Stipe Miocic, his voice sounding like someone was dragging gravel over cement in the background, was introduced by Joe Rogan after his giant-killing win over Francis Ngannou as “the baddest man on the planet”, as the UFC brands their heavyweight champion. Stipe’s response was a semi-shrug, and you legitimately may have missed or misheard it.
I mean, I’m not the scariest, but I’m the baddest.
That was perhaps the most intelligible part of an increasingly garbled interview, in which Stipe, who had just put his opponent through four rounds of hell, gave Ngannou his dues as a tough dude, said getting caught in the first round was his own fault and he would improve, and then reminded everyone that none of this means shit — he’s going to be a dad soon! Hell yeah!
Stipe is right. He is pretty scary, but as a firefighter, his presence is more tuned to be reassuring than intimidating. He refuses to come out and talk trash with his opponents (not that we could understand him anyway), and when he does open up, he’s more silly than scary. Yet, he’s the first man in history to defend that UFC belt more than twice in a row. He did that while still working nearly full-time as a firefighter and EMT in cold, windswept Ohio.
There is something remarkable about how Stipe manages be the most unassuming, yet the best UFC heavyweight in history. That kept running through my head before this fight started, especially in contrast to the man-mountain that is Francis Ngannou. Miocic is a big man, a true heavyweight at 245 or so, and a phenomenal athlete, but his build wouldn’t catch a second glance at the beach or the gym. Somehow, knocking out five UFC opponents in a row still had him pegged as an underdog against Francis Ngannou. His craggy face has been compared to an overgrown Woody Harrelson, and his hoarse growl is like a blue-collar Cleveland version of the Batman voice. He even has a day job, one where almost no one realizes- or really cares- he’s the UFC heavyweight champion.
Stipe isn’t the scariest. But he is the baddest. After he dominated four rounds out of five, it’s easy for forget what a wild, wild ride that first one was. Round one of this fight is easily on the shortlist for best round in heavyweight championship history. Ngannou unleashed all his power, and for a couple minutes it was not a sure thing Stipe would survive it. He focused entirely on defense at times, rolling, slipping, and ducking for single-legs that mostly turned into clinch time. Finally, he unleashed a one-two of his own, cracking Ngannou on the jaw, but the Cameroonian wasn’t going to be intimidated by punching power. It was Stipe’s wrestling that eventually tipped the scale; he shot in and Ngannou, starting to feel the effects of the ferocious pace he had set, went down. Stipe managed to put in some ground and pound. Ngannou got back up, but he was near the end of his gas tank.
The second round was to be more of the same; Ngannou, exhausted, saw his speed diminished, but his power was still there, so Stipe focused on taking him to the mat and leaning his weight on the big man. Even into the third round, Ngannou still managed to crack Stipe with a big shot, but couldn’t stay upright long enough for it to matter. Stipe ground and chipped and ground on him, a grueling strategy that broke Francis’ ability, if not his will, to fight. The most amazing part is that Ngannou somehow hung in there until the finish, his will to fight subsumed under 263 pounds screaming for oxygen.
It was exactly the kind of gritty, grinding warfare that favored a guy who makes his living dealing with high-stress scenarios. Not the scariest... but the baddest.