The heavyweight champion of the world has long been considered the baddest man on the planet – a title that moves along with the belt no matter who holds it.
And while the UFC has seen its fair share of titleholders in the big-man division, no one has ever defended the crown three times. That is, no one had until Cleveland, Ohio’s Stipe Miocic came along. The firefighter and paramedic turned fighter combined great wrestling skills, crisp boxing, and an unbeatable work ethic to rise to the top.
But during his last appearance, at UFC 220, Miocic seemed like an afterthought. Though he was riding a streak of four first-round knockouts and two title defenses coming into the bout, he was overshadowed largely by the hype behind his challenger. Francis Ngannou did earn the hype. He displayed the fiercest knockout power the division had ever seen, snapping back Alistair Overeem’s head with an uppercut on his route to earning a title shot.
But when the two met, Miocic proved he was as tactical as he was durable. Using good head movement, quick footwork, and a smart game plan, he avoided most of Ngannou’s power punches and wore the big man down over 25 minutes. When the final horn sounded, Miocic had broken the title defense record. But the exclamation point on his victory was his act of snatching the belt from UFC president Dana White and allowing his coach to place it on him instead.
It said a lot about the relationship between Miocic and White, and perhaps how the latter’s focus on promoting only Ngannou seemed extremely lopsided. But as Miocic prepares to take on light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 226, he says he’s finally happy with his pay and his treatment by the promotion.
Miocic said: “Dana and I, we talked that stuff out and it worked great.” He also responded to the question of whether his UFC 226 payday would be the highest of his career saying, “100 percent.”
His time on the Ultimate Fighter reality show as a coach opposite Cormier could’ve contributed to that big payday. His recent sponsorship deals may have also helped out, and Miocic, while a success both in and out of the Octagon, has good reason to save up – he and his wife are set to welcome their first child, a baby girl, at some point within July.
While his lack of promotion was a bit disheartening, Miocic also noted the logical reason for it. His rise to superstardom coincided with the UFC’s purchase by WME-IMG. New owners meant a new period of transition, so it took a little time for the champ to get his due.
But in addition to being the only man who has ever defended the heavyweight belt three times, Miocic could lay claim to another first in his next fight – being the first heavyweight to defeat Daniel Cormier. It’s a super fight if there ever was one, and Miocic remains confident he’ll walk out with the belt, just like he’s done in his last four fights.