Historically, Heavyweight is the money division in combat sports. With that being said, it hasn't always resulted in prolonged quality, especially in MMA. It’s for that reason that as Stipe Miocic looks to make a 4th title defense at UFC 226, he already enters the cage as one of the sport’s finest ever big men. His legacy is already unique too, with more consecutive UFC Heavyweight title defenses than ever seen before. Thus far, Miocic’s reign has met three different challenges but in Cormier, it comes up against something else: a champion.
It’s undeniable that this fight will prove pivotal as Miocic’s journey is reviewed years down the line. Was he the kingpin of an indifferent batch or instead, a genuine all-time Heavyweight that stood the test of time? Nonetheless, it’s hard to be anything but impressed by Stipe’s dominance thus far. Especially two years ago, dethroning Fabricio Werdum in Brazil was an immense feat and highlighted Miocic’s genuine power at the elite level. As has been shown multiple times over though, the UFC’s Heavyweight division isn’t thin on former champions, but it certainly isn’t rich with many long-reigning ones.
Miocic has since overcome every challenge. His first title defense came at home, taking on Alistair Overeem in Cleveland, Ohio. Though it’s easy to forget now, Overeem entered that fight with genuine momentum on his side. With four straight wins under his belt, Overeem had seemingly developed a style more consistent than ever and was finally ready to complete his never-ending hunt for UFC gold. Miocic would indeed suffer a dramatic scare early too, getting heavily dropped before rebounding in an instant to score an emphatic first round knockout.
With a first defense now under his belt, Stipe next hurdle would be an old foe. Junior Dos Santos had defeated Miocic on points in December 2014, handing him his final defeat before the aforementioned title win. Since then, Dos Santos had been inconsistent but unlike Miocic’s recent victims, he’d already spent 25 minutes inside the cage with him. Dos Santos’ experience opposite Stipe represented a brand new challenge as Miocic looked to avenge his razor close defeat. On fight night, he’d do just that too, all within 3 minutes.
Stipe’s destruction of Dos Santos perfectly highlighted his development. Whether the former champ had declined or not, Miocic’s sudden dominance was certainly impressive considering their prior battle. With multiple revered Heavyweight legends now on his resume, Miocic’s status as the division’s new blood soon changed. The freshest of an elite group dominated by the old guard, Miocic had steadily climbed the ranks but was about to meet a new contender. In just two years, Francis Ngannou had built an almost unprecedented reputation as the UFC’s newest destroyer and in the minds of many, was a champion in waiting.
Considering all that he’d done, it was quite incredible to see Stipe Miocic as the betting underdog against the mostly untested knockout artist Ngannou. Inside the cage, Francis’ physical weapons would show at times but Miocic’s experience, skill and polish guided him through tough moments as he eventually dominated for a wide decision win. With that victory, many of Stipe’s doubters were silenced. Though not the flashiest or most outspoken, Miocic’s brilliance was impossible to deny at this point. A heavyweight champion truly taking on all comers.
After destroying legends, achieving revenge and vanquishing the sport’s most hyped knockout artist, Miocic now meets a man of his own ilk. An absolute champion to his core, Daniel Cormier is cut from the same cloth that’s made Miocic so successful. Mentality wise, Miocic will in many ways be looking in the mirror but now it’s time to see how his skills match up. With a win over the Light Heavyweight champ, Miocic’s quest for unmatched Heavyweight greatness would move forward once again and frankly, it’s hard to doubt him after everything he’s done so far.