If you have a computer and a Facebook account -- and the mere fact that you are reading this suggests that you have at least one of those things -- you might want to be sure and tune in to Saturday's UFC 136 prelims. If several trainers and MMA insiders are to be believed, that's where you could catch a glimpse of a very bright prospect in the UFC's heavyweight division.
Stipe Miocic (pronounced: steep-eh) is only 6-0 as a professional, but the former Golden Gloves boxer and college wrestling standout already has much of the fight world buzzing.
"I believe that guy could take it all the way. I really do," said trainer Trevor Wittman, who worked with Miocic during the fighter's visit to the Grudge Training Center in Denver recently. "He's the next great heavyweight coming into the UFC. His composure, his attitude, his willingness to learn and be open to things, his toughness -- it's just all there."
Marcus Marinelli, who is Miocic's coach at the Strong Style Fight Team in Independence, Ohio, said that even the videos of his MMA fights that have made the rounds on the internet recently don't necessarily do him justice.
"I think at times he's fought down to the level of his opponent, so you don't always see what I see in the gym," Marinelli said. "But that's going to change on Saturday night."
Miocic first walked through the doors of the Strong Style gym after he'd been recruited to help former Pride and UFC fighter Dan Bobish prepare for a bout. He'd been a two-sport athlete at Cleveland State University, wrestling in the 197-pound class and drawing the attention of Major League scouts as a third baseman, but it was mainly his ability to help Bobish improve his wrestling and takedown defense that caught Marinelli's eye at first, he said.
"He really helped Dan out a lot, but right away I saw his potential with his wrestling and athleticism. So little by little, he started training with us."
As Miocic remembered with a laugh, he walked in as a training partner, "and then I never left the gym."
Marinelli began slowly adding weapons to Miocic's arsenal, he said, but soon the 6'3", 240-pound fighter fell in love with boxing. The next thing Marinelli knew, Miocic was headed for the national Golden Gloves tournament in Salt Lake City.
"He made it as far as the quarterfinals, and I think he could have won the whole thing, but he just didn't have as much boxing experience as some of those guys," said Marinelli. Miocic had only been boxing for a little over a year at that point, but "still people were looking at him going, where did this kid come from?"
Now the 29-year-old is on the verge of his UFC debut against Joey Beltran at UFC 136 after less than two years as a professional. It was a bit of a surprise to him to get the call from the big show so soon in his career he said, but his coach wasn't.
"Most people, you'd want them to have more fights, but he's the exception to the rule," Marinelli said. "He's still got to come in and perform, but he's got all the tools."
Of course, it's one thing to look good when you're fighting bar bouncers and training room heroes in front of a couple thousand people in Cleveland. Taking on an experienced heavyweight on a UFC pay-per-view event isn't even in the same zip code as far as nerves go, and the dreaded "Octagon jitters" have, more than once, turned prospects into flops before our very eyes.
It's something Miocic has considered, he said, but has tried not to dwell on.
"I talked to Forrest Petz, who fought in the UFC, and he told me, 'Man, it's still just you and another guy,'" Miocic said. "That part doesn't change."
As Marinelli put it, "Nobody can say [jitters are] never a concern. Sure it's a concern. But that's what I'm here for and that's what the other coaches are here for, to ensure that he walks in there he shows the true Stipe Miocic that we know."
The Stipe they know just happens to be an undefeated wrecking machine who's put away all six of his opponents, with none lasting beyond the second round. If they can get that same guy to show up in the UFC -- and against UFC-caliber opponents -- there's no telling how far he could go.
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