Never before has a UFC heavyweight champion had to fend off a coup d’état from the promotion’s reigning light heavyweight titleholder, but that’s exactly what Stipe Miocic will face when he takes on Daniel Cormier in a blockbuster champion vs. champion superfight on July 7 in Las Vegas at UFC 226.
And for Miocic, the UFC’s record-breaking heavyweight king, the chance to test himself against a decorated challenger like Cormier was a no-brainer of an opportunity.
“I match-up well,” Miocic said Monday on The MMA Hour. “First off, Daniel’s an amazing person. I think he’s a great guy. I’ve known him for awhile. I love the guy. We’ve done shows together and stuff. He’s just an amazing guy. He’s super tough, he’s an Olympic medalist, he won the grand prix in Strikeforce, dude’s the light heavyweight champ. The guy has so many accolades, it’s amazing. But bumping up for a superfight, I wanted to make sure it was right for both of us, and it was, so we’re doing it.
“He wouldn’t take it if he didn’t think he had a chance. He’s a tough guy, he’s fought heavyweights before. He’s a great mixed martial artist. He’s one of the best in the world, if not the best. I mean, he’s fought numerous top-caliber guys his whole career, so it’s going to be an amazing night. I’m excited.”
Miocic and Cormier will also serve as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 27 in advance of their UFC 226 clash. Miocic said his head coach for his TUF 27 team will be Factory X’s Marc Montoya, who will be joined by a team of trainers from Miocic’s home gym, Cleveland’s Strong Style MMA. Filming for the show is expected to start this week.
The opportunity will serve as a quick turnaround for Miocic, who earlier this month defended his heavyweight strap for a record-breaking third consecutive time with his lopsided decision win over Francis Ngannou at UFC 220. Miocic overcame a plethora of doubters and critics with the performance — despite Miocic’s place on the verge of history, much of the UFC’s marketing for the event focused on the power-punching challenger. Miocic even entered UFC 220 as a betting underdog, even though his title run up to that point consisted of nothing but first-round knockouts over respected heavyweight names.
Still, despite the dominant nature of his victory — Miocic captured a trio of 50-44 scorecards — the reigning heavyweight champion saw plenty he could improve upon against Ngannou.
“I was standing up too tall, I wasn’t bouncing as much as I should, more movement, stuff like that,” Miocic said. “I could’ve probably done a little bit more ground-and-pound, but he’s a big man. He’s strong and I was just trying to wear him out.
“That first round, he was coming at me freight train and I was just trying to move out of the way. But I felt good. Conditioning-wise, I felt good. I felt better as the rounds went on. But that first round, I think I just wasn’t used to that. I’m not used to someone coming and swinging Hail Mary at me and trying to take my face off.”
Miocic also gave credit to Ngannou’s much-discussed punching power and said he sees bright things in the 31-year-old’s future.
“I’ve felt harder (punches) for sure, of course, but he definitely hits hard every time,” Miocic said. “You don’t want to take any chances. I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to land one of those meat hooks on my face and end the night early for me.
“He’s definitely got a lot of potential, man. He’s just got to work on a few things and I think he’ll be fine. I think he’s still relatively young for the division and I think that if he works on some of his flaws, he’ll be fine.”
Miocic demurred when asked about one of the biggest talking points that emerged from UFC 220: His seemingly stormy relationship with UFC president Dana White.
Miocic declined to elaborate on why he snatched the belt away from White in the immediate aftermath of his Ngannou win and instead had his own coach, Marcus Marinelli, wrap the belt around Miocic’s waist.
Miocic added that he spoke to White in the days after UFC 220 and White congratulated him on his performance, then offered him the opportunity to coach TUF 27 opposite Cormier. So for whatever bad blood may have existed between the winningest heavyweight champion in UFC history and his promotion, Miocic is nonetheless primed to headline the UFC’s annual International Fight Week. It’s a massive stage, and Miocic isn’t going to let his friendly relationship with Cormier get in the way of what should be a highly-anticipated superfight.
“It’s business at the end of the day,” Miocic said. “I have no hard feelings towards him (Cormier). I think he feels the same way. I hope he does. But we’re doing it to better our families and ourselves.
“It’s not about him. It’s about me. I’m going to win the fight and I’m going to extend my defending streak longer. It’s not going to be three; it’s going to be four.”
Miocic also had a message for his fellow heavyweights who aren’t happy about the next title shot being gobbled up by a 205-pounder, such as top contender Fabricio Werdum.
“Don’t be mad at me, it’s not my decision,” Miocic said.
“I’m coming out guns blazing and training like a madman like I always do, and he can wait until after the fight’s done.”