Stipe Miocic defied the odds by beating his challenger Francis Ngannou on Saturday night in Boston. He did what no other heavyweight has ever been able to accomplish when he defended his belt for a third straight time. The fight went the distance with Cleveland’s favorite firefighter avoiding major trouble and dominating the fight with a more well-rounded skill set. It’s surreal in the aftermath of the fight to realize that Stipe Miocic was an underdog as the reigning champ.
Francis Ngannou was a worthy challenger to be sure. His resume was phenomenal including a gaudy 11-1 record, including 6-0 in the UFC since debuting in December of 2015. Ngannou also plowed through his last two fights, not allowing either to get to the two-minute mark as he finished Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem in decisive fashion. Why that made him a favorite is beyond me. Those are two of the same guys Stipe dominated during his five-fight win streak leading up to his sixth straight – and record-breaking – victory over Francis Ngannou. And sure, it took Stipe 4:27 to knock out Alistair Overeem, but he did stop Arlovski in just 54 seconds and most recently beat Junior dos Santos in 2:22. So, it was at best an even matchup heading in, if not for the hype machine trying to get Stipe off the throne. It’s no wonder that Stipe Miocic was less-than-subtle about feeling disrespected by the UFC in the aftermath.
Before we get there, just look at Stipe executing a perfect gameplan. If you’re a well-rounded fighter, it would be in your best interest to avoid the one thing Francis Ngannou does best and avoid giant haymakers while using superior wrestling skills. Ngannou is a critically dangerous puncher and it’s amazing to see just how well Stipe avoided those ginormous shots.
These are the same shots that connected for Ngannou in his previous two fights. It’s such impressive punching power that the UFC produced video about it from their own fancy UFC performance institute. That’s the same UFC performance institute where Ngannou did all of his training leading up to the title bout.
The UFC is very vocal about the fact that they’ll make their facilities available to any of their fighters. On a recent podcast with Joe Rogan, UFC’s Jeff Novitzky even discussed their ability to accommodate two fighters scheduled to face each other if they both wanted to train there at the same time. Stipe Miocic wasn’t looking to get in there, preferring to continue to operate the way he always has training and working in Cleveland. But the champ did notice that the UFC seemed to favor his opponent in all the lead-up promotion for the fight in Boston.
When asked if he thought the UFC wanted Ngannou to win the title, Stipe didn’t sugar-coat it. “Obviously, for sure,” Miocic said to the MMA Fighting on The MMA Hour. “Listen, I feel a little bit disrespected, but I’m not going to dwell on it.”
Just look at Stipe’s face when Dana White is spouting off about Ngannou during a presser.
If Stipe were to dwell on it, it might start with his contract. Something that has been well-reported of late is that Stipe Miocic was never the highest paid fighter in his matchups until his title defense against Junior Dos Santos. That includes his first title defense against Alistair Overeem, which Stipe headlined in his own hometown in front of an electric crowd at The Q on September 10, 2016. How is it that the reigning champ isn’t worth more than his challenger in a headlining fight in his hometown? It’s a complex question with a complex answer, I’m sure, but it appears the explanations are no longer working for the champ.
After finishing Ngannou and having his hand raised, it’s customary for UFC honcho Dana White to wrap the belt around the waist of the champ. Stipe wasn’t having it. He snatched the belt away from White, handed it to his coach and had his coach put the belt around his waist. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I’ve watched a whole lot of championship UFC fights.
— McDuckMMA (@McDuckMMA) January 21, 2018
When asked about it during the post-fight presser, Stipe just said that his coaches are family and he knows they respect him. Without saying it directly, Stipe said it all about how he seems to feel about the UFC right now. It’s hard to blame him, either. Miocic fought whenever the UFC seemed to ask him to fight. He suffered through injury replacements and scheduling changes and all sorts of things. He beat all the contenders in his path, won the title in the most hostile environment possible in Brazil against Fabricio Werdum, and then for his trouble was paid less then his challenger in his first defense. Now he’s made history by defending against the UFC’s golden boy and it feels to Stipe and his fans like it’s to the dismay of Dana White and the UFC brass.
That’s somewhat understandable based purely on business as Arash Markazi pointed out recently at ESPN. Stipe Miocic isn’t a brash, trash-talking self-promoter and it shows in the UFC pay-per-view buy rates. Miocic’s fights seem to score in the 300,000 range in terms of buy rates. That looks rough compared to guys like Connor McGregor who can pull north of one million consistently. That said, it’s pretty consistent with other heavyweights not named Brock Lesnar. Cain Velasquez and Farbricio Werdum did 300,000 buys for UFC 188. Werdum and Mark Hunt did 185,000. And I would argue that guys like Connor McGregor are an impossible standard for the vast majority of professional fighters in the world. It seems to me that Stipe is holding up his end of the bargain, and it’s on the UFC to figure out how to take their dominant champ to the next level as the promoter.
We’ll see where it goes from here, of course. Someday Stipe will lose that belt. It’s the nature of professional fighting. Suffice to say it won’t be as soon as the UFC would have hoped. That’s just fine for Stipe Miocic and his fans.