Casual mixed martial arts fans might find this strange, but should Stipe Miocic successfully defend his world heavyweight title against Junior Dos Santos in the main event of UFC 211 on May 13, he will have tied the record for most consecutive successful defenses among the UFC’s big men.
It’s a remarkable number considering that the title has been held by Hall of Famers Mark Coleman, Maurice Smith, Randy Couture, Bas Rutten and Minotauro Nogueira, as well as modern standouts such as Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar and Dos Santos. That hasn’t stopped the belt from being a hot potato, but Miocic says that all ends here.
“It’s tough,” Miocic said of holding the UFC heavyweight crown. “Guys are big, strong and have the small gloves on, but I’m different. I’m different than any of those guys. I came in a little bit later, I think I have more tread on the tires and I want it more. I worked way too hard to give this up. I sacrificed too much and so many people sacrificed with me and I’m not gonna give this thing up.”
As laid-back and quick to joke and laugh as the 34-year-old is, everything changes when he talks about fighting. There is no middle ground, no room for levity when it comes to keeping that belt around his waist. He’s going to win, and if for some reason the phrase “If I win” exits his mouth, he’s quick to change it to “When I win.”
So has he thought about being in the history books a week from Saturday?
“When I win the fight, I will be, but I’m not gonna worry about that until I get the job done May 13,” he said. “That’s all I care about right now. All I care about is Junior and avenging that loss.”
It wouldn’t be fair to say “that loss” has eaten away at the Cleveland native since the night of Dec. 13, 2014, when he dropped a close decision to Brazil’s Dos Santos. He has had too many good things happen after that bout. But as far as wanting to get that one back, oh yeah, it’s been on the “to do” list.
“Yeah, definitely, a hundred percent,” Miocic said. “Well, I wanted to see him again. I definitely wanted to avenge that loss and the way it worked out, it worked out even better because I’ve got the title now. I’ve got something he wants, but he’s not gonna get it. And a lot has changed in the last few years since we fought, so I don’t honestly care what he brings to the table. I got so much better as a fighter and he’s gonna see a new and improved me.”
After that 25-minute war in Phoenix, Dos Santos was halted by Alistair Overeem in his next bout, and some wondered whether the former champion left something in the Octagon against Miocic. But last April, a healthy “Cigano” looked to be in prime form once more in beating Ben Rothwell over five rounds. Now, the fight world can’t wait to see if the 33-year-old Brazilian can wrest the belt from the grasp of Miocic or if the champ stamps his name as one of the greats. It’s a safe assumption to know which way Miocic is leaning.
“I definitely think he’s evolved,” Miocic said of the challenger. “I think everyone has – you have to. But I think I’ve gotten a lot better since then. He’s gotten better, but I’ve made leaps and bounds more than he has.”
Since the first fight, Miocic has won four straight, knocking out Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum and Overeem in succession. If he beats Dos Santos, that’s three former UFC champs on his resume, and then the talk starts about where he fits in among the best heavyweights of all-time and not just on who’s next.
Think he cares? Nah.
“I love what I do,” Miocic. “(History) is great. But right now all I want to do is keep winning and all I care about is doing what I love.”