Gonzaga is an enduring gatekeeper but was on a strong 4-1 stretch of late with the lone loss coming via controversial knockout. He was actually in a position to jump up the rankings with a win. Miocic, meanwhile, suddenly found himself as a top-10 heavyweight by beating Roy Nelson in a what was expected to be a squash match, and had another entrenched stepping stone to climb on.
When they faced off, Miocic did just that, becoming the third person to beat both Nelson and Gonzaga. So what did we learn?
Gabriel Gonzaga has Terrible Cardio
That right there was the biggest lesson from this fight.
It hadn't really come up in Gonzaga's current run at heavyweight. The longest he had gone before Miocic was 1:01 of Round 2 against Ben Rothwell. Gonzaga ended up slowing down considerably in the second, and by the third, he was in full-on hyperventilation mode.
It wasn't like the first two rounds were especially high-pace, either. That was just a really bad showing by Gonzaga.
Stipe Miocic Still Isn't a Top Heavyweight
Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga are two solid heavyweights who have carved out a strong niche as gatekeepers. Only two fighters have beaten both of them: former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and potential top contender Fabricio Werdum.
Miocic, though, just didn't look to be up to that level—not even close, really. He did more than enough to win. A minute into the second round, it was clear that the fight was Miocic's to lose.
That said, the dos Santoses and the Werdums didn't "do more than enough to win." Neither did the Shane Carwins or the Randy Coutures or even the Frank Mirs. They slapped around guys like Gonzaga and Nelson.
Miocic didn't do that.
Stipe Miocic is Still Up for a Big Opponent
It wasn't an emphatic win, but a win is a win, and in the relatively thin heavyweight division, that's worth a lot.
The top 10 in the heavyweight division isn't exactly elite, but I expect Miocic to get somebody like Josh Barnett or Alistair Overeem (if he beats Frank Mir) in his next fight. Keep an eye out for my full feature on Miocic in the immediate future.
Gabriel Gonzaga Isn't Up to Snuff
So the thing is, as we saw with Shane Carwin, a first-round knockout is a great way to cover up obvious, glaring flaws in one's game. Get enough of them in a row, and you get a shot at the belt.
Gonzaga, if he had gotten another big win over Miocic, might just have been in line to make a run for the belt. This fight, though, slammed the door shut on that notion. Not only is he irrevocably separated from a title shot, but he is so clearly not a top-10 heavyweight that he is almost certainly not going to fight somebody ranked above him again.
It's tough to say, because it's hard not to root for a guy like Gonzaga to make that final run toward the belt. Unfortunately, his window has closed.