Stipe Miocic, the UFC's Unlikeliest Champ, Nears Heavyweight History

Mike ChiappettaMMA Senior ColumnistMay 14, 2017

Stipe Miocic (right) lands a crushing right hand on challenger Junior Dos Santos.
Stipe Miocic (right) lands a crushing right hand on challenger Junior Dos Santos.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

The baddest man on the planet is an American everyman, a Rust Belt resident, part-time firefighter and soft-spoken gentleman who fights out of a town named "Independence."

The baddest man on the planet arrived as a complete surprise. A collegiate baseball player who had major league dreams, Stipe Miocic would not have been anyone's pick to become an all-time heavyweight great when he made his MMA debut at age 27. 

Yet, seven years later, here we are with Miocic on the cusp of history. After Saturday night's first-round starching of ex-champion Junior Dos Santos at UFC 211 in Dallas, he has defended the UFC heavyweight championship twice.

That may not seem like much, but if he is able to do it just one more time, he will stand alone with the most heavyweight title defenses in promotional history.

Saturday night's work was shockingly simple. Dos Santos has been beaten before, even finished before, but never so decisively. All it took was a Miocic right hand behind the ear and a few cursory piston-like left hands on the mat, and that was that. It took all of two minutes, 22 seconds, far different from their first go-around, which took the entire 25-minute allotment of time.

Between then and now, the growth pattern and learning curve have slanted strongly in Miocic's favor. There were lessons to be learned, and they were absorbed, drilled and enacted Saturday.

His hands have gotten faster and more accurate. He's better able to pace himself. His confidence has increased to the point that after the win, he even allowed himself a rare though modest boast.

"I am the best in the world," he told UFC analyst Joe Rogan moments after the win. "I'm the heavyweight champ."

Rogan followed up by asking what the best in the world wanted to do next. What kind of challenge was upcoming? 

"Right now, it's my kitchen," Miocic said. "I have to remodel my kitchen when I get home, so that's what I'm worried about right now."

Thinking about the kitchen? This is the baddest man on the planet? 

He is, and he's both endearing and unexpected.

When he last fought Dos Santos, it could well have been the end of his arc. He completed only one of his 18 takedown attempts, per FightMetric, a woeful output that doomed his offensive attack and allowed Dos Santos to let his hands go free.

Still, getting to the finish line with the longtime divisional No. 2 imbued Miocic with the understanding that he could hang with and eventually surpass the weight class' elite.

Five fights and five knockouts later, he's proved that. 

Dos Santos went from teacher to stepping stone, so quickly was he surpassed.

Now, it's onward and upward as the target on Miocic's back grows larger.

With one more win, Stipe Miocic will stand alone with the most consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses in history.
With one more win, Stipe Miocic will stand alone with the most consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses in history.Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The UFC heavyweight championship has historically been won and lost with a quickness, a hot potato of a belt that has never quite settled in around anyone's waist. The division has been around for 20 years, yet no one has managed to defend it more than twice in a row. Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar; they've all been borrowers more than owners. 

The inability to hold on to the strap largely comes due to circumstances and physics. The former is the more unpredictable of the two. Frank Mir, for example, never even got to attempt a defense after a horrific motorcycle crash that nearly killed him. Lesnar suffered a bout with diverticulitis that cost him 12 inches of his colon and roughly a half year of his career. The latter is more simple; you get two 250-pound men in a cage, and the first clean punch might end it.

Miocic isn't a technical marvel on the level of a Joanna Jedrzejczyk—who also successfully defended her belt at UFC 211—but he boasts a combination of power and ruggedness that serve as a nearly unshakeable base.

On Saturday, Dos Santos tried to rattle the champ by slamming kicks into the champ's legs. Miocic endured a few and showed a brief flash of pain, but it only seemed to anger him, causing him to come forward and attack.

Dos Santos has shown a propensity to drop his hands and square himself up as he nears the fence, a doubly dangerous proposition that has cost him in past losses. It's a mistake he repeated Saturday, and Miocic and his team were well-prepared. When the challenger backed himself to the perimeter, Miocic breached the distance. His first right hand grazed Dos Santos. The second landed square behind the ear and sent Dos Santos crashing to the mat.

It would be foolish to suggest Miocic is unbeatable, or even that his reign will last a while. The division has been filled with landmines through the years, and Cain Velasquez may show up any day and lay claim to the belt one more time. Anything is possible, and that is what has made it both fun and maddening.

Miocic is only proof of that. An everyman with a side gig shouldn't be the world heavyweight champion. The sport is just too complex, too layered. Yet here we are. Here he is. 

Stipe Miocic is the heavyweight king, and after he finishes his kitchen, his next challenge is history.