There is something magnetic about the heavyweight division.
No matter how much talent resides in the lighter weight classes or how frequently the mighty mites of the sport put on incredible displays of technique and conditioning bouncing around the cage and punching each other in the face non-stop for 15 minutes, there is still something uniquely enticing about seeing a pair of heavyweights staring each other down across the cage.
While the various other divisions within the UFC have consistently boasted deep, talented ranks, the heavyweight division has experienced good times and bad. Even now, with the division deeper than perhaps it’s ever been, the need for identifying prospects and putting them through the paces to see if they have what it takes to contend with the best heavyweights in the business is both daunting, and crucial.
Finding solid additions to the roster is challenging enough, yet alone coming across a six-foot-four-inch, 240-pound collegiate wrestler with Golden Gloves credentials who is athletic enough that he got a look from Major League Baseball once upon a time. That’s why people have been paying close attention to Stipe Miocic’s arrival and advancement in the UFC heavyweight division.
The 29-year-old Strong Style Fight Team member entered the UFC having generated a great deal of buzz in earning six consecutive stoppage victories on the regional circuit. None of his foes lasted to the third round; three didn’t make it out of the first.
His potential was put to the test in his opening appearance in the Octagon in a matchup against durable veteran Joey Beltran at UFC 136 in Houston, Texas. He went to the cards for the first time in his career, but as he had in his previous six bouts, Miocic came away with the victory.
Four months later, the Croatian-born Cleveland native showed the power that made him such an intriguing prospect on the regional circuit when he needed just 43 seconds to dispatch fellow unbeaten up-and-comer Phil De Fries in a Knockout of the Night-winning performance in February.
“It’s awesome. I really can’t say much,” Miocic offers, truly at a loss for words when asked to explain how his two-fight tenure in the UFC has been. A staccato burst of expression is all he can muster. “It’s fantastic. I’m excited. It’s been great, and keeps getting better. Keep winning, that’s the name of the game.”
The chain reaction of changes to the UFC 146 fight card resulted in Miocic being presented with a third opportunity to step into the Octagon by filling the opening opponent slot opposite fellow undefeated prospect Shane del Rosario in the former Strikeforce standout’s UFC debut.
Getting the call on short notice doesn’t give Miocic any reason for concern, and he’s well aware that del Rosario is going to be looking to make a strong first impression when they collide Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been training, so I’m in shape. He’s a gamer; he’s a tough dude, and I’m sure he’s going to come to fight. My coaches have been breaking videos down, but it’s hard to say (what’s going to happen) because he’s been out of the cage for a year-and-a-half after a terrible accident.”
After pushing his record to a perfect 12-0 with a first-round submission win over Lavar Johnson in February 2011, del Rosario’s car was struck by a drunk driver, forcing him to withdraw from a scheduled bout with Daniel Cormier, and press pause on his promising career until now.
Each win thus far has increased the attention on Miocic, and should he emerge from his meeting with del Rosario with a zero still holding down residency in his career loss column, the spotlight is sure to get even brighter. That kind of scrutiny can be unnerving for some, regardless of age and experience, but the former Division I All-American from Cleveland State University isn’t worried about succumbing to the pressures or buying into his own hype.
“(The key is) just having the right people behind you — coaches, family, and friends — and not worry about the hype,” says Miocic. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing; the reason you got there.
“I just take it in stride, (and try to) keep getting better each fight. I have my coaches on me, telling me stuff to keep working on. I have no say in who I fight — they give me the call, and I’m fortunate and thankful that they’ve given me this fight at UFC 146. (It’s a great opportunity), but you’ve got to keep getting better, and keep winning. That’s what people want to see.”
Miocic gives a great deal of credit to the team of coaches and fighters he trains alongside as a part of the Strong Style Fight Team, a group that includes former UFC competitor Forrest Petz, and Bellator veterans Chris Lozano and Brian Rogers.
“We’re hard workers, and we’re a close, tight group with great coaching. (Head coach) Marcus Marinelli is phenomenal. He helps us get better at our games, and uses things that are going to help us, not just give us stuff that we should try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and he’ll think of something that would work in our arsenal.”
The 8-0 heavyweight prospect already possesses a solid arsenal, with his weapon of choice being the big right hand he used to halt De Fries’ unbeaten streak in Omaha, Nebraska earlier this year. After getting tagged with a couple early shots, Miocic seemingly decided, “Enough is enough” and went on the offensive, an explanation he agrees to with a laugh before elaborating.
“I just started off slowly, and I can’t do that. I thought he was going to take me down; I didn’t think about his hands too much. He hit me, but (it wasn’t anything) I wasn’t prepared for; I think I can take a punch. And then I hit him with the right hand.”
Simple as that — “and then I hit him with the right hand.”
That’s why heavyweights draw casual and hardcore audiences alike, and why the upcoming battle of the unbeaten prospect between Miocic and del Rosario might be the most intriguing fight on the all-heavyweight main card at UFC 146.
Miocic is eager to get back into the cage and test himself against his toughest opponent to date. But where some fighters are worried about living up to the hype, the talented heavyweight prospect is focused on one thing and one thing only.
“It’s going to be a war; I’m looking for a three-round war, and I’m expecting him to be tough as nails, but I’m going to get that W no matter how it ends. Decision, submission, knockout, I don’t care — just get that W.”
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Stipe Miocic - One Win at a Time
By E. Spencer Kyte May 21, 2012