Over two years after their first meeting, Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos will go to battle inside the Octagon at UFC 211. However this time, the heavyweight title is on the line.
Last year spelled the rise of a heavyweight who took the division under everyone’s noses. Stipe Miocic began the year brightly, dispatching the now diminishing Andrei Arlovski in just under a minute. Things got even better for the Cleveland native at UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil. Stealing the belt from countryman and arguably one of the best heavyweights of all time, Fabricio Werdum, with yet another first round knockout.
Headlining the first UFC event to take place in Cleveland, Miocic and title challenger Alistair Overeem put on a fight to remember for the fans. Recovering from an early knockdown, Miocic went on to knockout ‘The Reem’ with some precise ground and pound. He then proceeded to chant his home state’s letters of “O-H” “I-O” with the deafening crowd.
A change of good fortune has granted Junior dos Santos the third title shot of his UFC career. Originally scheduled to face Stefan Struve in February, after the ‘Skyscraper’ pulled out with an injury ‘Cigano’ was granted a title fight against Miocic. Not stepping foot inside the Octagon since his one-sided win over Ben Rothwell, it will be dos Santos’ first fight in just over a year.
Since his loss to dos Santos in late 2014, Miocic has gone 4-0 knocking out all his opponents in the process, three of which came in the first round. His loss against ‘Cigano’ was close, but by no means should it be deemed a robbery. The consensus was that Stipe won the first two rounds, with dos Santos taking the last three. So, what went wrong for Miocic, and how can he rectify those mistakes in this rematch?
In the first two rounds, Miocic had great success making the fight gritty. Maintaining forward pressure, he would mix up his power punches with single and double leg takedown attempts, level changing under dos Santos’ right hand to secure to drive him into the fence. A strategy that Cain Velasquez had implemented very well when he fought dos Santos in their rematch.
With his mouth open by the third round, visibly exhausted from this point on, Miocic corrected these cardio issues in his next fight, a five-round beatdown of Mark Hunt in which he looked phenomenal. The Croatian should be prepared to go the distance in this fight against dos Santos, as ‘Cigano’ has a knack for not being finished.
Miocic has to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Barely breaking a sweat in his last three fights, he should certainly embrace and seek an early finish, but not rely on it. If Miocic can maintain the pace that he displayed against Hunt, he shouldn’t get burned twice by the same flame.
Cigano, The Challenger
Junior dos Santos arguably is the best boxer in the UFC heavyweight division. Therefore, it’s not surprising that it was the wide variety of punches he showed off against Miocic that eventually steered the fight into his favor. From the lead uppercut to his favored left hook, ‘JDS’ displayed a lot of tools in his striking arsenal that night.
One thing ‘Cigano’ didn’t do was attempt any kicks. Zero. Much like how Miocic rectified his stamina issue, in Dos Santos’ next victory against Ben Rothwell it was his impressive kicks receiving all the praise, not his punches. Most notably, this front (Sparta) kick to the body which sent Rothwell flying across the octagon.
The punches to the body that dos Santos landed against Miocic were a major factor in diminishing the Croatian’s cardio. If he can mix in the kicks that he displayed against Rothwell in addition to these punches, we could see a mirror image of how their first fight occurred, with Miocic’s energy being zapped come the championship rounds.
Miocic has preferred to fight on his feet of late, but the threat of his takedown is always there. Junior should always be aware of this, but it also shouldn’t discourage to attempt kicks. He stuffed 17 of Miocic’s 18 takedown attempts in their first outing, reflecting the great takedown defense fighters training out of his camp, ATT, mostly have.
What It All Means
Incredibly, Miocic has the chance to tie the record for most defenses of the UFC heavyweight title in this re-match, currently standing at just two. With the amount of hard-hitters the division has seen over the years, it’s no surprise no-one has defended the belt more than twice. This is a huge step for dos Santos to regain the title he held several years ago, and to prove that’s is by no means past his prime at all.