Stipe Miocic earned his second win in a row over a well-entrenched gatekeeper Saturday night at UFC on Fox 10, out-landing an exhausted Gabriel Gonzaga.
It wasn't the most emphatic win of his career, but a win is a win and Miocic has five of them in the UFC, offset by just one loss to the MIA Stefan Struve. That makes him a dark-horse title contender and a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stagnant heavyweight top 10.
So, how will the UFC handle him next? Who might it match him against next? What will the ramifications of that fight be?
Find out right here!
While many, including myself, are quick to discuss the heavyweight division's seemingly permanent shallowness, there is actually a groundswell of talent coming in right now.
Miocic is one of the young(ish), skilled fighters who is starting to climb toward the top. Brendan Schaub happens to be another one.
Schaub actually came fairly close to title contention back in 2011 after racking up four wins in a row (three by knockout). While he dropped back-to-back fights in truly devastating fashion to halt that rise, he has improved his ground game in a big way to go along with his heavy hands.
Pitting Miocic against Schaub allows the UFC to match two emerging contenders in a way that yields one stronger name. A fighter like Schaub would be a solid test for Miocic.
Nikita Krylov is one of the youngest fighters on the UFC roster. While he lost an ugly one to Soa Palelei, he beat Walt Harris in impressive fashion with a dazzling display of kicks. While Krylov is nowhere close to Miocic in terms of the rankings, depending on how the UFC plans to handle him, that might work out just fine.
Miocic is undeniably skilled. He is one of the better athletes in the upper weight classes, and he has been independently successful as both a wrestler and a boxer. If he can continue polishing those skills, a title fight may just be in his future.
So...why risk it?
Krylov's stock went up quite a bit with his win, and while it wouldn't raise Miocic's stock, it would likely buy him time to further hone his tools en route to the top. Krylov plays perfectly into his hand, making this a perfect fight for Miocic to stay in the win column.
Maybe the UFC is still looking to build up Miocic but would prefer to do it against a slightly more established name. Ben Rothwell fits that bill.
Rothwell has been around forever and has stuck around with his huge size, iron chin and general grittiness. Similar to Roy Nelson (whom Rothwell actually beat back in the IFL), he has a powerful striking game, but the difference in technical prowess against Miocic is profound. So is the wrestling, and so is the cardio.
Once again, this is a match that plays perfectly into Miocic's hands. Much like his last two fights, it's almost a guarantee that Miocic would be totally capable of circling and jabbing his way to a convincing, albeit less-than-impressive, decision.
So we covered the UFC doing a prospect vs. prospect fight, and we discussed feeding him.
Now, let's talk about if the UFC is feeling less bullish on Miocic. Let's say it's willing to use him to build up somebody else, somebody who actually owns an established fanbase and actually beats out Miocic in the striking department.
Somebody like Mark Hunt, for example.
Looking at this purely from the perspective of the rankings, this is a perfect matchup. Hunt is No. 7 heavyweight, while Miocic is No. 8.
In reality, though, things greatly favor Hunt, who has deceptively accurate striking and a well-documented ability to explode into punches that makes him one of the hardest hitters in MMA. Antonio Silva demonstrated that Hunt is likely susceptible to leg kicks, but Miocic's kicking game is basically nonexistent.
In a three-round fight, Hunt would press the action and could land some of those big leaping left hooks to potentially knock out Miocic.
Don't get me wrong, Miocic wouldn't be a can in a fight with Hunt. But Hunt would open as a big favorite and rightly so.
In the same vein as Hunt lies Alistair Overeem.
Overeem, of course, is matched against former champion Frank Mir in what should be an easily winnable fight for the kickboxer. Unfortunately, we've seen what happens when it comes to Overeem and easily winnable fights, as he found himself knocked out by Travis Browne and Antonio Silva.
That, however, makes Overeem something of a perfect opponent for Miocic.
Should Miocic win, he would be on the path toward legitimate title contention. Depending how things shake out with Cain Velasquez's injury, he might even wind up being the next in line for the belt given how the division is shaking out right now. And with the division always short on contenders, that would make him a valuable commodity for the UFC.
Should Overeem win, the former Strikeforce champ would have two wins over ranked fighters in a row to separate him from devastating knockout losses. That would put him back on the title path and could potentially land him only a fight or two away from challenging for a belt (once again, depending on how the shaky division settles).
Either way, this is a win-win for the UFC and a great opportunity for Miocic.