It has been quite some time, since two top-five heavyweights were matched up against one another. The heavyweight division has deteriorated in top-level talent, due to age catching up to certain fighters and the lack of prospects coming up. As bizarre as it sounds, 32 years old is considered relatively young for a heavyweight. Stipe Miocic has been labeled as someone who can reinvigorate a languishing division.
While he doesn’t have the knockout power of Junior Dos Santos or the aura of Alistair Overeem, one notable comparison can be made for Miocic. His relentless pace and persistent fighting style is eerily reminiscent of currently heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Any comparison to a current champion immediately attracts interest, especially when it’s showcased against a top five heavyweight for five rounds. Some may discredit Mark Hunt for his lack of proper conditioning and non-existent head movement. That doesn’t take away his status as a top-tier heavyweight over the past two years.
Hunt has managed to stay at the top of his game in a division of fading heavyweights. The likes of Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva, and Gabriel Gonzaga have declined from taking too much punishment, lack of agility, and age. Hunt has transcended those consequences into having one of the greatest MMA comeback stories in recent memory. A combination of wicked power and determination willed him towards facing elite fighters such as Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum in title-implicated fights.
This was a monumental challenge for Miocic in traveling to Australia and taking on such a dangerous opponent. Would we see a repeat of Miocic’s slugfest against Dos Santos or a calculated outside striking game plan like he implemented against Nelson? The latter seemed to occur early on with the former Golden Gloves champion utilizing his reach advantage.
The constant jab usage and changing levels was effective through the first round. Besides landing his deceptive left hook on a few occasions, Hunt seemed flustered in trying to find his range. It became apparent that a repeat of Miocic’s fight against Nelson could realistically happen. Then a single leg takedown was attempted and completed without much resistance. It happened again in the second round followed by the same outcome in the third round.
Miocic is one of the better wrestlers in the heavyweight division, but he’s a notch below the likes of Velasquez and Josh Barnett. What makes the former Cleveland State wrestler such a nightmare comes from his relentless pressure. In his fights against Nelson and Dos Santos, Miocic was a combined two of twenty-six on takedowns. That staggering amount includes going one for eighteen against Dos Santos. Statistics can be essential in MMA on many occasions. The lack of success in Miocic’s takedowns wasn’t his downfall. It ended up becoming an asset, regardless if the takedown attempt was stuffed instantly.
His ability to wear down the likes of Nelson and Dos Santos was evident in those fantastic bouts. Although he wore down in the five-round classic against the former champion, Miocic’s ability to change levels and land a variety of strikes inside the clinch was indispensable. A steady usage of elbows and knees has become an integral part of his striking arsenal as well. The blueprint by Velasquez was set in order to defeat Dos Santos and Miocic was nearly successful.
That relentless pressure and speed was needed to get back into the win column. Hunt’s vastly improved takedown defense and grappling was expected to be a massive challenge. Not many analysts expected Miocic to successfully complete six out of eight takedowns, along with passing Hunt’s guard five times (stats courtesy of Fight Metric). Who can forget Hunt getting up from being full mounted by the likes of Stefan Struve and Antonio Silva? It was only six months ago that he was landing punches in Werdum’s guard without ever coming close of being submitted.
While the fight will be marred by awful mismanagement, this was a monumental victory for Miocic. Nobody has ever managed to break Hunt down without taking much punishment. Even from losing against Werdum and Dos Santos, the “Super Samoan” came out of those fights looking impressive at various points. This was a five-round beating on his home turf.
The impressive fight IQ of Miocic continues to be displayed during the biggest fights of his career. Instead of shooting for double leg takedowns against such a wide heavyweight, he constantly went for low single leg takedowns. Those takedown attempts forced the former K1 Grand Prix champion to frequently expand his energy to avoid being taken down or eventually being put on his back. Miocic would also transition to a straight right or knee, if the takedown was stuffed.
After struggling to take down another wide heavyweight in Nelson, a change in strategy was essential in order to defeat Hunt. While Nelson has enormous punching power, it’s become well documented that he’s fairly one-dimensional with his overhand right. Miocic couldn’t afford to stand-and-trade extensively with such a crafty striker.
Within the past four years, the only young heavyweight talent that has risen to true contender status has been Miocic and Travis Browne. We may see that matchup at some point this year, if Browne can get past Andrei Arlovski in two weeks. It’s one of the few refreshing matchups to make in such a strange division. A styles clash of relentless pressure against unpredictable striking would be fascinating to witness in determining the next number one contender.
Most heavyweights find success through having blistering striking power, wicked submission skills, or brute strength in overwhelming their opponents. Velasquez has been the only heavyweight that didn’t need those qualities to become successful. After his performance on Saturday night, Stipe Miocic has joined that unique list. The combination of being well rounded and persistent can do wonders for any fighter. We may see two heavyweights who personify that method clash in 2016. A new heavyweight contender emerged last December in Phoenix, Arizona. That label was confirmed on Saturday night in demolishing a MMA/Kickboxing legend.