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Stipe Miocic is the contender the heavyweight division has been waiting for

Zuffa LLC via Getty

Perhaps the only thing stronger than Mark Hunt’s chin is referee John Sharp’s stomach for enduring its dismantling. UFC Fight Night 65’s main event was all about thresholds, which extended to the third man. Stipe Miocic socked, Hunt got rocked, and Sharp stood by in clean conscience.

Miocic, for his part, made one hell of a statement on Sunday morning in Adelaide. He landed a record number of strikes on Hunt, which is of course both historical and alarming in a UFC fight because…well…this was a heavyweight bout, where the punches have extra mustard yet the brains rattle just the same. Mercy got to the fight late. You hate to see that happen.

But Miocic made the most of his platform, and that’s the real story. The boos raining down from the 7,000 partisans were music to his ears. If the locals were booing him, it meant he was executing his game plan perfectly. Cleveland State wrestling has never flown too big Down Under.

And in the end it became an incredible display for both fighters. Hunt shown for his heart, Miocic for declaring himself ready. Ready for the robo-bull Cain Velasquez, who might have met his match in pace-pushing relentlessness. Or the parlay buster Fabricio Werdum, who fights Velasquez in June.

Ready for a title shot. Just more music to his ears.

Miocic looked like everything the UFC’s heavyweight division has longed for since Alistair Overeem -- the man being eternally groomed for a title shot -- began to tumble. If he didn’t do it in his last fight against Junior dos Santos (a fight he lost on the scorecards) last December, he presented himself as a true challenger in the wings. If there was a silver lining to the fight going on longer than it should have, it was that Miocic showed he had fuel for days. That he could match Velasquez’s cardio. That intensity stays with him for the duration.

It was a tremendous use of a Fight Pass main event.

At one point, during a particularly gratuitous volley of shots midway through, Miocic glanced at Sharp as if to say, "what are you waiting for?" Just then, as Sharp leaned in like a man battling cold feet, Hunt hit Miocic with an upstrike, just to show he was still around. Sharp let the fight go on, while an uneasiness fell over the viewing audience. Miocic continued to do what he was doing. Hunt, because he is made of tougher stuff than is good for him, lasted into the fifth round. By the time the fight was finally stopped, he had morphed into a different person. He was swollen shut and battered.

The truth is that Hunt -- who turned 41 years old in March -- isn’t likely to get another title shot. You wonder how many more times he can (or even wants to) go through what he just did with Miocic. It was an incredible show of heart to keep answering the bell the way he did.

Then again, the heavyweight division is brutal like that. It’s not meant for longevity. Miocic took a beating against JDS, but also dished one out. JDS took a couple of career-altering beatings from Velasquez. Travis Browne hacked Josh Barnett down dramatically, and Antonio Silva got vaporized by Andrei Arlovski, who himself is a resurrection story from a collection of knockouts dating back to Affliction. A heavyweight beating is like no other in the sport.

It is hard to establish a contender in a division that consumes itself so thoroughly. Yet if Miocic did anything in Adelaide, it was establish himself as a contender. There’s something to be said for the rarity of that feat.

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