Maybe now Stipe Miocic will get a little respect.
Miocic, 35, became the first man to ever defend the UFC heavyweight championship more than two times consecutively by easily beating challenger Francis Ngannou in UFC 220's main event Saturday in Boston.
Plenty of excellent fighters have sat atop the UFC's heavyweight division. None have been able to turn away more than two challengers in a row. Mostly, it's just the nature of the heavyweight division; the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Heavyweights are large, violent men, and thus the bouts between them are more prone to defying our expectations.
After all, when a 245-pound man lands a punch, any notion of favorites and underdogs go flying out the window.
Maybe that's why we all overlooked the 35-year-old Miocic going into his latest title fight. The 6'4", 263-pound Ngannou was the new, younger and very much larger thing. The shiny thing. He had an interesting back story. The 31-year-old only learned mixed martial arts four years ago. He threw the strongest punch by any human in the history of recorded punches (a thing that ranks up there with the zaniest of UFC-invented promotional tools). I mean, just look at the size of the man. Look at what he can do. He's not human.
Except, as it turns out, Ngannou was human. All of that muscle, all the power and the Mike Tyson comparisons and the highlight reels of Alistair Overeem's soul departing from this Earth—all of it was for naught. Because when it comes down to it, as defending light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier told Volkan Oezdemir before spanking him and sending him on his way Saturday: There are levels to this. And Ngannou, for all his crackling potential, is not on Miocic's level.
But then, it could be that nobody is on Miocic's level. And why is this something we only realize after the fact? Why are we so eager to embrace the Next Big Thing instead of appreciating the thing we already have that's so much better? Why did we get so obsessed with Ngannou after one big knockout on the national stage?
Maybe it's Miocic's mumbling, aw-shucks Midwestern demeanor. His personality outside the cage—or at least the one the notoriously shy Ohio native allows us to see—is about as exciting as watching paint fade. Perhaps it's that Miocic seems, at least outside the cage, like a real human being instead of the kind of ridiculous cartoon personality we often find at the upper end of the the UFC's rankings.
I mean, the man is a real-life paramedic who holds a near-full time job at a fire station in Cleveland while also being the UFC heavyweight champion and a rich man.
Maybe it's that we're always looking for the next big thrill, and boy, Ngannou knew how to thrill. At least for one round. After that, his energy reserves were completely dry, and that's when Miocic took over.
Sure, the rest of the fight was terribly boring, but can you blame Miocic for taking the path he did? Can you blame him for putting Ngannou on his ass whenever humanly possible and keeping him there, by hook or by crook? That's the calling card of a smart fighter: doing what it takes to win, even if it's not the most popular or aesthetically pleasing solution.
Miocic cruised to an easy decision with 50-44 scores across the board. It was a one-sided shellacking. When asked by Joe Rogan about claiming the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC heavyweight history, Miocic responded in exactly the fashion you'd expect (via MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani):
Next week, Miocic will probably return to the firehouse in Ohio, where his colleagues will razz him. He'll make coffee for his fellow firemen. He'll live a normal life, which is really all he seems to want in the first place. But he'll do so as the greatest UFC heavyweight champion in history.
And next time he fights, whether it's against Cain Velasquez or any other top contender, we'd do well to remember why it was so ridiculous for us to overlook him in the first place.