UFC 211: Stipe Miocic marches towards respect

Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic is the UFC’s everyman, but a victory on Saturday should earn him a high spot on the pound for pound list.

UFC 211 is being promoted as the most stacked card, so far, of 2017. While that is definitely true, not enough promotion is being given to the headlining heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic who in one short year could complete turn the heavyweight division around with a win over Junior dos Santos on Saturday.

Miocic did not just come out of nowhere, his breakthrough performance against dos Santos in 2014 was his introduction to the elite level.  But perhaps it is more of his entire approach and persona to the fight game that makes him such a conundrum in the personality-driven UFC of 2017.

For example, the last decade in the heavyweight division has been defined by the trifecta of Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, and Fabricio Werdum. Velasquez ruled by virtue of his incredible gas tank and pressure that was never seen before in the heavyweight division.

Dos Santos was heralded as the new breed of Brazilian knockout artist who ruled the division with an iron fist. Werdum was the BJJ savant who after adding an improved striking game was arguably the most multi-faceted heavyweight the game had ever seen.

The image of Miocic, by contrast, is the everyman.  The Cleveland native is seen taking in the Cavaliers game where his status as UFC champion earns him the acknowledgement of stars like LeBron James.

At the same time, he is also seen shopping at his local outdoor shop for a metal detector for a hobby. Added into that, he continues to be a firefighter and serve his community. Though he gets more interviews, he continues to be the same soft-spoken individual that he was earlier in his career.

That’s not to say Miocic should be more boisterous now that he’s at the top of the division.  But there is no question that his growth into one of the best heavyweights in the world has been nothing short of astonishing.  He has worked his way through the division from the bottom of the ranks, being tested against the likes of perennial contenders like Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson.

Perhaps it is also his time as a champion that makes him difficult to evaluate.  In his title fight against Werdum, the usually patient and disciplined Brazilian recklessly chased Miocic in pursuit of a highlight reel knockout in front of his home crowd.  Instead, Miocic shocked the crowd by stopping Werdum in the first round, having only had to test the champion’s patience rather than his skills.

In his title defense against Alistair Overeem, he made quick work of his opponent after surviving an early knockdown and guillotine attempt. Miocic methodically broke down “The Demolition Man” but it was also noticeable that the Dutchman was uncharacteristically timid throughout the bout.

The rematch with dos Santos is expected to be different, both men put on a war in their first fight and it is expected that more fireworks will be had with the world title on the line.  Should Miocic dispatch “Cigano,” he will have defeated more of the top heavyweights in the world than any other contender in recent years.

What’s more, injury and health have not hampered Miocic as they have several other champions.  So far, he looks to be capable of continuing his run against the elite at his current pace.  The winner of Saturday’s bout will likely face the winner of Overeem vs Werdum in July.  Contenders like Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis are quickly climbing the ranks.  Health permitting, Cain Velasquez could also make a run for the title.

Miocic has already stopped Overeem and Werdum in devastating fashion. Should he defeat dos Santos, he would arguably be the best heavyweight of the decade.  That’s not to mention if he can hold back Ngannou, Lewis and others.  With a victory in Dallas, it will be difficult to deny that Miocic would have to be considered higher on the pound for pound list.