would come to define his eventual title run. He would not lose again in his UFC career.
Next Sunday we will return to Daniel Cormier as he finds himself under the bright lights of the UFC before rejoining Stipe Miocic on Tuesday at the exact point his charge towards the title began.
Each edition of this series will be linked below as they are published.
Stipe Miocic – Part II
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena