Silence. It’s the only thing world heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic wants to hear when his UFC 220 title defense against Francis Ngannou is over on Saturday night. Oh, he’ll take the cheers from family, friends and the fans who have stuck by him over the years. But when it comes to those critics who predict that he will leave Boston without his belt, he wants them speechless.
“Shutting people up, I think that’s what motivates me,” Miocic said. “Everyone thinks I’m gonna lose and that I’m not gonna do that good or that I’m gonna get knocked out, and I love it. It fuels me.”
Seeing the hype around Ngannou ever since the Cameroon native’s knockout of Alistair Overeem in December doesn’t bother the champion, in fact, when it comes to the main event at TD Garden, he says, “I expect a hard fight. He (Ngannou) is a tough guy, throws hard and he’s looking to knock me out, I know that.”
The thing is, despite Miocic taking bombs from the likes of Overeem, Roy Nelson, Junior Dos Santos and Mark Hunt over the years, some believe Ngannou is going to make the Ohio native his next victim. Again, it doesn’t bother the 35-year-old, who will be making the third defense of the crown he took from Fabricio Werdum in May 2016.
“I’m just here to fight, I like fighting,” he said. “Everybody has their own opinion of me, and either it’s good or it’s bad. At the end of the day, I’m gonna come home to my wife and my family and that’s it. I think everyone’s excited for this matchup because it’s Francis – they think he’s this unbeatable force and he hits super hard. I hit pretty hard too, but we’ll find out. January 20th, everyone will see the difference.”
With a win this weekend, Miocic will become the only fighter in UFC history to successfully defend the heavyweight title three consecutive times. That means former champs like Hall of Famers Mark Coleman, Maurice Smith, Randy Couture and Bas Rutten, along with modern era standouts like Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez, have never hit that mark, making it the most oddly elusive record in the promotion’s history.
“You’d think it would be a lot more,” Miocic said of the record that can be all his soon. “But it shows what kind of division it is, with big boys. If I keep winning, I’m gonna break it, and it will happen. I will break it in my next fight.”
There is no wavering in Miocic’s voice, no slight hints of doubt. In his mind, there’s no question that he leaves the Octagon as the champion, despite Ngannou’s ability to turn out someone’s lights with one punch. Why? Because the way he sees it, there’s more to this game than punching power.
“My drive, my determination, my heart, my work ethic,” he said when asked what makes him the fighter that he is. “I just go out there and put it all on the line. A lot of things are gonna make a difference (in this fight). You’ll see it.”
But what of Ngannou’s claims that he will not just win the fight, but do so by knockout?
Andrei Arlovski — RD1 0:54
Fabricio Werdum — RD1 2:47
Alistair Overeem — RD1 4:27
Junior dos Santos — RD1 2:22
Francis Ngannou — 1/20 #AndStill pic.twitter.com/QPApohmtey
— Stipe Miocic (@stipemiocicufc) January 3, 2018
“Okay, sure, sounds great,” Miocic retorts. “Don’t forget, I can throw hard too. We’ll see what happens.”
What Miocic expects is that he is going to be the toughest test of Ngannou’s career, and that the challenger may not be ready for that.
“It’s a terrible time to realize that in the middle of the fight,” said Miocic, who does have four consecutive knockout wins but who has also been to deep waters with the likes of Hunt and Dos Santos. As for all the hype, Miocic isn’t buying into it. In fact, the only person who might intimidate the Clevelander is his mom, the one person who won’t stand for her son getting too big for his britches.
“The reason I stay grounded is my circle – my family, my friends, my co-workers,” Miocic said. “We all work together and I would never think I was better than anyone just because of what I do. I think my mom would beat my ass if I ever acted like that, so I’m just gonna be the normal person I am, a hard-working Midwest boy.”
And the heavyweight champion of the world.
“I’ve got a great game plan coming in, and January 20th I’m walking out ‘and still’ with the belt still wrapped around my waist.”