It’s often said in mixed martial arts that although getting to the top of the food chain is difficult, staying on top is simply that much harder.
We have seen that to be true time and time again, and most clearly within the UFC’s heavyweight division, a division in which a champion has never defended his title more than twice.
In fact, the title once again changed hands this past weekend (May 14, 2016) for the second time in less than 12 months. Stipe Miocic seized the opportunity of a lifetime in his main event bout with Fabricio Werdum in Brazil at UFC 198, finishing “Vai Cavalo” with a clean right hand in the first round to become the new titleholder.
Now the king of the mountain, the Croatian-American will be faced with the daunting task of keeping a shiny gold belt strapped around his waist in the unforgiving waters of the heavyweight division.
But he may be up to the task. He’s not exactly young at 33 years old, yet that does make him surprisingly spry in the quickly aging heavyweight landscape, and he is clearly defining a new breed of heavyweight fighter by himself.
Let’s take a look at six reasons why Miocic may defy the odds and continue to wreak havoc on the heavyweight class for more than just two title defenses….
Typically when a fighter becomes a champion, he or she has been riding a hot streak, and Miocic is no different.
The Ohio native has now won three straight bouts, all coming by way of stoppage.
Not only have his skills steadily improved, but his mindset has as well. Miocic simply appears to possess the motivation, hunger, and passion needed not only to reach the top, but also to stay there.
Looking back to his January 2015 win over Andrei Arlovski, Miocic went mad after the fight, screaming, yelling, and demanding his title shot. After his victory over Werdum, the newly-minted champion jumped over the cage into the arms of his cornerman, echoing “I’m a world champion.”
Miocic appears to be a man on a mission, and if his recent performances are any indication, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The heavyweight division has seemed to be in a limbo of sorts over the last few years with the title picture essentially being put on hold due to the inactivity of its holder.
Cain Velasquez, for example, has fallen victim to a plethora of injuries throughout his career. After securing the title in December 2012, Velasquez would go on to fight just twice before surrendering the strap to Werdum last June, who hadn’t defended the title prior to meeting Miocic at UFC 198.
Luckily for fans as well as title challengers, Miocic appears to be quite a bit more active. Despite only fighting once in 2015, the champion competed three times in 2014, and has already competed twice in 2016.
If he can keep this schedule going alongside his momentum, Miocic may be able to lock a tight hold on his top spot.
His Ability To Dictate A Fight
Wrestling is often credited as being the premier base for a mixed martial arts fighter, as wrestlers have the ever-so-valuable ability to not only dictate the pace of a fight, but where that fight takes place.
If a superior wrestler wants the fight on the mat, he can take it there. If he wants to remain standing and work his strikes, he can make that happen as well.
With that being said, Miocic happens to possess a very strong wrestling background, and he may even rank amongst the best wrestlers in the division.
A former Division I wrestler, the Croatian-American stands fourth amongst heavyweights in takedowns landed with 16, as well as ranking sixth in takedown accuracy.
While not necessarily known for his submission skills, Miocic has successfully taken fighters down before unleashing brutal ground and pound strikes.
And if he decides to keep it standing, it’s a whole different story…
A former Golden Gloves boxer, Miocic simply has the ability to put any man to sleep with one shot, a brutalizing trait he’s shown over the course of his career.
With 11 of his 15 career wins coming by way of knockout, the champion is more than a dangerous force on the feet. Mixing in crisp combos with devastating right hands, Miocic is not one to play with.
This is also where his wrestling comes into play. If Miocic can keep the fight standing, there’s not a heavyweight in the world he can’t obliterate, and if continues his current trend, his future opponents may find themselves in a whirlwind of trouble.
Cardio & Conditioning
While obviously being known for possessing unearthly knockout power, heavyweights aren’t typically known for possessing the best cardio or endurance.
Former champion Cain Velasquez changed the course of this theory when he displayed the ability to push an insane pace for a full 25-minute fight, using his patented gas tank to simply break his opponents. However, I would argue that we’ve seen heavyweights with more power than Velasquez.
But Miocic is a different story.
The current champion possesses the already aforementioned power along with cardio and conditioning similar to that of Velasquez. Miocic’s athleticism is at a level rarely seen for a heavyweight and he fights like a man much lighter. This endurance gives Miocic the ability to pressure opponents, and drag them into deep waters.
If he can’t finish his foe early, he can take his opponent to a place where he may no longer be able to continue.
Just like his cardio is unlike that of fellow heavyweights, Miocic’s speed also sets him apart from the rest of the pack.
Undoubtedly one of the fastest heavyweights in the UFC, Miocic uses this speed in many different ways. He throws electric hand combinations similar to that of a boxer while using effortless, ultra-quick footwork to dart in and out of exchanges.
Couple this speed with his conditioning and wrestling, and Miocic simply appears to be a nightmare for even the best opponents.
Now, of course we can’t get ahead of ourselves, as anything can happen in a fight, but the future sure does look bright for the champion. He has become a well-rounded fighter with superb skills and crucial attributes.
If he keeps fighting how he has been and continues to perfectly mix together his polished skillset, we may be looking at a heavyweight champion who ends up sticking around.