Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Stipe Miocic, is set to scrap with dangerous finisher, Alistair Overeem, this Saturday (Sept. 10, 2016) at UFC 203 inside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Miocic’s UFC story is one of potential and consistent improvement. Early on, he came in as a wrestler with some decent boxing who relied largely on his physical tools, but he’s really developed into one of the cleanest technical fighters in his division. Between each fight, Miocic’s boxing and ability to blend strikes and wrestling has improved. Nowadays, he’s a very difficult fighter to deal with, as he’s both powerful and disciplined.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
On his feet, Miocic is a very capable boxer. 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).
Miocic’s commitment to feinting is important. It’s such an integral part of his game, as it allows Miocic to create openings for his long punches.
Additionally, Miocic has 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 Octagon debut, Miocic actually finished one of his opponents via low kicks.
Thanks to Miocic’s outside work, a reasonable strategy when facing the Ohio-native is to pressure him. While his wrestling does a nice job of deterring that plan, his counter right hand is another major tool in his arsenal.
It earned him the strap (GIF).
Miocic does 90% of his work on the outside. He stands tall and long, and does a nice job of capitalizing on his physical attributes. However, he completely switched up his approach opposite Junior dos Santos. By copying Cain Velasquez’s approach and forcing wrestling/clinch exchanges, he looked train dos Santos and take away his best weapons.
It’s not his usual game plan, but it’s a great ability to be able to so dramatically switch up the strategy if necessary.
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 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 a 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.
Thus far, Miocic’s college wrestling background has been a major help, as he’s been quite successful in wrestling exchanges on offense or defense. 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.
Otherwise, they’re going to end up on their back.
Often, 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.
As mentioned, Miocic really likes to hold the half guard position. He does a nice job of keeping heavy shoulder pressure while delivering strikes, which keeps his safe from submissions and allows him to do damage.
Miocic has evolved into a truly great Heavyweight, and his career is still reasonably young. If he can continue to improve, there’s a chance that Miocic can find real success in hanging onto the Heavyweight crown. That’s a notoriously difficult road to travel, but it’s one that Miocic must begin on Saturday.
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.