TGIFighting: UFC Ironman Stipe Miocic Is MMA's Cal Ripken Jr.

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 26, 2021

Stipe Miocic
Stipe MiocicGregory Payan/Associated Press

Welcome to TGIFighting, the weekly Friday morning column where we preview upcoming cards, break down the MMA news of the day, tell interesting stories and, if at all possible, have something known as "fun." Let's get it on.

        

UFC Ironman Stipe Miocic Is MMA's Cal Ripken Jr.

UFC President Dana White has been talking up Francis Ngannou for at least three years.  

"Ngannou has the world record for the most powerful punch," White said in 2017. "His punch is the equivalent to 96 horsepower, which is equal to getting hit by a Ford Escort going as fast as it can. It's more powerful than a 12-pound sledgehammer getting swung full force overhead."

(The 2017 Escort actually has 115 horsepower and is much larger than a fist, so I'll take the Ngannou punch if I have to choose, but I digress.) 

When Ngannou (15-3) faced heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic (20-3) in 2018, it was a rare instance when the challenger was the favorite. We know what happened, as Miocic suffocated the thunder-fisted French-Cameroonian to win a war of attrition that gave him a UFC record three consecutive heavyweight title defenses. 

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Fast-forward to UFC 260 this Saturday, which goes down from the UFC's Apex facility in Las Vegas, and once again Miocic is the +110 underdog to Ngannou's -130, per DraftKings. 

The question isn't whether Stipe is star material. He's not. He isn't flashy, is dead air on the mic and has no signature move or technique. 

Simply put, his greatness is in his goodness, and I don't mean his other job as a first responder. He's a very good fighter in all phases, giving him essentially no weaknesses. He works the jab, works the body and can come over the top. He has good offensive and defensive wrestling and can sap an opponent's will against the fence. He feints and parries to create openings, and he knows how to cut off the cage. He has a chin of stone. He doesn't have that one-shot power, but he can chew you up, leaving you looking like you just went through the gears of some monstrous machine. 

He also never gets injured. He's never failed a drug test. He's never has a misstep with the media. He loves his friends and family. He's as steady as she goes.

Stipe Miocic (top) works on Francis Ngannou in their first meeting
Stipe Miocic (top) works on Francis Ngannou in their first meetingGregory Payan/Associated Press

Miocic reminds me of another superstar from a bygone era: Cal Ripken Jr., the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who set the most unbreakable sports record of all time. Known as the Iron Man, Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive MLB games. He was consistent on offense and defense, even if there was no real glitter in his game. Just pencil him in and let him do his thing, time after time.

Miocic is the UFC's iron man. You don't think much about him, but then you look up and realize he's the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. He'll have a chance to do it again Saturday against Ngannou, who has been working on his wrestling and cardio ahead of the rematch. 

So go ahead. Try to hit Miocic with that Ford Escort. Something tells me the Escort might be the one that's really in trouble Saturday. We'll see what happens to 96 horsepower when it tries to connect with the iron man.

               

COVID Rears Its Ugly Head (Again)

This Saturday's card looked a lot more lackluster after its co-main event, a featherweight title bout between champ Alexander Volkanovski and charismatic challenger Brian Ortega, was scuttled because of a positive COVID-19 test.

This announcement came days after last week's co-main event, a bout between Gregor Gillespie and Brad Riddell at UFC on ESPN 21, was canceled for the same reason.

Alexander Volkanovski
Alexander VolkanovskiJohn Locher/Associated Press

This all happened as fans await word on the fighting future of electric rising star Khamzat Chimaev, who indicated he was done with the sport after contracting COVID-19 and facing prolonged difficulties in training as a result.

UFC 260 looks a lot less appealing after the loss of what promised to be a high-level title fight between two popular and super-talented competitors.

It's also a reminder that the UFC, try as it might to convince itself and everyone else otherwise, doesn't have any special answers on stopping or mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

                  

Michael Chandler: Best Bellator Fighter Ever (Not) 

It's easy to forget that Michael Chandler has only been in the UFC for precisely one fight. After destroying a good fighter in Dan Hooker in his January UFC debut, Chandler was pitted against Charles Oliveira (30-8, 1 NC) in a bout for the lightweight title recently vacated by the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.

This emphatic opening salvo might have fans assuming Chandler (22-5) is the best fighter Bellator has to offer. But he's not. For that, look no further than Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (31-4).

You know, the guy who holds both the Bellator lightweight and featherweight titles. And more importantly for this discussion, he's the guy who knocked out Chandler in their 2019 title bout at 155 pounds. 

This is not to put disrespect on Chandler's name. It's to show that Bellator has plenty going on besides a one-off—and that with Nurmagomedov's retirement, Bellator may well have the world's best lightweight on its roster. 

Want to see more? Freire is focused on his featherweight crown, and he'll face Emmanuel Sanchez (20-4) April 2 in the semifinals of the $1 million featherweight grand prix when Bellator makes its debut on Showtime. More than worth a watch.

             

Jiu-Jitsu Superstar Signs with ONE

Gordon Ryan, a multi-time world grappling champion and arguably the most feared jiu-jitsu fighter alive, has crossed over to the world of MMA, recently signing with Asia's ONE Championship.

Despite his lengthy grappling resume, Ryan is still only 24 years old and has plenty of time to round out his MMA game. He's also no stranger to high-level MMA competition, having won grappling matches over respected vets like Josh Barnett and Gabriel Gonzaga, among others.

Ryan has had designs on MMA for years, telling broadcaster Luke Thomas (h/t FanSided's Raphael Garcia) in 2019 that "my ultimate goal was to be the best in MMA. I'm going to keep training MMA and whenever [my coach] thinks I'm ready to fight, I'm going to fight MMA." 

Here he is. It's pretty slim pickins in ONE's heavyweight division, but a couple of the more interesting names include champ and longtime UFC vet Brandon Vera and Olympic freestyle wrestler Arjan Bhullar. It will be interesting to see what the promotion does with its newest gem. One has to suspect the UFC and others will keep a close eye on the proceedings.

        

Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the Week 

Record: 4-0

Welcome back to your home for conservative MMA betting. Bet the farm, throw it in your parlay or just put five bucks on it and have some fun. 

For UFC 260, the choice is clear. Abubakar Nurmagomedov is a -235 favorite on DraftKings to handle Jared Gooden in his second UFC contest and first in a year-and-a-half.

If the last name rings a bell, Abubakar is a cousin and very close associate of Khabib Nurmagomedov. He also trained under Khabib's late father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died last year from complications related to COVID-19.

You think Abubakar will have any motivation to perform?

In contrast to Khabib, Abubakar (15-3-1) is more of an action fighter, with 10 of his 15 wins coming by stoppage. He's looking for his first UFC victory, as he lost his 2019 debut by first-round submission. Meanwhile, opponent Jared Gooden (17-5) has a nose for the finish but is also 0-1 in the UFC following a November loss to Alan Jouban. Nurmagomedov will be on a mission, and that mission is to dominate Gooden.

It should be a fun fight, and Nurmagomedov will take it. Lock it in.

       

Walkout Song of the Week

Robbie Lawler, "Hold On I'm Coming" by Sam and Dave 

A perfect mix of festive and threatening, Lawler's walkout always gets the crowd pumped. Although whenever I hear this song I think of Rory MacDonald's broken face, which takes some of the fun out of it.

            

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