MMA’s heavyweight ranks in the days of old were largely dominated by a slew of sluggish, unathletic, haymaker-throwing brutes who quite literally used their weight to push opponents around the cage and often couldn’t last much longer in a fight than it would have taken to drop his opponent – or be dropped – like a fallen redwood tree. The past several years have seen tremendous growth in the heavyweight division and have given way to a new breed of competitors who aren’t just physically imposing, but also very fast, well-rounded, and technical, with the likes of Cain Velasquez (9-0), “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (13-1), “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (32-12), “Meathead” Matt Mitrione (5-0), Cheick Kongo (16-6-2), Daniel Cormier (8-0), “The Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (18-5), and “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (7-2) leading the way.
Enter: Stipe Miocic (6-0). The undefeated Ohio native has been fighting professionally only since February 2010 but has already managed to cause a few ripples in the pool of talented new heavyweights. Miocic, of Team Strong Style in Independence, Ohio, has employed his brutal brand of striking to finish each one of his half-dozen opponents, just half of whom made it to the second round before suffering the same fate as those before them. On June 4 Stipe captured the first championship title of his career after defeating Bobby Brents (10-2) by second-round submission via leg kicks at NAAFS: Fight Night in the Flats 7. It wasn’t long after that the UFC came calling. Tomorrow night in a preliminary card match-up at UFC 136, Miocic will make his UFC debut against respected veteran “The Mexicutioner” Joey Beltran (11-4) in what promises to be an unabashed slug fest. Just days before the biggest fight of his career thus far, MMA Gospel Editor-in-Chief Mallory Mejia had the opportunity to speak with Stipe on his transition to the big leagues and what he expects come Saturday night.
You’re just a few days away from making your UFC debut – how are you feeling with the big day being so close?
I feel great! Just waiting till Saturday. I can’t wait.
How does your style fit in – or stand out – among the UFC’s other heavyweights?
I hope my style fits well (laughs). I think I’ll fit in well. I just have to keep fighting and get better from every fight.
Especially considering that you’ve been fighting professionally only since February 2010, you’ve achieved an incredible amount of success, including a championship title and now a contract with the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion, the UFC. How have you done in 20 months what so many others don’t accomplish in their entire career?
I have worked really hard. It’s about working hard and believing that that’s what it takes.
Can you tell us about that fateful conversation with the UFC brass as they asked you to join their heavyweight ranks?
(Laughs) It wasn’t really a conversation, just an email.
Aside from being a former NCAA Div I wrestler and former Golden Gloves champion, we’ve heard that in college you also had the MLB knocking on your door. Have you always been an athlete? What other sports have you competed in?
Yeah, I love competing. That’s why I did so many sports. I did pretty much every sport: soccer, bowling, swimming, et cetera. I never did hockey. I wish I could have but my mom didn’t have the time to do it since she worked nights and practices were early in the morning.
So what is it that ultimately made you decide to test your skills in MMA?
I love the different aspects and the competition level of it.
Seems you’ve found your calling. You’ve gone undefeated in six fights, half of which didn’t make it out of the first round and five of which came via TKO. When you step into the cage and the opening bell rings, what’s your typical approach to the fight?
I’m going to stick with my game plan and do whatever it takes to win!
The majority of your professional MMA career thus far has been spent under the North American Allied Fight Series (NAAFS) banner, where you serve as its heavyweight champion. Did you have to forfeit your title in order to sign with the UFC?
I don’t know, I actually never thought of that. Most likely yeah.
You’re making your UFC debut against a veteran in the sport, “The Mexicutioner” Joey Beltran, who has 18 pro fights under his belt versus your six. How do you feel about the vast difference in cage experience?
He definitely has more experience in the cage but if I do what I do, then I’ll be okay.
Do you feel at a disadvantage? Will the experience factor change your approach come fight time?
No, not at all. I’m going to listen to my coaches and do just what they have had me doing since the start of the training camp.
Previous opponents of Joey Beltran can attest to his unrelenting aggression in a fight. For someone such as yourself who has a history of using his heavy-handed striking to make a short night for his opponents, how do you think you will handle the psychological impact of a tough fighter like Beltran who just keeps coming forward no matter what is thrown at him?
I’m going to keep hitting him! (Laughs)
You have shown yourself to be a more technically skilled boxer than Joey, who hones more of a brawler style. Do you think that attribute will be a bigger advantage earlier or later on in the bout?
I think if I use my game plan and don’t do anything dumb I’ll be okay. I’ll be great for all three rounds.
Even though you have let your fists do most of your talking in the cage, do you see yourself using your wrestling more against Beltran to take him out of his comfort zone rather than simply pitting your boxing against his?
I’ll do whatever it takes to get that “W”.
What expectations do you ultimately have for yourself in your debut at UFC 136 this weekend?
Winning the fight. That’s my only expectation.
In respect to the UFC’s current heavyweight division, are there any particular fighters that you would really like to go toe to toe with, whether it be for personal reasons, to climb another rung on the division’s ladder, or just for fun?
Nope. It isn’t my decision, and I’m willing to fight whoever (laughs).
Stipe, thanks a ton for your time. The MMA Gospel staff wishes you the best of luck in your UFC debut! Is there anything you would like to add or anybody you would like to thank before you go?
Yes, I would like to thank B3 Enterprises, Defense Soap, Shredding Network, Intimidation Clothing, Sthress Clothing, John P. Lennon, Block by Block, Enhanced Fitness Performance, Cal Crowell Diverse Functional Training, and MD Consulting.