Stipe Miocic will be back in the cage for the first time in more than a year when he challenges Daniel Cormier for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight crown in the UFC 241 headliner this Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Miocic set the record for most consecutive title defenses before being dethroned by Cormier and now seeks to reclaim his spot at the top of the division. Like Cormier, he found MMA at a later age after winning a Golden Gloves boxing championship and competing as an NCAA wrestler. Miocic made his pro debut in 2010 and captured the UFC heavyweight title just six years later. He has since proven himself as one of the strongest punchers in the division, with the wrestling chops to hold his own on the ground.
Miocic provides the material for this edition of The Film Room.
Miocic has true one-punch, fight-ending power, and 14 of his 18 wins have come by knockout or technical knockout. He does his best work with his right hand and can finish the fight on the lead or when working on the counter. He often sets up the right straight with a lead hook but will also throw it naked with the same effect. Miocic has never been known as a counterstriker, but he won the heavyweight title from Fabricio Werdum with a beautiful step-back counter right straight. The biggest problem with his striking is that he can never find a steady pace at which to work. Sometimes, he runs forward with sloppy right hands, and other times, he patiently walks down the opponent while striking in long but methodical combos and looking for the finish. In the first fight with Cormier, he was putting everything he had behind his punches and routinely fell into the clinch, the exact position where “DC” wanted him.
Miocic has intelligently backed down the opponent with combos while never getting overaggressive and leaving himself open for counters. After being stunned by Alistair Overeem early in their fight, Miocic slowed the pace and intelligently cut the Dutchman to the cage. Once against the fence, Overeem covered up and allowed Miocic to patiently pick his strikes and land between his guard with impressive accuracy. Against Shane del Rosario, Miocic landed a wonderful one-two to lead uppercut and a right straight on the angle change.
Miocic has also been known to run forward with flailing hooks to the head while completely disregarding his defense. This makes for some exciting fights, but it is out of line for someone fighting at the highest level of the sport and especially for someone who is lauded as one of the best boxers in the UFC. He has been caught clean in the past and recovered well, but at 36 years of age and with 21 fights under his belt, it could be only a matter of time before his ability to eat shots and keep coming forward deteriorates.
Much of Miocic’s game relies on walking down his opponents with 1-2s and grabbing an underhook once they hit the cage. This is worrisome against a clinch-dominant fighter like Cormier, as the American Kickboxing Academy captain practically lives in the clinch and has some of the best dirty boxing in the UFC. In their first fight, Miocic was not initiating the clinch but kept overextending on his right hand, which allowed Cormier to duck under and grab underhooks.
Remember, the clinch was where Cormier ended Miocic’s historic title run. The Strong Style Fight Team standout has the tendency to drop his hands when exiting the clinch, and Cormier was clearly looking to exploit this. Every time Miocic overextended, Cormier would extend his lead hand and swing it over the shoulder and then immediately grab an underhook with his right arm. He looked for an uppercut and a straight right off the exit early in the round, but it was a perfectly placed right hook as Miocic exited with his hands low that ended the fight. If Miocic fights smart, he will avoid the clinch entirely in the rematch and attempt to use his length advantage to pick apart Cormier from the outside.
Miocic has the wrestling skills necessary to handle most heavyweights, but he usually relies on his hands to get the job done. Against heavy hitters like Mark Hunt and Francis Ngannou, Miocic played it safe, went back to his wrestling game and reminded everyone just how good he is on the ground while taking very little damage. He rarely leads with takedowns, preferring instead to duck under his opponents’ strikes and use their momentum against them. Although this fight will most likely take place on the feet, it would be entertaining to see some grappling exchanges between the two. Miocic is much bigger and is an accomplished wrestler himself, but Cormier is one of the most decorated wrestlers to ever transition to MMA.
Once the fight hits the mat, Miocic has some of the best ground-and-pound in the division. Instead of fighting for position and looking to pass guard, he will posture up and rain punches to the body and head. Fighters oftentimes get too caught up in passing an opponent’s guard, leading to a referee restart due to inactivity. Miocic knows the power he possesses and realizes guard passes matter much less when he can knock out someone with a few short elbows or hammerfists from full guard. Cormier is the better all-around grappler, but if the rematch does hit the ground, Miocic has this intangible to end a fight with a few quick strikes.