Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweights Stipe Miocic and Fabio Maldonado are set to throw down in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil" 3 Finale tonight (May 31, 2014), airing live at 10 p.m. EST on FOX Sports 1 (Fight Pass in Canada) from Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
No. 7-ranked Miocic was last seen battering Gabriel Gonzaga in a one-sided decision at UFC on FOX 10 in January. He was supposed to fight Junior dos Santos in what would have been the biggest fight of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, but unfortunately "Cigano" was forced out with a hand injury.
In stepped Maldonado, the ultra-tough slugger who apparently welcomes any challenge. The Brazilian boxer was last seen dismantling Gian Villante with a brutal display of pugilism at March's UFC Fight Night 38, his third straight win. Maldonado normally fights at light heavyweight, so he'll be facing an uphill battle against Miocic.
He might not win, but you can bet he'll come to fight until the last bell sounds. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Miocic vs. Maldonado:
Record: 11-1 overall, 5-1 UFC
Key Wins: Roy Nelson (UFC 161), Gabriel Gonzaga (UFC on FOX 10), Shane del Rosario (UFC 146), Joey Beltran (UFC 136)
Key Losses: Stefan Struve (UFC on Fuel TV 5)
Keys to Victory: With seven knockout finishes in 11 total wins, Miocic is extremely talented at battering his opponents until the ref stops the fight.
That will be an unlikely outcome against Maldonado, so Miocic is going to have to settle in and win this bout with his technical skills. The former Golden Gloves boxing champion will look to utilize his five-inch reach advantage to pepper Maldonado with shots on the outside, never allowing him to get in close to unleash his hellacious body shots.
Miocic has been mixing up his striking with an excellent amount of crisp, pinpoint combinations and footwork. While Maldonado may be one of the fighters who's most prepared for a challenge like that, Miocic's size advantage should push him over the top.
If and when this fight goes to the clinch, Miocic should have the huge edge thanks to his time as an NCAA Division I wrestler. He could even look for some takedowns to stifle Maldonado's striking.
On paper, Miocic just has more ways to win this fight than Maldonado does, and he brings a big size and strength advantage as well. This is his fight to lose.
Record: 21-6 overall, 4-3 UFC
Key Wins: Gian Villante (UFC Fight Night 38), Joey Beltran (UFC Fight Night 29), Roger Hollett (UFC on FX 8), James McSweeney (TUF 13 Finale)
Key Losses: Glover Teixeira (UFC 153), Igor Pokrajac (UFC on FUEL TV 3)
Keys to Victory: Maldonado is quickly gaining a legion of fans for his dangerous and exciting blend of aggression and boxing skill. He often throws caution to the wind and eats a ton of shots to find an opening for a few of his own.
While that style has been paying dividends as of late against 205-pound competition, it might not end as well against Miocic. With his only technical knockout loss coming from a vicious onslaught from Teixeira, Maldonado maintains one of the strongest chins in MMA today.
But he's never been tested against a top quality heavyweight, so he needs to be on his toes in Brazil.
Using sharp angles and movement to beat Miocic to the punch will gain him the opportunity to score much-needed points. His body shots have appeared to be his strongest weapon as of late, so expect a high volume of power hooks in an attempt to slow down Miocic.
Overall, Maldonado might just stand in the pocket and trade with Miocic to put on a show for the fans. He's a slugger in every sense of the term, and he most likely knows he's the underdog.
He'll have the full roaring support of the Brazilian crowd behind him, and he'll have to be nearly carted out of the Octagon in order to stop fighting. The odds may be against him, but Maldonado probably doesn't care.
Does that make him dangerous in a fight like this? Maybe.
Bottom Line from Sao Paulo: The bottom line for this fight is that it is a lose-lose proposition for Miocic. Beating Maldonado, who usually fights a division below Miocic, will do nothing for his quest towards the UFC heavyweight crown.
A loss, however, would be devastating, so Miocic has to stay focused on Maldonado despite the circumstances. He's shown nothing but a calm demeanor and intense focus throughout his six-fight UFC stint.
Maldonado has the opportunity to score his biggest win, but he'll have to shock the world to do it. Either way, he's going to come in looking to make this fight exciting regardless of how much damage he has to absorb to do it.
He seemingly has no regard for what his CAT scans are going to show one day, and that's to the huge benefit of the fans.
There's always a chance that Maldonado can pull off a big knockout. Miocic has been floored before, albeit by a much bigger fighter in Struve. But given the striking power of Maldonado, anything could happen.
On paper, this would seem like an easy decision win for Miocic. Nothing is guaranteed, but the biggest surprise here would be to see this turn into a boring fight. Enjoy the match-up.
Stipe Miocic saw a huge opportunity slip away when Junior dos Santos got hurt. Now tasked with defeating Fabio Maldonado, will the talented heavyweight continue to outclass his foes in the Octagon?