Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweights Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga are set to square off in the co-main event of this Saturday night’s (January 25, 2014) UFC on FOX 10 event from United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
The bout presents a crucial opportunity for both top 15-ranked fighters to gain prime position in a relatively shallow division.
Miocic was last seen battering Roy “Big Country” Nelson in a one-sided decision win at UFC 161. Prior to that he suffered the only loss of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career when Stefan Struve knocked him out at UFC on Fuel TV 5. Miocic only had one fight in 2013 but currently sits at number eight in the rankings.
A win over the surging Gonzaga will solidify his spot as one of the top contenders at 265 pounds.
Gonzaga has been the more active of the two fighters, having won five out of his past six bouts. He destroyed Shawn Jordan in the first round at UFC 166 and has finished every single one of his wins since being re-signed by UFC in early 2012. The former Reality Fighting champion’s only loss in the past three years was to surging number three-ranked heavyweight Travis Browne, proving that Gonzaga is a worthy opponent for almost anyone in UFC.
With both fighters possessing deadly finishing ability, this fight could end the quickest of all at UFC on FOX 10. Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for Miocic and Gonzaga:
Record: 10-1 overall, 4-1 UFC
Key Wins: Roy Nelson (UFC 161), Shane del Rosario (UFC 146), Joey Beltran (UFC 136)
Key Losses: Stefan Struve (UFC on Fuel TV 5)
Keys to Victory: Miocic is a highly athletic fighter who brings a very well-rounded skill set to the Octagon. He’s a former NCAA Division I wrestler, and he couples that with the expertise of having been a Golden Gloves boxing champion.
Miocic has preferred to use his striking more than anything else throughout his five-fight UFC tenure. He doesn’t rush in simply looking to knock off his opponents’ heads; he’s a much more cerebral fighter than that. His excellent strategy was on full display against the favored Nelson, as he picked “Big Country” apart by utilizing his reach and circling away from the massive power of his opponent’s right hand.
Gonzaga is also a knockout striker, but he’s also shown that he can fall in love with his power at great cost, evident by his six knockout losses. That fact is going to play into Miocic’s hands in a big way in Chicago. He should look to patiently outstrike Gonzaga on the feet while waiting for an opportunity to finish.
That’s not to say Miocic can’t win an all-out slugfest, it’s just not his most intelligent path to victory.
Miocic should have the advantage in wrestling here. However, with Gonzaga being a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion, it’s probably not a good idea to put him on his back and give him the opportunity for a submission. Miocic has never tapped out before, but he’s never faced a man with the grappling credentials of “Napao.”
Miocic has a glaring edge in terms of technical striking. He needs to exercise that by using a heavy volume of jabs to open up opportunities for him to score with combinations. Implementing his brutal leg kicks and knees will also go far in disrupting the massive Brazilian’s striking power.
Miocic has his hands full, but this is still a very winnable fight. Miocic is one of the most hungry and focused competitors fighting at heavyweight right now.
Beating Gonzaga will cement him as a true payer in a division starved for top-flight competitors.
Record: 16-7 overall, 11-6 UFC
Key Wins: Mirko Filipovic (UFC 70), Shawn Jordan (UFC 166), Ben Rothwell (UFC on FX 8)
Key Losses: Randy Couture (UFC 74), Fabricio Werdum (UFC 80), Junior dos Santos (UFC on Versus 1), Shane Carwin (UFC 96)
Keys to Victory: Gonzaga has looked more than impressive as of late, finishing opponents by mixing his world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu background with vicious striking. He’s been especially effective since his return to UFC after being cut in late 2010.
On the other hand, “Napao” has failed in the face of elite competition several times before; this is his chance to prove he can rise to the occasion.
If he can get past Miocic, Gonzaga could potentially receive a title shot in the near future. With divisional champ Cain Velasquez on the sidelines for an undetermined amount of time, it may not be this year, so all Gonzaga can do is keep winning.
To win in Chicago, Gonzaga has to bring a calculated gameplan. That’s something he’s not exactly known for, and he needs to maintain his focus by keeping his emotions in check.
Looking for the early knockout could get him a ton of praise, or it could have him staring up at the lights. We saw Miocic’s ability to deal with lumbering strikers against Nelson, so Gonzaga should probably look to get this fight to the ground.
Miocic won’t be taken down easily but that shouldn't deter Gonzaga from trying. If and when the fight hits the mat, Gonzaga will thoroughly outclass Miocic. He’s a grappling champion with a veritable laundry list of accomplishments to his name.
Gonzaga should be able to use transitions to at least gain a dominant position or two, if not a fight-ending hold.
However, don’t be surprised to see him throw caution to the wind and attempt to get the job done with a flurry of haymakers. It’s not the best course of action, yet we've seen Gonzaga do it numerous times to mixed results before.
“Napao” has all the physical tools to notch one of the biggest wins of his lengthy UFC career. He just has to implement them intelligently.
Bottom Line from Chicago: The bottom line for this fight is that it’s going to bring forth one of the more promising heavyweights for 2014. There’s a lot riding on this bout for both fighters as each has momentum. Gonzaga has a bit more with his recent run, but Miocic has a ton of confidence in his all-around game.
And for good reason, as the Cleveland native made “Big Country” look stupid.
Gonzaga isn't all that much different of a fighter from Nelson. He obviously has a more decorated ground game, but we often see him forget to use that part of his game, instead preferring to slug it out and hope for the best.
Miocic isn't going to let that happen. He’ll most likely try to keep Gonzaga at range with his pinpoint striking, which could easily frustrate the finish-hungry Brazilian. Gonzaga’s job is to prevent Miocic from finding his range early on. If he can’t he’ll be met with a high torrent of punches that won’t stop coming.
The longer this fight lasts, the more it favors Miocic, who should bring better conditioning to the Octagon. If it’s a quick and brutal affair, look for Gonzaga to get the knockout or submission.
With two heavy hitters like these going to war, the age-old cliché of “don’t blink” definitely holds true here. Enjoy the fight.
Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga will be throwing heavy leather from the opening bell at UFC on FOX 10. Will Miocic’s technical boxing neutralize Gonzaga’s thunderous power, or will he become just another name on “Napao’s” list of recent victims?