No. 7-ranked heavyweight contender, Stipe Miocic, looks to extend his winning streak to three by taking out former professional boxer, Fabio Maldonado, who will be making his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight debut when the pair square off this Saturday night (May 31, 2014) on FOX Sports 1 at Ginásio do Ibirapuera in São Paulo, Brazil.
It may be, but don't tell Maldonado that. The Brazilian -- whose nickname translates to "The Iron Hillbilly" -- has repeatedly called out top ranked heavyweights, despite a majority of his fan base begging Maldonado to drop down to middleweight.
An injury to Junior dos Santos allowed for this bizarre match up.
On the other hand, Stipe Miocic is settling into his game as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. Since switching up his style after a loss to Stefan Struve, Miocic has clearly won both of his fights. Though he no longer has a chance to earn a title shot, Miocic should have an opportunity to display just how good he is against the much smaller Maldonado.
Who has the skills to win this strange scrap?
Let's find out
Both men have some boxing experience. Maldonado has a 22-0 professional record in the "sweet science," while Miocic had some success as an amateur, winning the Golden Gloves.
Maldonado has a very unique style of boxing. Frankly, Maldonado doesn't give a damn about defending himself. The Brazilian walks his opponent down while putting together combinations with his hands. His main intention is to close the distance and box on the inside, although he does possess a very accurate and sharp jab while in the center. While closing the distance, Maldonado inevitably gets hit.
Luckily for fight fans, that hardly deters him, so he eventually gets tight with his opponent. Once he's in the proverbial phone booth, Maldonado rips at his opponent's body and head with hooks and uppercuts. These body strikes are incredibly painful and very effective at wearing his opponent down. Despite his less than impressive build, Maldonado's cardio is quite impressive, meaning that he can slowly brutalize his opponent at the same pace for pretty much the entire fight.
One issue with Maldonado's clinch warfare is that he largely ignores his opponent's offense. He'll allow his opponent to secure a Thai clinch and knee him in the face, just so that "The Iron Hillbilly" can hammer away at his ribs. Honeslty, I think that Maldonado and his iron jaw are actually more effective than his opponent's knees in these exchanges, but the judges tend to disagree.
Miocic is also trying his hand at volume striking. However, Miocic relies on his long limbs and conditioning to out-work his opponent with straight punches from range. Like his opponent, Miocic will also work in hooks to the body, although he doesn't focus on those strikes nearly as much. It's still not perfect, but Miocic's defensive ability has also greatly improved, which he showcased against Roy Nelson by avoiding "Big Country's" repeated overhands.
While boxing, Miocic feints and moves rather well for a heavyweight. This helps him dictate his range and ensure that his strikes land cleaner. Plus, it helps cover up his lack of head movement a bit.
Unlike Maldonado, Miocic has other tools as well as his boxing. His leg kicks are very powerful, and he even finished one of his regional opponents with them back in 2011. However, Gonzaga demonstrated that his low kicks can be easily countered since the Croatian-American rarely sets them up. In addition, Miocic really likes to whip knees at his foe from inside the Muay Thai clinch.
A division-1 wrestler, Miocic will likely be the only one thinking about takedowns during Saturday's second main event. Though Maldonado has taken his opponent's down before, it's a fairly rare event. The man just likes to punch.
Miocic has a very strong single leg takedown. After he shoots, he quickly attempts to run the pipe, capitalizing on the lack of balance that plagues many heavyweights. In addition, his timing on the shots is very nice, as he usually ducks under strikes and makes the takedown easier on himself.
One of the things Miocic did very well against Roy Nelson was mix in half-hearted takedown attempts with his boxing. He wasn't exhausting himself trying to get Nelson down, but he never let Nelson really relax into his striking. Plus, these shots allowed him to feint low with level changes, which also created openings for his boxing.
Once on top of his opponent, Miocic is excellent at working his foe over with ground strikes. Against the recently deceased Shane del Rosario, Miocic controlled position from half guard and finished the dangerous striker with a series of nasty elbows.
Despite a 66% takedown defense rating according to Fightmetric, Maldonado's takedown defense is not especially good. He lets his opponent dictate position in order to land body shots, which can be a good or bad thing. If his opponent slows down in time due to these punches, then Maldonado can make a comeback in the second and third rounds. His last three fights have actually followed that exact pattern. However, Kingsbury managed to land takedowns into the third round and won a decision, albeit controversially.
Maldonado does do a decent job standing up once he's taken down. He basically just posts on one arm and either wall walks or kicks at his opponent's hips. Maldonado is benefited by a complete disregard for his own health, as he's more than willing to absorb a dozen shots in order to stand.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Between these two fighters and their combined 33 wins, the two have a grand total of two actual submission victories. Both of these victories are Maldonado's, and both come via guillotine. Unfortunately, even this is not particularly noteworthy, as Maldonado's guillotine choke is nothing unique or even particularly good. He grabs the neck, pulls guard, and squeezes.
It's not always rocket science.
When Maldonado fought Kingsbury, he repeatedly used the deep half guard to either stand up or sweep. Maldonado did an excellent job getting underneath the rather large "Kingsbu," and forcing him off-balance. From there, he'd try to roll out the back door and back to his feet. One time, he came up on a single leg, which he finished.
It's a shame, but this part of Maldonado's games seems to have regressed. Since leaving Team Nogueira -- which is THE home of half guard sweeps for MMA -- Maldonado has done nothing jiu-jitsu related from the bottom. Instead, he only focuses on standing up.
In Maldonado's fight with Glover, he proved that pure toughness and stupid determination is actually a decent defense to submissions. Glover repeatedly tried to wrap up an arm triangle choke and seemed to have it locked in, but Maldonado refused to tap. Since he didn't go out, Glover eventually let go and went back to trying his best to cave Maldonado's cement skull in.
The match up
Trying to write out a detailed game plan for Maldonado would be pointless. The Brazilian only fights one way, mostly because it's the only way he's good at. Luckily for him, absorbing a ton of punishment, landing body shots, then doing damage to his tired opponent is a viable option, even at heavyweight.
Especially at heavyweight.
It's important that Maldonado does his thing and constantly works over Miocic's body. If taken down, he needs to force Miocic to work to hold him down. While Miocic is fresh, Maldonado will have very little success. However, Miocic's sole loss was due to him gassing out against Struve. If Maldonado can similarly force the big man to slow down, he can take over in the championship rounds and potentially finish Miocic.
On the other hand, Miocic has multiple paths to victory. The easiest would utilize his collegiate wrestling skills and involve pacing himself. Miocic's best chance of finishing is likely a doctor stoppage via cuts, so some low energy, slicing elbows from the top position would be a wise choice.
Trying to knockout the brick-chinned brawler on his feet would be silly.
It's not that Miocic doesn't have the ability or power to finish "The Iron Hillbilly," but it's both difficult and risky. Frankly, gassing out his opponent at the expense of his face is a huge part of Maldonado's game. This is a five-round fight, and Miocic does not want to give away a win trying to prove a point.
Can Maldonado upsets his larger, strong opponent, or will Miocic deliver the beating most fans are expecting?