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UFC 241: Cormier v Miocic Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 252’s Stipe Miocic

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Stipe Miocic, will settle the trilogy opposite Olympic wrestler, Daniel Cormier, this Saturday (Aug. 15, 2020) at UFC 252 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

UFC is marketing this bout as a fight to determine the greatest Heavyweight of all time. Whether you buy into that logic or not — it’s a hard no for me — this bout feels more personal than about legacy and accolades. Miocic doesn’t seem to be fighting because he wants a record-setting fourth title defense. No, he’s trying to take out Cormier to finish this trilogy on top, maybe punish him a bit further for sending the champion into eye surgery. Somehow, this turned into a fight really fueled by emotion, which is the real appeal of the match up.

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

Striking

A great mix of size, length and strength for the Heavyweight division, Miocic has boxing experience, and it certainly shows when he fights. Of course, being tough and carrying natural power have proven just as important.

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, who at the time was 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. 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.

UFC Fight Night: Miocic v Hunt Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

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).

UFC 146: Miocic v Del Rosario Photo by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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).

Opposite Alistair Overeem, however, 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.

While backing up Junior dos Santos in the rematch, Miocic showed his crafty aggression. 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.

I’ll be honest and say that it’s difficult to really understand where Miocic is at right now after two bouts in two years against Cormier. On one hand, Miocic did knock Cormier out and improvise beautifully by ripping the left hook to the mid-section, which opened up the right hand (GIF). However, Miocic also get hit with pretty much everything Cormier through, and there was little variety in his strikes.

It was all boxing against a much shorter man, which doesn’t make much sense.

Still, if I did gain one nugget of information from re-watching their second bout, it’s that Miocic found the left hook to the body through slow adjustments rather than a single light bulb moment. Starting the in the second round, Miocic began to toy with body work, sticking the jab straight to the solar plexus and check. He played around with sticking some front kicks up the center (and probably should have committed to the idea!). Miocic took the initiative more often, firing combinations rather than trusting his counter right hand to land.

Eventually, he landed on that body shot, and it changed the course of the fight dramatically.

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.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since we’ve seen this type of half shot/half feint from Miocic.

UFC 220: Miocic v Ngannou Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

More recently, Miocic returned to the style of wrestling that worked opposite Junior dos Santos in the first fight. 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). Against Cormier as well, Miocic landed a couple takedowns simply by grabbing double underhooks and overpowering his foe.

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 control his foe.

UFC 203: Miocic v Overeem Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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. 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.

Defensively, Miocic showed an interesting tactic opposite Cormier. When “DC” did take him down, Miocic was frequently looking to reach between his opponent’s legs and pull the near side leg over his head. Known as a funk roll, this technique is somewhat common among smaller men, but it will create a scramble at any weight class.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Without a submission win to his name and few attempts in his entire career — even in 15 minutes against a very tired Ngannou, Miocic didn’t really try much — it’s fairly safe to say that Miocic isn’t a major submission threat. For what it’s worth, Miocic has survived some dangerous guards in his time as a pro, and he’s never been put in any major guillotine.He even escaped Overeem’s guillotine just seconds after the Dutchman attempted the hold.

Conclusion

Miocic will attempt to solidify his hold on the belt and send Cormier into retirement in a single victory. The win would do plenty for his resume, but it also re-asserts Miocic as the definitive big man to beat.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 252 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 252: “Miocic vs. Cormier 3” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


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.

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