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UFC 198 Aftermath: Can Stipe Miocic break the heavyweight title curse?

Esther Lin photo

The lineage of the championship belt won by Stipe Miocic on Saturday night traces all the way back to the Superfight title, the one created in the UFC's earliest days as a way to promote fights between stars outside of what had turned into a rigid tournament format.

The belt, first held by Ken Shamrock in 1995, gave way to the current heavyweight title at UFC 12, when Superfight champ Dan Severn lost to UFC 11 tournament winner Mark Coleman.

And when Miocic scored a one-punch knockout of Fabricio Werdum to claim the belt in front of 45,000 fans to win the championship in Curitiba, Brazil, a 21-year streak going all the way back to Shamrock continued.

Werdum dropped the belt in his first title defense, meaning Miocic inherits a lineage in which no fighter has successfully defended the title more than twice.

Not Randy Couture, who had three title reigns to his name.

Not Tim Sylvia, who held the belt when all the best heavyweights competed in PRIDE, but could still only manage two defenses before losing to a 43-year-old Couture.

Not Brock Lesnar, who defended the belt against Frank Mir and Shane Carwin before being felled by the 1-2 combo of Diverticulitis and a rising Cain Velasquez.

Not Velasquez, who conventional wisdom held would be that elusive, dominant heavyweight champion. Even given wide berth by the UFC for frequent injuries, he got clipped by Junior dos Santos to end his first reign, then was finished by Werdum last year as he attempted to make his third defense of his second reign.

Werdum, for his part, openly talked about going on a run that would leave no doubt he was the greatest heavyweight of all-time, and given his resume in winning eight of his previous nine fights, he seemed to be on solid footing. Instead, he took a wild charge at Miocic in the opening round and paid the price.

It doesn't take an in-depth breakdown to figure out why the heavyweight championship changes hands as fast as it does: Take very large, very powerful men, put four-ounce gloves on their hands, let them run wild, and carnage will ensue.

So will Miocic, an unassuming, even-keeled firefighter from suburban Cleveland, be the one to finally break through and keep the belt awhile?

We're not going to be dumb enough to definitively say yes or no on this one. Not when Alistair Overeem lurks. Or a retooled Werdum. Velasquez, with the eternal "if he can stay healthy," is always a threat. And dos Santos, who beat Miocic in a war just two years ago, is resurgent.

Any one of those guys are capable of catching Miocic, who seemed as surprised as everyone else when he won. And Miocic is just as capable of catching any of them.

"I've trained too hard. I want to keep this belt a long time," Miocic said at the UFC 198 post-fight press conference in Curitiba. "I'm going to keep this belt for awhile, I promise you that."

History says that sooner rather than later, we'll be talking about the guy who beat Micoc and whether he'll be the one who held it awhile. But then again, Clevelanders aren't supposed to win championships, and Miocic has already come this far. So who knows?

UFC 198 quotes

"He was better than me, but I want to fight, the sooner the better. Maybe at UFC 200 against him. I know it'd be very difficult, but I would like to fight as soon as possible." -- Werdum, perhaps a bit too optimistic on how soon he'll get a title rematch.

"The fights that were allowed to keep going in the same cage on the same night show that my fight was total bull. I'll fight her again asap as long as there is a legit ref like Herb Dean." -- Leslie Smith, not happy with the stoppage in her loss to Cris "Cyborg" Justino.

"I believe that it was my moment, tonight was my moment and it was historic." -- Justino, on why she did not call out Ronda Rousey after defeating Smith.

"I want the champion of this fight. I deserve it. And if it's Rockhold, my goal is to train as much as I can, do the best I can, and go there and destroy my opponent." -- Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, aiming for the winner of Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman at UFC 199.

"I think in this division, I have the longest sequence of victories, more than [Tyron] Woodley. So, mathematically, I think I'm the one that deserves to fight for the title." -- Demian Maia wants a welterweight title shot.

