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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 241’s Stipe Miocic

Former Heavyweight strap-hanger, Stipe Miocic, will look to retake his throne from Olympic wrestler, Daniel Cormier, this Saturday (Aug. 17, 2019) at UFC 241 from inside Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Little more than one year ago, Cormier surprised Miocic at UFC 226.

I don’t think Miocic expected Cormier’s speed, which allowed the wrestler to stick hard jabs in Miocic’s face more than any past foe. He was definitely surprised by the right hand on the break that put him down, and judging by his constant request for a rematch, had zero expectations of walking out of the Octagon without his belt. For the rematch, Miocic knows a little bit more of what to expect of “DC” at Heavyweight. He’s had plenty of time to work on the problems that Cormier presented and his own issues that were capitalized upon. Now, it’s time to see if that’s enough to make the difference.

Let’s take a closer look at Miocic’s skill set:

Striking

Miocic has some great physical tools that he takes full advantage of — namely an 80-inch reach and face-melting power — but he’s long shown more smarts than the average big man. Miocic is willing to gameplan and adjust to his opponents, which is a major reason he’s been so successful.

Miocic does excellent work with the jab. Unlike many fighters, Miocic recognizes that while a jab can do damage, it doesn’t have to every time. Miocic throws dozen of jabs without fully committing, doing little more than swatting his opponent’s nose or punching his gloves.

The jab sets up most of Miocic’s success by establishing his range and drawing strikes from his opponent. A common sequence in Miocic’s bouts sees the champion land a jab and pull back, avoiding his opponent’s looping power shot. Then, as his foe tries to regain good position, Miocic steps back in with a more committed pair of punches.

The best demonstration of Miocic’s jab remains his bout with Mark Hunt, one of the division’s better counter punches. Hunt is used to fighting at a reach disadvantage, but Miocic is one of the few who made it count, picking at Hunt with the jab constantly (GIF). Miocic kept his head back on most of the jabs, which helped him stay safe from counters, and he also feinted constantly. Those jab feints made Hunt hesitant, unsure of when to fully commit to his counter attempts.

Against Ngannou, Miocic showed great strategy and technique when faced with a giant man chasing him and winging power shots. Early on, Miocic was willing to focus largely on defense, circling away from “The Predator” and letting most shots come up short. When trapped along the fence, Miocic used takedown attempts to gain better position or rolled his way to safety (GIF).

Later on, Ngannou tired and realized he should probably do something other than sprint and throw power shots. He began to jab, but unlike the champion, did not set up his jabs with feints or noncommittal jabs. The result was some of Miocic’s best right-handed counters (GIF), as he slipped outside to load up the right or slipped inside for the cross counter.

It’s worth mentioning that 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 (GIF).

Much of Miocic’s success comes from maintaining his distance and sticking his opponent with the jab and cross, mixing in some low kicks and clinch work when appropriate (GIF). That’s the strategy that carried him into the Top 10, but many of Miocic’s recent bouts have seen a change in approach. While he still does a good job of maintaining stance and working behind the jab, Miocic’s focus has been on pressuring fighters and finding a home for his crushing right hand.

Opposite Alistair Overeem, Miocic had little interest in trading kicks with the former K-1 champion and was obviously motivated to get in the pocket. For much of the bout, Overeem stood as a Southpaw. Pawing at Miocic’s lead hand, Overeem looked to take away the jab and maintain the kicking range, where he could slam home hard kicks to the body and look to counter any forward movement with a brutal overhand left.

It definitely worked on some levels, but Miocic did his best to pressure relentlessly without becoming an easy target for the left hand. One of the things he did best was reach out and grab Overeem’s lead hand, catching and closing the distance. Overeem could fire his left, but that would mean accepting close range with Miocic. Often, Overeem literally ran away, which allowed Miocic to chase him down with doubled up punches. Alternatively, his hand control backed Overeem into the fence, where Miocic both doubled up and dug to the body to work around Overeem’s defense.

Miocic may have ate some shots in the process, but as the younger, more durable fighter, that was a fair trade to land his own heavy blows.

Finally, Miocic’s rematch with dos Santos showed yet another aggressive game plan that was both planned and improvised. Miocic likely intended to back Junior dos Santos into the fence — he did in the first bout, and “JDS” has long struggled from that position. However, a few heavy low kicks from the Brazilian damaged Miocic’s lead leg, motivating him even more to push into the boxing range.

While backing up dos Santos, Miocic showed his craft. He kept a jab on dos Santos, getting the Brazilian to move his head and then firing a tight right hand when dos Santos’ head movement stalled or he hit the fence (GIF). Another smart decision by Miocic was to switch to Southpaw when dos Santos hit the fence, as it tricked “JDS” to circle into his new power side and absorb a couple left crosses.

Defensively, Miocic does stand a bit tall and can occasionally forget his patience, as seen when he quite literally walked into a massive left hand from Overeem. At the same time, Miocic showed a great deal of thought and self-control to avoid Ngannou’s massive blows.

Wrestling

Miocic’s college wrestling background has been a major asset to his game even if he spends more time boxing, as he’s been quite successful in wrestling exchanges on offense and 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 Miocic’s 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. At any point, Miocic can actually reach out and really grab onto the lead leg for a snatch single, which he tends to finish by running the pipe.

The real exception to Miocic’s usual wrestling style is his first bout with dos Santos. 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 fence and work from there.

Miocic was forced to use driving double legs and clinch work against Ngannou as well, as you cannot really snatch single a man charging straight into you. It may not be Miocic’s preferred style, but he did a great job of running his legs underneath the shot to off-balance Ngannou and plant him on the mat (GIF).

The Ngannou bout also showcased Miocic’s brand of top control. Historically, Miocic likes to stay in half guard, sitting on one of his foe’s legs to pin him to the mat. From there, Miocic will also look to trap one of his opponent’s arms, allowing him to tee off with the free hand and generally make his opponent’s life miserable.

The Ohio-native did plenty of that opposite the Frenchman, but he also worked from turtle quite a bit. As Ngannou tried to turn away and stand, Miocic would control the far wrist and weigh down on his opponent. He was never truly able to release his ground strikes from that position — due to both fatigue and fear of letting Ngannou escape — but he did plenty of damage regardless.

To finish Overeem, Miocic showed off the benefits of proper posture at Heavyweight. From full guard, Miocic stood over his opponent and picked his shots. Thanks to his size and gravity, Miocic’s punches quickly ended the contest (GIF). 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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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. At the same time, Miocic does like working from the half guard as explained above, so it often benefits him to stay there and drop heavy shots.

Conclusion

Miocic is really a man who thrives on fundamentals and feints. He does nothing exceptionally complicated or flashy, but Miocic’s consistent approach almost always finds a home for his right hand. Against Cormier, it will be very interesting to see whether Miocic switches up his approach at all, or if he sticks by his tried-and-true one-two combination.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.