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Stipe Miocic eyeing heavyweight title shot with a win over Junior dos Santos

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Phoenix Suns were in mid-blowout of the Denver Nuggets -- much to this writer's delight, I might add -- by the time Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos filed of the U.S. Airways Center on a warm weekend night in the desert. Both heavyweights were exhausted, and rightly so after being wrung through the media wringer for two days straight in a city where WEC 53 set the benchmark for world-class MMA four year ago, but has effectively been left deserted ever seen.

Normally these exercises in promotional awareness can be awkward for UFC headliners, if not a little contentious -- after all, spending 48 hours straight alongside the same man (or woman) you're gunning to knock unconscious is itself a curious test as to the depths of one's civility. But for Miocic, this trip was made even weirder by the fact that his particular huckleberry, in this case dos Santos, is... well, to be honest, he's just so dang nice.

"I hope he feels the same about me," Miocic said to, laughing at the dilemma. "But hey, it's also business, so it's what we do for a living."

And indeed it is. Miocic is no stranger to this type of media circus, having headlined two separate UFC events in the past. But each of those experiences, the first airing on barely-seen FUEL TV, and the second airing on the bigger-but-still-underwhelming FOX Sports 1, were minuscule in comparison to his present stage.

Three consecutive wins and an overall 6-1 record in the UFC's heavyweight division has propelled the 32-year-old into a top-five ranking and match-up against the class' former monarch on what the UFC affectionately refers to as "Big FOX" -- the king kahuna of all Zuffa stages, at least in terms of sheer viewership potential.

UFC on FOX 13 is the opportunity Miocic has been waiting for -- a chance for the division's most poorly-kept secret to emerge as the next contender to the heavyweight throne. And there's no doubt in his mind, a win in December should cement his claim to fight the victor of Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum.

"I mean, wouldn't you think so? I'd think so," Miocic said. "Junior is ranked second. That would move me up to be right behind Werdum, so I think whatever happens after that fight, I should get a shot.

"He's fought for the title plenty of times. He's been champion. He's been [sidelined] for a while, but definitely once I beat him, I think I should get that chance."

For Miocic, his meeting against dos Santos in Phoenix is one long overdue, considering that various circumstances have delayed the fight for a better part of the year. The heavyweights were first scheduled to tangle on May 24, then May 31, then not at all, as dos Santos pulled out citing a hand injury with less than a month to go.

The carousel ultimately left Miocic to fight Fabio Maldonado, a durable but lightly regarded light heavyweight who ballooned up a weight class on short notice. Miocic predictably ended Maldonado's night in 35 seconds, busting up the Brazilian with an effortless straight right, although he rejects the idea that all he was able to gain from the experience was a paycheck.

"Fabio's tough, man," Miocic said. "He's a tough dude. He comes hard, he's a warrior and he gets stronger as the fight goes on. And even that, I went to Brazil, I fought in his home country. I pretty much felt like the underdog because everyone was booing me. But you know, it's part of the game.

"Brazil was beautiful, the people were nice. It was a little crazy because I was in Brazil and I was fighting a Brazilian guy, so kinda crazy, but it was still cool, being in a new country and I just was happy ... I caught him with a good shot and it went my way that night."

The performance was impressive, if not somewhat expected, and even earned Miocic his third post-fight bonus under the UFC umbrella. But it goes without saying that Maldonado and dos Santos are entirely different breeds of beasts. With thunder in his fists and a chin carved from granite, the former champ has run roughshod over every man he's faced in the UFC not named Velasquez.

But Miocic is no stranger to the 48 minutes of anti-JDS stratagem Velasquez has committed to film, and if there's one big takeaway to glean from the champ's two victories over the Brazilian, Miocic believes he knows what it is.

"The pressure," Miocic said simply. "Putting pressure on him, not letting him get off any punches.

"He's a great guy, he's a good fighter. He moves a lot, there's no question the big boy moves fast. He hits hard, just like any fighter in the heavyweight division. I respect him a lot. He's a former champ, the guy knows what he's doing in there. He's a veteran. But I'll be ready come December 13th."

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