Stipe Miocic has the chance to rewrite his legacy.
This Saturday at UFC 241, Miocic walks into the Octagon for a heavyweight title shot against Daniel Cormier—the same opponent who knocked him out 13 months ago and took his belt.
Miocic now gets a chance to avenge that opening round knockout loss, though the match-up does not favor him. Cormier (22–1–1) offers unrelenting pressure, knock out power, superior grappling ability, and has multiple ways of making an opponent submit.
“I’m from Cleveland, I’m used to being an underdog,” said Miocic (18–3). “I’m used to being an underdog.”
Miocic threw a lot of combinations during the four-and-a-half-minute fight at UFC 226, but fights end in vicious opening-round knockouts for a reason and logic states the next time will not be different. Miocic, unsurprisingly, feels differently.
“Until he got that one shot on me last time, I was winning the fight,” said Miocic. “I was pushing the pace, I was pushing him into the cage. It wasn’t like he was mopping up the floor with me, he just landed a good shot. That happens, it’s part of the fight game.”
The lack of faith in Miocic entering Saturday’s fight is a microcosm of his entire career. Despite becoming the first-ever UFC Heavyweight champion to have three consecutive title defenses, Miocic has always been overlooked in favor of flashier fighters.
His humility does not work in his favor when promoting fights, and there is no hype man in Miocic’s corner expostulating his accolades. The 36-year-old former firefighter is a blue-collar fighter, as well as a proud husband and father. Authenticity does not sell nearly as well as boastfulness in the fight game, but that hasn’t stopped Miocic from being himself.
“All I’m worried about is the task at hand,” said Miocic. “Talk or no talk, it’s all about the fight. This is a business. He’s trying to hurt me and I’m trying to hurt him.
“I’m working out hard and getting better every day, working on what I need to work on to get that belt back. Win, lose, or draw, I’m going out there swinging. And I’m not losing.”
A title win over Cormier would rewrite a critical piece of Miocic’s legacy. If he is able to turn experience into his advantage, then he will have conquered an MMA legend that only Jon Jones has been able to solve.
If Miocic can maintain distance, luring Cormier forward, then perhaps there will be a different outcome this Saturday in Anaheim.
“I’m focused on beating him and getting my belt back,” said Miocic. “Last time, he wasn’t out-wrestling me or overpowering me. He wasn’t pushing the pace. That’s what I was doing to him.
“The last thing Cormier is going to see is me getting my hand raised and hearing, ‘And new...’ That’s all I care about.”