Stock report

Up: Cyborg Justino. The Invicta featherweight champion finally got her long-awaited moment in the sun Saturday night and looked like a superstar in her hometown. At UFC 198, it became clear that Cyborg against any of the major names who fight at 135, be it champion Miesha Tate, Rousey, or former champ Holly Holm, is going to equal big, big money. And we all know the UFC likes money. The UFC just demonstrated it will go to 140 for Cyborg in the right circumstances.  So from here, it should be a matter of which of the top-of-the-line fighters is willing to step up.

Down: Fabricio Werdum. Throughout Werdum's late rise in the sport, one which traces back to his response to his 2009 knockout loss to dos Santos, Werdum's been considered the thinking man's heavyweight. He's the guy who reinvented himself from a one-trick jiu-jitsu pony to a well-rounded competitor, who was smart enough to go train in a higher elevation than Mexico City for his matchup with Velasquez. So the fact he took leave of his senses and made a wild charge at Miocic will go down as one of the sport's great head scratchers. Maybe it's as simple as he just got caught, and he'll be able to make corrections. But even so, one gets the sense the UFC is not in a rush to put Werdum right back in a rematch.

Up: Jacare Souza. If not for a split decision loss in a fight many thought he won against Yoel Romero -- a fight controversial for more than one reason -- we'd be talking about a 10-fight win streak for Souza at the moment. As it stands, it's nine of 10 after Souza thoroughly dismantled Vitor Belfort on Saturday night, and it's getting tougher and tougher to justify not giving the man a middleweight title shot.

Down: Vitor Belfort. Time catches up with everyone, even one who has been as nimble as the former UFC light heavyweight champion. Draw your own conclusions on how much of Belfort's 2013 run of knockout wins was due to testosterone replacement therapy, but the fact is, Belfort's now 1-2 in the post-TRT era, and has been mauled in losses to Chris Weidman and now Souza (and the win in the span was over fellow post-TRTer Dan Henderson). Belfort certainly still has enough cache to cash in on his name and make a few more big paychecks, but, at 39, it's hard to see a path back to the top.

Up: Demian Maia. First off, if you still find Maia boring, well, I don't know what to tell you at this point. His last two fights, against Gunnar Nelson at UFC 194 and last night against Matt Brown, were like the MMA equivalent of watching a predator stalk and devour its prey in a nature show. Maia's become a compulsively watchable fighter. With six straight wins, Maia might not have the most clear-cut case for a shot at Robbie Lawler's welterweight title, but he surely belongs on the very short list, and at worst should be in a No. 1 contender fight next.

Interesting calls

Was the Cyborg-Leslie Smith fight stopped too soon? Probably. And we'll even allow Smith's point that on the evening a lot of fighters were in worse positions and the fights continued. But I think we all know deep down the referee simply saved Smith from flying home to California after taking more of a beating then she did (even you, that one random guy about to go in the comment section and claim Smith would have won if it continued). Still, if the ref had allowed that closure, this wouldn't even be an issue.

Then there was the quite literal hometown call for Curitiba's Mauricio "Shogun" Rua against Corey Anderson. Did Rua legitimately steal the first round in the final 10 seconds? Absolutely. Rua clobbered Anderson and had him looking like a drunk on ice skates, then Anderson was saved by the horn before Rua could unload enough hammer fists. The flurry at the end of the second round, was nowhere near as severe, and should not have negated the 4:50 of preceding dominance by Anderson. All three judges had Anderson winning the third. Two lessons for the young Mr. Anderson: 1. You can't just beast for 4:50 out of every round, and 2. If you do, and you're fighting a legend in his hometown, you're not getting the nod.

Fight I'd like to see next: Stipe Miocic vs. Alistair Overeem in Cleveland

It's been curious, over the years, watching the UFC barnstorm all over North America, make much-hyped debuts in nearly every major market and skip over Cleveland. After UFC 198, there's really no excuse not to let Miocic take the belt home for his first title defense. Anyone who was at the legendary UFC 68 two hours down the road in Columbus, when Couture beat Sylvia, can tell you how loud and passionate MMA's Ohio fan base can be. So it's time to give this city a chance to celebrate a homegrown champion in their own backyard, and why not do it against another hot fighter who can bring the fireworks?

(I've finally gotten around to creating a professional Facebook page. If you've been a loyal Aftermath reader over the years, do me a favor and like the page to help me get it up and running. Thanks!)

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