Fighting the UFC heavyweight champion is one of the most daunting tasks in sports, so imagine having to take on the baddest man on the planet every day. Stipe Miocic’s sparring partners reveal what it’s like to step into the cage with him not once, not twice, but over and over again…
The Hired Gun
Glory Kickboxing and Legacy Fighting Alliance heavyweight
“My first couple of camps [at Strong Style] were strictly to be that kickboxer. Ever since then we bang for five, five-minute rounds three or four days a week.
“I came out for the Andrei Arlovski fight and I was kind of surprised at the pace they go. We’re heavyweights, so everybody goes hard, but for them to want me to stand for five rounds, back to back-to-back, I was like, damn, this guy is a beast! Even when he’s not in camp, man, he does five-fives, back-to-back. I’ve been around a lot of heavyweights and he’s the most athletic.
“He hits super hard. He has crushing power and what makes it bad is that this crushing power is there every round. Sometimes you wait on guys to wear themselves out, but there’s just no wearing out with that man.
“I’ve been dabbling in MMA for about six years, so I was expecting hard sparing. They were paying me, so as soon as I got out there I popped him a little bit and he popped me right back, but I loved it. I just love that challenge. He’s the heavyweight champion and I’m trying to put it on him just as much as he’s trying to put it on me. We were getting after it and that’s how it is every time we spar.
“They only have a couple of us guys go in there – Gian Villante, me and a couple of boxers from Ohio are the only ones he wants to train with because a lot of people just can’t take it. I’ve witnessed that myself. Guys will get in there for half a round and they can’t get through it.
“He’s proven it time and time again. It doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, he’s going to put you out. It’s a great camp to be around. It’s just crazy, man, because you don’t see a lot of guys work like that. Especially with him being a fireman most of the time, and then coming out here and getting as much work as the other heavyweights are, and then going and winning the UFC heavyweight title… it’s crazy.
“He’s helped me with my takedowns and some of my striking for MMA. The whole two or three weeks I’m there, I shadow him. I work out right behind him and do everything he does. He helps me out here and there and I’ve felt a massive change in my MMA. I’m blessed to be working with him.
“It’s nice to be able to shadow after him and do everything he was doing. If I can keep up with what he’s doing, I’m on the right track.”
Stipe Says: “Iron sharpens iron man. I have a bunch of killers working with me.”
The Young Lion
Undefeated amateur light-heavyweight
“I started fighting when I was 16. I didn’t know if I wanted to competitively fight or just do it as a hobby, but I kind of got pulled into all the sparring with the professionals when I was 19. One of the days Stipe needed sparring, I was asked to jump in for someone who wasn’t there and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to fight with a UFC heavyweight. I got my ass beat but I showed heart while I was in there.
“I knew I’d be in trouble the whole time, but I definitely felt like I’d be able to hold up with him – maybe not land as many punches as I wanted to, but I stayed there the whole time. I guess he saw something in me and I started training with the team and slowly and gradually became one of Stipe’s main training partners.
“First of all, he hits hard. He hits harder than anybody I’ve been hit by. Having been hit and thrown around by him, it doesn’t really feel like much when I go with people my size. So it helps me out in that way. When I spar with Stipe, I feel like Stipe with 16oz gloves hits harder than any of these light-heavyweights with 8oz gloves. It kind of conditions my head, almost. Also, I can’t really stand around with Stipe. When I go with him, I have to move my feet a lot, so my footwork has definitely improved.
“I feel like I know how to tuck my chin into my chest pretty well, but there have been a numerous times when he’s clipped me and dropped me. I don’t think I can say he’s fully knocked me out, but I’m still young, so we have some time! He’ll get me one of these days.
“As a light-heavyweight, I feel like I’m faster than most heavyweights. I move more and I think he definitely needs that. I think I’m a big asset to him with the movement and stuff, because you never know who he’s going to go up against.”
Stipe says: “He’s an absolute animal. He’s a 205lb’er and he’s a freak of nature. I hate sparring with him. He makes me feel like an old man sometimes.”
True heavyweight with the size and strength to test the champ
“Me and Stipe started training together before he started doing MMA. He was going to Golden Gloves boxing, so we started while I was at another gym and Marcus Marinelli [Strong Style head coach] asked me to help one of their amateur heavyweights out. After two days of training at Strong Style I realised it was the place I needed to be to expand my game. I’ve been there 10-plus years now.
“I’ve been the main training partner for Stipe since he started, so every time he gets ready for a fight I’m going to help out, gear up and give him one or two rounds every day.
“Early on you just knew he had it. His build, his work ethic – he’s very talented. He works hard, too, don’t get me wrong, but this guy has God-given ability. I’ve never seen someone with this much ability. Every training camp he’s getting better. That’s not real.
“Even as a heavyweight at 235lb, he moves quicker than 155lb’ers. It’s ridiculous. Even at an early age you could see the power he has. You could tell from the start how good he was.
“Getting punched by him is like getting hit with a baseball bat, a very accurate baseball bat! He’s very accurate, very pinpoint. His punches are not wasted punches. When he throws, he throws hard, even in training. It’s the same in sparring. He throws to hurt.
“Trust me, every day is like, ‘Oh my God…’ There are days when I’ll go to spar and Stipe’s not there and you’ll get a smile on your face. You don’t have to worry about getting taken out by him. It’s nice sometimes when he’s not around!
“We go hard with each other, but don’t try to kill each other. There are times when I’ll get a good shot on him, which will piss him off and he’ll fire right back. Sometimes when he gets a couple of good shots on me, it’ll piss me off and I’ll start swinging haymakers at him just to get back
“We’ve been training partners such a long time, there’s that mutual respect. We’re just here to try to get each other better. When you get punched in the face it kind of mellows you out.
“He’ll be champion until he retires. I don’t see anyone in the heavyweight division beating him. Nobody. Look what he’s done to the last few people – first-round finishes. When he kind of slipped up with (Alistair) Overeem, a lot of people worried, but I’ve seen Stipe a million times and that doesn’t bother him. He got right back up and finished him. I just don’t see anyone pushing him. I don’t think anyone’s good enough to beat Stipe. I see him fighting for another couple of years, then retiring because there’s no one left to fight.”
Stipe says: “My buddy – a good, tough heavyweight. I’ve fought him for the last six years. He’s tough as s**t. He just takes a beating and keeps on ticking.”
*** This feature originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Fighters Only ***