LAS VEGAS – One of the great mysteries of the UFC is the low profile that heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic keeps. This, after all, is a guy who by all accounts is the greatest heavyweight in the promotion’s history and one of its finest all-around athletes.
He won the heavyweight title on the road in the most hostile environment imaginable, knocking out Fabricio Werdum in Brazil with a punch while going backward. You can count the fighters who have done that in a championship fight on one hand.
As an example of his athleticism, he was invited to Progressive Field to take batting practice with the Cleveland Indians when he returned home after winning the title. What did he do? He homered on his final swing, clubbing a ball about 350 feet over the 19-foot-high wall in left field.
He played baseball and wrestled in college at Cleveland State, where he was ranked as high as 17th in wrestling in his final season. He was a Golden Gloves boxer and reached the national tournament, where he lost to future world title challenger Bryant Jennings.
He’s featured in a well-received ad campaign for Modelo beer, which highlights his career as a firefighter. He still works full-time as a firefighter and paramedic and competes at an incredibly high level.
Miocic has never been accused of domestic violence, nor has he failed a drug test. He’s the kind of guy who might help get a cat out of a tree or escort a little old lady across the street, not one who would raise hell at a nightclub.
Yet, as Miocic prepares to defend his heavyweight title for the fourth time, this time against light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in the main event of UFC 226, he’s still a guy very much flying under the radar.
His accomplishments scream star – superstar, really – but he hasn’t gotten the kind of attention or respect that the sport’s biggest stars usually receive.
Though he repeatedly says he doesn’t care what people think, it’s obvious it bothers him because he even brought up in the cage how few people gave him a chance following his impressive one-sided victory over Francis Ngannou.
“I was getting so many messages telling me I was going to die in the first round,” Miocic said of the Ngannou fight. “It was one of those, ‘Rest in peace, Stipe,’ things. Whatever. I like shutting people up, too.”
An emphatic victory over an all-time great such as Cormier will help, without question. The UFC bills its July show as “International Fight Week” and always puts together a deeper-than-usual show.
That is the case this week with several fights that could easily be main events on other shows. The co-main event is a featherweight title fight between champion Max Holloway and unbeaten challenger Brian Ortega. The heavyweight fight between Derrick Lewis and Ngannou figures to be explosive. A bout early on the show, which will be streamed on Fight Pass, Paul Felder against Mike Perry, is the kind that has headlined many Fox Sports 1 cards in the past.
“This is a sick card,” UFC president Dana White said.
Miocic has ironed out his issues with the UFC. He shrugged off White following his win over Ngannou in Boston when White attempted to wrap the title belt around his waist, but he’s since mended his issues with the UFC.
He was given the opportunity to coach on “The Ultimate Fighter,” which provided him valuable exposure. The commercial has clearly helped. He’s got a wry sense of humor, but one needs to be around him frequently to see that. Despite being a marketing major, he doesn’t sell himself in sound bites. But if you listen to him speak over a period of time, you begin to appreciate his sense of humor and easygoing nature.
If he beats Cormier, it could be the breakthrough he’s long sought. And as good of a fighter as he is, he knows it’s not going to be easy.
“D.C.’s fought the best in the world,” Miocic said. “He’s beat the best in the world. He’s an amazing fighter and to beat him, it’s going to be amazing.”
Whenever two men 225 pounds or more stand in the center of the cage and fire shots at each other, it has the potential to be a jaw-dropping finish.
He’s gotten to the top of the mountain, finally. He needs that one more win, though, to cement his place.
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