One of the few elite Heavyweights who hasn't been in the sport for more than a decade, Stipe Miocic, is set to battle with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Fabricio Werdum, this Saturday (May 14, 2016) inside Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil.
Miocic has come a long way. In his first three UFC fights, Miocic relied on toughness and wrestling to grind down his opponents, as he was certainly hittable on the feet. This eventually lead to a loss opposite Stefan Struve, as a fatigued Miocic succumbed to his opponent's uppercuts.
Since then, Miocic's technique has improved quite a bit, and he's really found his groove. Now that he possesses a fluid and well-rounded game, Miocic will look to lay claim to the championship belt.
Let's take a closer look at this skill set:
On his feet, Miocic packs a disciplined and powerful boxing attack. On the whole, he's not doing anything particularly complex, but he's attacking with from a measured stance and rarely over-commits or drops his hands.
Miocic does does most of his work from the outside, where he's active with his footwork and feints. For a good-sized heavyweight, Miocic is quite mobile and generally keeps himself at the perfect range to land his punches. Plus, he's constantly feinting his straight punches, waiting to counter any punches that these feints draw out.
Feints are a major part of Miocic's success. Since his offensive boxing at range is pretty straight forward -- Miocic largely stabs at his opponent with jabs and crosses (GIF) -- it's imperative that Miocic can disrupt his opponent's timing with feints and keep his foe off-balance.
This was especially important in Miocic's victory over Mark Hunt. Hunt, as the smaller man, was looking to slip his opponent's punches and counter punch. Instead, Miocic did an excellent job throwing him off by feinting and utilizing the jab to discourage his counters and set up his own takedowns (GIF).
Additionally, Miocic has always had some nasty low kicks (GIF). He goes to the inside and outside well with different intentions. Usually, Miocic's inside low kick is quick and shakes up his opponent's stance, allowing for follow up punches. On the other hand, Miocic's outside kick is simply devastating and painful. Prior to his UFC debut, Miocic actually finished one of his opponents via low kicks.
While much of Miocic's success has come from his improved outside boxing, he's also demonstrated some nice inside work as well. This was most notable in his bout with Junior dos Santos, as Miocic's intention was very clearly to copy Cain Velasquez and work his opponent over from the inside.
In these close range exchanges, Miocic does a nice job digging hooks to the body. He also capitalizes whenever his opponent looks to break away, attacking with wide hooks when his opponent attempts to circle (GIF).
Miocic also moved away from his outside attack in his last bout with Andrei Arlovski. Instead of working from the range of Arlovski's brutal overhand, Miocic pressured his opponent immediately and made him uncomfortable. While advancing, Miocic did an excellent job of keeping his hands tight and slipping off the line while punching. The bout only lasted about a minute, but in that time most of Arlovski's wide blows glanced off Miocic's guard.
Before long, a tight right hand found his opponent's chin.
Lastly, Miocic's transitions between the clinch and range striking have become quite fluid. This was another pivotal element in his bout with Mark Hunt, as Miocic was able to land with his long strikes then suddenly smother his opponent and batter him with knees and short punches (GIF). Plus, at the distance, he was obviously in range for a takedown as well.
Miocic has come a long way defensively too, but there are definitely still some occasional slip ups. His last bout was a sign of growth -- Miocic's defense looked great but was only on display for a short time -- but prior to that win Miocic had the bad habit of walking forward with his hands low, and he fired off low kicks without any setup. While this has caused him to see some hard counter punches, he's also clearly growing in that area.
A D-1 wrestler in college, Miocic has been rather successful with his wrestling regardless of whether he's initiating or defending. It also helps that Miocic is a quality athlete for the division, a solid mix of speed and power.
One of the most interesting aspects of his game is his habit to mix half-hearted takedown attempts into his offense. These half shots serve a significant purpose, as they keep his opponent off-balance and give Miocic an opportunity to read his opponent. More than anything else, it's another layer of complexity for Miocic's offense, as his opponent must more often react and respect these feints.
Usually, Miocic will drop down for a single leg in the center of the Octagon. After securing the leg, Miocic will attempt to run the pipe. He usually catches his opponent off-balance, allowing him to easily dump them. If his opponent stays standing, Miocic will transition into a double or abandon the takedown altogether and throw some punches.
Opposite dos Santos, Miocic switched up his wrestling style quite a bit. Rather than a few well-timed single legs, Miocic was frequently driving through double leg takedowns. Though dos Santos stuffed the vast majority of them, Miocic was able to force the fight into the clinch and work from there.
From top, Miocic has proven to be a very effective ground striker. He likes to work from half guard and often attacks with elbows. That's a difficult combination to deal with, as half guard is an easy position to hold and elbows require little space to be effective. In short, that means Miocic can very easily damage and control his opponent.
In addition to finishing the late Shane del Rosario with elbows from top position, Miocic battered Hunt with them for much of his fight. In that bout, Miocic did a nice job of controlling one of Hunt's arms -- by pinning it across his body or to the mat -- and slamming home elbows with his free arm.
For the most part, Miocic's takedown defense is quite solid. Even when he is taken down, he's pretty quick to scramble back to his feet. Thus far, none of his opponent's have found consistent success in taking him down, though he's yet to face a real wrestling specialist.
Miocic has yet to be put on his back long enough to really display any submission game. Offensively, Miocic has never submitted any of his opponents nor even really attempted to.
However, Miocic has proven to be a strong guard passer. In his bouts against Shane del Rosario and Joey Beltran, Miocic was able to slice through their guards, achieve dominant positions, and maintain top position. While Beltran is not exactly a jiu-jitsu specialist, del Rosario was known for having a dangerous bottom game, but Miocic nullified it.
Similarly, Miocic utterly dominated Mark Hunt on the mat. Obviously Hunt is not known for his guard game, but Miocic had little trouble preventing scrambles and advancing position when he chose to.
It's impossible to say for sure, but it's unlikely that Miocic has a deep offensive submission game. At Heavyweight, simply holding top position and smashing opponents is often the smarter choice anyway, so it's not much of a handicap.
There were a few potential contenders for Werdum's initial title defense, and multiple fighters had an argument. However, it was Miocic who ultimately received that opportunity, and now he needs to capitalize to prove it was a smart decision. He's facing a crafty veteran and Heavyweight legend, but as the younger and better athlete, Miocic has the potential to really shake things up at UFC 198 this weekend.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.