Stipe Miocic is not consumed by the thought of becoming the greatest heavyweight of all time in mixed martial arts.
The sole focus for Miocic is Francis Ngannou, whom he meets on Saturday in the UFC 260 main event. The 38-year-old, who has already set the record for most UFC heavyweight championship defenses, seeks to add to his lengthy list of accomplishments with a victory. But despite a nearly perfect track record in the Octagon, Miocic expressed no surprise that the Las Vegas oddsmakers have, once again, made him the underdog in Saturday’s fight.
“By this point, I’m used to it,” Miocic says. “Vegas hates me.”
Miocic (20–3) is in the midst of a legendary run in the heavyweight division, but that hasn’t stopped people from making plans continue for when he inevitably drops the title. Now there is talk of Ngannou (15–3) starting a long and dazzling run as champion, setting up a box-office extravaganza for the belt against Jon Jones. And it all sounds grand, until you remember that Miocic is still champ, with no plans to relinquish the title.
“Jones and Ngannou, I’ve heard that,” Miocic says. “I’m used to being overlooked. I’m used to ruining people’s plans. A lot of people don’t like that about me, but I don’t care. I work too hard to give up what I have.”
Miocic needed no reminder of the frustration he felt when he lost the title to Daniel Cormier at UFC 226 in the summer of 2018, recalling a fire burning a hole through him as he watched Cormier celebrate in the Octagon with Brock Lesnar. Miocic then won the next two fights against Cormier, capping off their trilogy in August. He conceded that Ngannou has an extra edge after losing their fight in January 2018 but reiterated that the added motivation alone will not be enough to dethrone him.
“Francis has evolved,” says Miocic, who exhausted Ngannou in their 2018 fight, exposing serious flaws en route to a unanimous decision victory. “I know he’ll be better; he’s worked on his craft. He’s a tough guy and fought through a lot. I have a lot of respect for him, but that won’t change the result of this fight, which will be me with my hand raised.”
Few fighters in the world possess Ngannou’s elite striking and knockout power, which makes it even more impressive that Miocic was able to withstand incredibly damaging hooks to the head in their last fight. Since Ngannou was so spent in the later rounds, he was never able to capitalize on his offense, while Miocic grew stronger as the fight extended.
“I can take his shots,” Miocic says. “My conditioning is great, and that helps. You try not to get hit, but that’s part of it. I’ll be ready for what he throws.”
Another strength for Miocic is his boxing defense, which will play an instrumental role in this fight. And though there is a prevailing belief that the Cormier trilogy has taken some tread off Miocic’s tires, he believes that the fight world will now see a more complete mixed martial artist.
“D.C. made me a way better fighter, mentally and physically,” Miocic says. “I lost something to him, and that drove me nuts. I learned a lot about myself in those fights, and I had to push to evolve and be better.
“Now I’ve had plenty of time off. I have a lot of people behind me; I have Cleveland behind me. I’m ready for Saturday.”
After three long years Ngannou finally has his shot at redemption. Yet there is also much at stake for Miocic, who would further cement his claim as the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history with a win.
“Ngannou has improved, but so have I,” Miocic says. “I’ve evolved with my technique and how I treat my body. And we’re going to see the same result. You’re going to hear, ‘And still,’ and the belt will still be around my waist.”