Historically, the champions of the UFC heavyweight division have never been able to put together long streaks of title defenses, and many attribute this to the nature of the weight class: Since every fighter in the division has tremendous knockout power, each contender has a relatively significant chance to finish the champion compared to the other divisions. Stipe Miocic earned his status as the consensus greatest heavyweight of all time by not only putting together the longest heavyweight title defense streak in UFC history, but then went on to defeat the man who initially dethroned him, Daniel Cormier, in two subsequent rematches. Having recently lost his title after a devastating knockout loss to Francis Ngannou, the now 38-year-old veteran’s road back to the title looks more difficult than ever.
Miocic’s first string of title defenses saw him prove himself as a well-rounded mixed martial artist among a division full of relatively one-dimensional fighters compared to the lighter weight classes in the UFC. After his knockout win over Fabricio Werdum to win the title, he notched impressive title defenses against dangerous strikers such as Junior Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. One of Miocic’s most impressive career accomplishments, however, came in his next fight against the rapidly ascending Francis Ngannou.
Although Ngannou had only trained mixed martial arts for a short period of time during his rise to title contention, his immense physical gifts made him stand out even among the other top heavyweights in terms of his sheer speed and power. During the buildup to the first clash between Miocic and Ngannou, the community seemed to consider it a foregone conclusion that Ngannou would finish Miocic to win the belt, even though Miocic had already established himself as a consistent champion.
During the fight, Miocic became the first man to show the world that despite Ngannou’s superhuman qualities, the Cameroonian upstart had many weaknesses in his game as well. Unlike Ngannou’s previous opponents, he managed to absorb several hard blows from Ngannou in the first round, and managed to show off his impressive wrestling skills to fatigue the challenger. As the fight continued to drag on, Ngannou’s exhaustion became more and more apparent, and Miocic ran away with the fight in one-sided fashion. With this win, not only had he defeated one of the scariest men in combat sports, but he also set the record for the most title defenses of any UFC heavyweight champion.
Despite this momentous victory, Miocic would soon face significant adversity. At UFC 226, he faced the UFC light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier, in Cormier’s attempt to become a simultaneous two-division champion in the organization. Although many favored Miocic to win this fight given his skill and size advantage, Cormier surprised everyone by knocking Miocic out in the first round. The knockout was even more unexpected considering that Miocic had only recently absorbed much harder shots from Ngannou in his previous fight.
In the aftermath of his title loss, Miocic expected to get an immediate rematch with Cormier given his impressive pedigree during his title reign. However, much to Miocic’s frustration, the promotion sought to go in a different direction. Cormier would defend his title at UFC 230 against another rising contender, Derrick Lewis, and the double champion easily submitted Lewis for the victory. To add further insult to injury, Cormier and the UFC publicly tried to negotiate a fight with WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, all the while showing no urgency to fight Miocic. Fortunately for the former champion, the fight with Lesnar never materialized, and the rematch between Cormier and Miocic was eventually booked.
At UFC 241, fans were unsure of what to expect from Miocic, as he had not fought since his quick title loss to Cormier. Early in the fight, Cormier seemed to be in complete control, using his wrestling skills and landing hard strikes against Miocic on the feet as well. After losing the first three rounds, Miocic famously made a tactical adjustment and began firing punches to the body of Cormier, which severely hurt the champion and eventually created enough of an opening for Miocic to capitalize on, regaining his title in dramatic fashion.
The aftermath of this rematch largely mirrored the buildup to the fight, only with the roles reversed. While Cormier sat frustrated on the sidelines, Miocic took time off for various reasons, including eye surgery as a result of illegal eye pokes from Cormier during the fight, as well as dedicating himself to his firefighting profession. Despite the tension between Miocic and Cormier, the third fight was eventually booked for UFC 252, and this time Miocic would remain largely in control for most of the fight, winning a unanimous decision. Although he had many doubters after his first loss to Cormier, his success over this long trilogy firmly cemented his status as the greatest heavyweight in mixed martial arts history.
Miocic’s fortunes would soon take another turn for the worse, however. During the time in which Miocic and Cormier were waging war in their trilogy, Ngannou had been improving his skills and putting together his own winning streak. Since his loss to Miocic and a subsequent loss to Lewis, Ngannou had put together a stunning four-fight win streak in which he knocked out top-ranked contenders Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, all in the first round. The UFC thus booked the rematch between Miocic and Ngannou for UFC 260.
Although Miocic himself was riding a strong wave of momentum heading into the rematch with Ngannou, the challenger had made vast improvements that Miocic ultimately could not account for. Having used a wrestling-heavy approach to tire out Ngannou in their first fight, Miocic immediately attempted to repeat that strategy, but this time, Ngannou not only defended the takedown attempt, but flipped the script and took Miocic down, a moment in which many fans knew that the fight was all but over. In the second round, Ngannou knocked Miocic down with a beautiful step-in jab, and shortly followed up with another devastating blow to finish the fight and knock Miocic out, finally earning the belt he had sought for so long.
With Ngannou currently set to fight Lewis, UFC president Dana White has claimed that Miocic will get the winner of that matchup in the next title shot. Given his current skillset, Miocic’s ability to win back the title ultimately lies outside of his own control. If Ngannou successfully defends his title against Lewis, Miocic’s chances at regaining the belt remain slim, since Ngannou’s last performance seems to indicate that Miocic’s route to victory in that matchup is incredibly narrow. However, if Lewis manages to upset Ngannou, Miocic would definitely be capable of defeating Lewis and regaining his title. Regardless of what happens in his fighting future, however, Miocic has undoubtedly cemented his legacy as a UFC hall of famer and one of the greatest fighters of all time.
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