Stipe Miocic gave UFC fans exactly what they wanted on Saturday against Fabio Maldonado.
Mostly, what they wanted was to go to bed.
It was after midnight on the east coast by the time Miocic and Maldonado took the cage following roughly 10 and a half hours of nearly continuous UFC programming. Worn down by the fight company’s strange decision to run two events back-to-back on a single day, the fondest wish of the worldwide viewing audience was palpable just prior to the night’s 22nd and final fight: Just get this over with.
To that end, Miocic delivered in spades, polishing off the game but overmatched Maldonado with two short-and-sweet punching combinations 35 seconds into the first round.
It made for an abrupt ending to a long day, but that was probably for the best, considering the circumstances. Meant to be the crown jewel at the climax of the UFC’s gala doubleheader, the heavyweight main event of the TUF Brazil 3 finale lost a great deal of its luster when Junior dos Santos pulled out with a hand injury four weeks ago. Light heavyweight Maldonado stepped up and a stepped in on short notice, but most folks could smell the beatdown coming.
We just hoped it wasn’t going to be too ugly.
Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Maldonado opened the bout aggressively, pushing Miocic back with a three-punch combo that demonstrated both the smaller man’s determination and his lack of hand speed. Miocic calmly circled away from it, and the second time Maldonado engaged, Miocic buckled his knees with a counter left hook.
Maldonado composed himself against the fence, but his chance only lasted long enough for Miocic to land a pair of leg kicks and the right hand that put him down. A short series of hammerfists later, referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight.
“I was real nervous,” Miocic admitted to play-by-play announcer Jon Anik in the cage immediately afterward. “That guy (Maldonado) is a tank. He keep coming forward, he doesn’t stop. He’s got the heart of a lion. I just needed to get my shots in. I got an open break and caught him with a good punch. Maybe that wouldn’t happen again, but tonight was my night.”
It was a tad anticlimactic—especially considering the historically long lead-in—but was likely the preferable outcome for both fighters. Maldonado had taken a significant risk moving up in weight to fight in his hometown and, as a guy long regarded as too tough for his own good, it was better than seeing him getting brutalized for 25 minutes.
Miocic no doubt emerged injury free and with his contender status in the heavyweight division unaffected. At just 31 years old, he’s one of the division’s more exciting (and youthful) up-and-comers. In a perfect world, matchmakers will still move to set him up with a bout against dos Santos, as soon as both are ready and willing.
“If it happens, it happens,” the 6’4”, 240-pound Ohio native told MMA Junkie’s John Morgan after the fight. “Right now, I’m happy with the (win) I got tonight. That’s all I was worried about, was tonight. I’m going to go back home and hang out with my family and see what the UFC wants me to do.”
Thus ended the long haul of two same-day UFC events on separate continents in cities some 6,400 miles apart. Things had started at noon eastern time with the prelims of UFC Fight Night 41 from Berlin, Germany and ended with Miocic dusting Maldonado in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the wee hours of the following day.
Even for an organization as brazen as the UFC, this lengthy booking struck a strange and audacious chord. For a year or two now, the debate around the fight promotion’s swelling live schedule has focused on how much of its good thing will prove to be too much. At least publicly, executives have categorically refused to concede the possibility of over-saturation, and running two shows in one day read almost like a thumb to the eye of critics.
The only time it has come close to pulling something like this before was 2012, when UFC on FX 6 and the TUF 16 finale both officially occurred on December 15. Back then, however, the time difference between host cities Queensland, Australia and Las Vegas, Nevada meant they actually happened on back-to-back nights.
Saturday’s marathon affair could almost have been dismissed as an accident—a scheduling quirk, perhaps—were the UFC not planning to do it three more times this year. Next month on June 28, it’ll run same-day events in Auckland, New Zealand and San Antonio, Tex.; on August 23, there’ll be a double-dip in Macau, China and Tulsa, Okla.; and on October 4 we’ll be treated to dueling shows in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Stockholm, Sweden.
It remains unclear what the company hopes to accomplish with these epic days, or if it might revisit this scheduling policy once this year is up. For now, however, we can all return to our regularly scheduled programs.
And sleep patterns.
At least for a few more weeks.