Former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is nearing his return to the Octagon. He knows who he wants to fight, and given the current landscape of the heavyweight division, there aren’t many options.
Fan-favorite Stipe Miocic is inching closer to his UFC return. As of now, much of the top-10 in the UFC heavyweight division is spoken for. The champion, Daniel Cormier, will be available in a few months. He’s currently rehabbing a back injury after a busy 2018. But unless some things fall through, Miocic will have at least one more bout between him and his rematch for the heavyweight title.
Miocic has been vocal about his desire for a title shot. Following his first-round KO loss to Cormier last July, the longest reigning UFC heavyweight champion in promotional history took some time off. He reportedly offered to fight Cormier at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden, but the promotion opted for Derrick Lewis instead.
Cormier has also decided to forge through his previously stated retirement plans. UFC President Dana White recently said he sees three more opponents for the former two-division champion, including Stipe Miocic. The other options, Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar, have a bit more going on at the moment than the former heavyweight title-holder.
So, maybe not all hope is lost for a Cormier-Miocic 2 matchup in the first half of 2019. But, if that doesn’t work out, what’s left for Miocic?
Depending on the outcomes, when Miocic wants to return, and the amount of damage taken by the winning fighters, a few of the fighters in this group could be options for Miocic down the road. Since they’re not currently readily available, we’re considering them “out”, for now.
Second-ranked Derrick Lewis will be fighting for the first time since losing to Cormier at UFC 230 last November. He’s taking on former-champ Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC Wichita in early-March. Miocic has already fought JDS twice (1-1), while he has yet to share the Octagon with Lewis.
Later that month, fourth-ranked Curtis Blaydes is slated to fight Justin Willis at UFC Nashville. Blaydes is coming off of a loss to Francis Ngannou, while Willis is on an eight-fight winning streak, including a 4-0 run since joining the UFC in 2017.
Alexander Volkov and Alistair Overeem are also spoken for at the moment. They’ll be headlining UFC St. Petersburg on April 20. Volkov was charging toward a title shot of his own, before Derrick Lewis’ third-round KO win over the Russian last October. A matchup with Miocic down the road sounds fun, but we wouldn’t exactly be mad about Miocic-Overeem 2 in 2019 either.
That means six of the top-ten in the UFC heavyweight rankings are currently busy, while Cain Velasquez and third-ranked Francis Ngannou fought last week. Should Miocic and the promotion prefer one of this handful of fighters for his next bout, he’ll likely have to wait.
Although we just mentioned Ngannou’s recent bout, Miocic-Ngannou 2 looks like a potential option. Working for less than 30 seconds at UFC Phoenix, Ngannou should still be fresh and available if he’s interested in a rematch with Miocic in the first half of the year. We’d imagine Miocic is game, should he be forced into a non-title fight, considering his domination of Ngannou over five rounds last January.
After that, a few fighters hovering around the edge of the top-10 in the UFC heavyweight rankings are available at the moment. The eighth-ranked Aleksei Oleinik last fought in November of 2018, defeating Mark Hunt via first-round submission. Oleinik has been in the UFC since 2014, and has 57 wins in 69 career fights.
Marcin Tybura, the #9 ranked heavyweight in the promotion, is coming off of a win as well. The 33-year-old earned the unanimous decision win over Stefan Struve at UFC Hamburg last July.
Should the promotion prefer to do their “throw a prospect at a legend” routine, Australia’s Tai Tuivasa is free. Just outside the UFC top-ten at heavyweight, Tuivasa was dealt the first loss of his career last December, losing via second-round TKO to Junior dos Santos at UFC Adelaide. The 25-year-old has a bright future, and while a matchup with Miocic might not be the best thing coming off of a loss, we can’t say we wouldn’t be interested.
Based off of these options, continued patience from the former champ looks like the best choice. He deserves a top-five opponent, should he want one, in his return bout. Right now, that leaves Ngannou as the only choice. If that doesn’t interest Miocic, it’d be hard to blame him for playing the waiting the game for a title-shot.
Realistically, all that matters for Miocic (if he doesn’t fight Cormier next) is that he wins. Were he to fight one of his lower-ranked options and secure a victory in the first half of 2019, it certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances at facing Cormier later in the year. Then again, considering the lack of other title-contenders, the potential risk of losing may outweigh the benefits of another win (and paycheck).
Let us know who you think Stipe Miocic will face in his next fight, and if heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier owes him a rematch! Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!