Stipe Miocic made history on Saturday night when he became the first man to ever defend the UFC heavyweight title three consecutive times following his dominant win over Francis Ngannou at UFC 220. Afterward, a fired up Miocic was asked if he believed he now deserved to be called the greatest heavyweight in Octagon history, and the normally self-effacing champion was frank in his response.
“F*ck yeah I do,” Miocic said at UFC 220’s post-fight press conference.
“No one’s ever defended it three times. I’ve done it and I had a killers row of fighters to get to it. I had a hard path to get to the title, and I’ve had a hard path to defend the title. I had top dudes. I had to fight (Andrei) Arlovski, then I had to fight (Fabricio) Werdum in Brazil in front of 45,000 people. Crazy. Next guy, (Alistair) Overeem, killer, K-1 champ, hits like a ton of bricks. Next guy, ‘JDS’ (Junior dos Santos), who I lost to. Now I got a guy who’s a phenom. Nothing’s ever easy. I know fighting ain’t easy, but I never had an easy road. Everything was hard.”
Miocic, 35, spoke on Saturday night like a man who had a point to prove. Despite entering UFC 220 on the cusp of history, the reigning heavyweight champion walked into the Octagon at Boston’s TD Garden as the betting underdog to Ngannou, a power-punching challenger who the UFC heavily promoted in the lead-up to the event.
But after a back-and-forth opening round, the fight was never close. Miocic used his wrestling and veteran savvy to dominate Ngannou and drag the challenger into deep waters, ultimately winning a unanimous 50-44 decision on all three judges’ scorecards. Miocic said afterward that he felt Ngannou struggling with his gas tank from the very first few exchanges of the fight, and Miocic intended to exploit that weakness.
“I felt that in the first round,” the champion explained. “I feel like he couldn’t put me away in that first round and I could see it, his will was dwindling away. He’s a tough dude, there’s no question. He’s really good, but I felt his will dwindling away. I could see it in his face. He couldn’t believe I was still there.
“Listen man, I’ve got the fighting spirit. It’s going to take a lot more to take me out. Ford Escort, Ford F-150, I don’t really care, I’m going to keep coming. He’s a tough dude, there’s no question, he’s got a great career ahead of him. He’s a tough dude, but listen, man, I’ve got that fighting spirit and I ain’t going to stop. Daily grind.”
In the lead-up to UFC 220, Miocic acknowledged on The MMA Hour that he felt as if the UFC wanted him to lose against Ngannou, given the massive marketing push the promotion threw behind the challenger. Miocic downplayed the slight though, just as he downplayed his chase of the all-time heavyweight title defense record.
But with Ngannou in the rear-view mirror, and Miocic having once again defied the odds in the face of nonbelievers, he admitted that his record-breaking performance tasted a little better because of the circumstances thrust against him.
“Now it means something to me,” Miocic said. “I beat the guy that everyone thought I couldn’t beat, so it made it that much sweeter. ‘This guy’s a phenom, he’s one-in-a-million, blah, blah, blah.’ Well guess what? He lost. He lost to a Midwest boy that’s 40 pounds lighter than him. And I’m the greatest heavyweight. I defended it three times. No one’s ever done that.
“It was the Stipe show tonight. It wasn’t about him. It was about me, because I’m the champ. I broke the record. I’m the best.”