LAS VEGAS — Stipe Miocic isn’t one to worry about what anyone else thinks. He’s in his second stint as UFC heavyweight champion and is widely regarded as the best heavyweight in the sport’s history, so ignoring the well-meaning (or otherwise) suggestions from others hasn’t been difficult for him.
On Saturday, it will be a year since he regained the title by making a fourth-round adjustment and stopping Daniel Cormier in their rematch at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, at UFC 241.
Given that each fighter had one win, that made a rubber match the most logical next fight for both of them.
Miocic suffered a retina injury in the second fight when he was poked in the eye by Cormier, and underwent a procedure in Cleveland to repair it. Though his doctor was able to repair it successfully, that experience gave Miocic reason to pause.
He thought long and hard about whether he wanted to continue to fight. He is a fierce competitor and loves to fight, but he has a special bond with his 2-year-old daughter, Meelah.
And the thought of being blind in one eye and not being able to see her growth perfectly made him shudder, so much so that he thought at least briefly about retiring.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said when asked if he considered retirement. “I wanted to be able to see my daughter with both eyes.”
The doctor told him he shouldn’t have any problems if he let the injury heal and didn’t come back too quickly.
Around the time that he was able to see correctly again, the coronavirus pandemic struck. Given that Miocic is a fireman and an EMT, he was badly needed and his department couldn’t spare him to leave for a fight camp.
Plus, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine closed the state down and made it impossible, at least at first, for Miocic to train.
He was, in some ways, fighting against the clock. He sincerely believes he’s better than Cormier and wants nothing better than to prove it, which he’ll get the chance to do on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) in the main event of UFC 252 when they meet in a rubber match at Apex.
Cormier had said in late 2018 that he planned to retire by his 40th birthday on March 20, 2019. But he wanted to fight Brock Lesnar in what would have been a massive money fight. When Lesnar signed with the WWE instead of returning to fight Cormier, Cormier wanted to give Miocic the rematch.
But Cormier was injured and couldn’t compete until Aug. 17, 2019. That’s when Miocic regained the belt. A rubber match made sense for everyone, but as Miocic was dealing with his issues, Cormier got further and further away from that 40th birthday.
Miocic, though, never wavered. Gyms finally reopened in Ohio, then his sponsors built him a gym in his basement where he could bring Meelah down to watch him prepare.
He’s the only UFC champion to hold down a full-time job. It’s not because he needs the money, but rather because he loves to serve and honestly looks forward to going to work each day.
“I love what I do; I love everything about it,” he said of being a firefighter. “I worked real hard to get here. ... I love helping people. My whole life, I’ve loved helping people. I have had a lot of people who have helped me along the way and so I just want to give back.”
That Midwestern work ethic and determination that led him to become a firefighter is also what has helped make him become one of the sport’s most dominant fighters. He’s ranked No. 3 in the UFC’s most recent pound-for-pound ratings and will have lapped the heavyweight field if he beats Cormier on Saturday.
It’s part of why he wasn’t biting at any offers when the UFC was hoping to schedule the rubber match sooner. The thought of going into any fight, let alone one with the kind of significance this fight carries, is anathema to him.
He nearly lost that second fight because he got off to a poor start and Cormier was in command. Cormier was ahead on the cards after three rounds, feeling confident and looking for all the world like he was going to defend the title.
Miocic, though, found a way. He started to go to the body and that changed the tide of the fight.
“I’ve never started so slow in any of my fights,” Miocic said. “I usually start fast and set a good pace. I was stuck in the mud for a little bit. The second round, I began to wake up and in the third, I did a little more. ... I thought I’d change it up [in the fourth] and decided to see if he likes it [to the body].”
That brings him to Saturday as the defending champion in one of the year’s biggest fights. It’s been a crazy year, with the pandemic and so many other unexpected things happening, but Miocic is the kind of guy who only focuses on one thing at a time.
For the past two months, his focus has been on nothing but Cormier and retaining the belt.
He said he’s rejuvenated by training at home and doesn’t have to leave his daughter, so he’s going to continue that in the future.
He’s happy with the results of his camp, but isn’t caught up in the talk that this fight will determine the greatest heavyweight in MMA history.
“Everyone is saying it is [to determine the greatest heavyweight], but I’m just going to go out there and do my job,” Miocic said. “I’m going to go out there and win, get the belt wrapped around my waist — ‘And still’ — walk out with my hand raised and that’s it. Everyone has their own opinions. They can think yes. They can think no. I don’t care.
“All I care about is being the champ.”
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