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After 48 minutes and 42 seconds, the heavyweight trilogy between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic is over. The former has officially retired, confirming his decision to hang up the gloves at 41 years of age, likely having clinched a place on the shortlist of greatest MMA fighters of all-time but falling resoundingly short of the top spot courtesy of multiple losses to Miocic and Jon Jones. Miocic, having just turned 37, has once again defied his doubters and the oddsmakers, kickstarting a sophomore run of title defenses with his second consecutive victory over “DC” in what was equal parts superlative strategy and nonchalant execution.
By now, there are few who can deny Miocic’s place as the greatest heavyweight in Ultimate Fighting Championship history; and though comparisons with Fedor Emelianenko will continue to be made long into the future, a growing portion of the fanbase now recognizes Miocic as MMA’s greatest heavyweight to date, even if some find the admission harder to make than others. The pride of Euclid, Ohio, has a resume punctuated with big names and even bigger knockouts, having taken out the likes of Cormier (twice), Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou, all while successfully avenging two of his three Ultimate Fighting Championship losses by beating dos Santos and “DC.” With a record three title defenses in his first championship run circa 2016-2018 and 12 months into his second act, Miocic has definitively separated himself from 25-plus years’ worth of UFC heavyweights, emerging as the division’s flagbearer after generations of instability and convulsion.
Yet listening to Miocic speak at the UFC 252 post-fight press conference, one cannot help but be struck by how enduringly indifferent he is to the trappings of success and celebrity and how disconnected he is from the UFC hype machine.
“I don’t play the game,” he happily said in reference to comments Cormier had made in the buildup to the rubber match, a reflection of his disinclination towards trash talk and preference for doing his talking inside the cage with his XL-sized gloves. “I’m no better than anyone else,” Miocic said later, in response to an inquiry about his continuing employment as a firefighter-paramedic at the Valley View Fire Department in Cleveland. Over the course of 15 minutes, the most headline-worthy sentiment the “Baddest Man on the Planet” could offer was his desire to go home and “drink a bunch of Modelos,” hang out by the pool and enjoy time with his wife and daughter, pairing it with his accompanying lack of concern for the list of potential future opponents—Ngannou, Jon Jones and Curtis Blaydes—proffered by the assembled reporters.
Underlying Miocic’s laissez-faire attitude is a very clear understanding of—and disdain for—the political games which attend the position he occupies and his well-placed reservations towards the MMA media, who perpetuate and amplify those storylines. Asked whether he was comfortable in declaring himself as the heavyweight GOAT, he retorted, “We’ll see on Monday.” It was a subtle jab towards the MMA commentariat’s history of betting against him. Questioned on how he envisioned the remainder of 2020, he took another swipe, this one directed at statements long-time provocateur and UFC President Dana White had made earlier in the year, deadpanning as follows: “I think I’m going to stay for another year or so to piss people off more. My whole plan this year was to have a tear in my retina and then a pandemic hit. That was my plan so I didn’t have to fight.”
Miocic has been around long enough to know that earning a unanimous decision victory over “DC” today doesn’t preclude his being counted out against Jones or Ngannou tomorrow and that being the heavyweight GOAT will do little to impede the promotion from stripping him of the belt if that was what White insisted on doing. Still, with a record sixth heavyweight title victory on his record, during which he showcased new wrinkles in his game, he has managed to keep on producing greatness in an environment that all too often has treated him as expendable.
That is a remarkable thing, really, and a reflection of the strength of Miocic’s character. Of course a guy who runs into burning buildings in his day job is unafraid of the UFC and the cast of heavyweights the organization has—in at least a few cases—been banking on to beat him. Of course he shrugs his shoulders at the prospect of rematching Ngannou, whose last four opponents lasted a combined 162 seconds, or facing Jones, who achieved double-digit title defenses of his 205-pound throne before vacating it a few days ago. Of course he wants to just focus on staying humble, getting better and continuing to prove the doubters wrong. Of course a winner just wants to keep winning.
In a sport which frequently rewards inauthenticity and hyperbole, Miocic’s brand of blue-collar greatness, of casual defiance of the multi-billion-dollar entity that writes his pay checks, is worthy of much more appreciation than it receives. Maybe one day, before he hangs them up, fans and media will realize that.
Jacob Debets is a lawyer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.