In beating Junior dos Santos inside the first round tonight (May 13) in Dallas, Texas, UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic achieved and established a few things. He settled a score, avenging a loss to the Brazilian in 2014, he equalled the bizarre but very real record of two (yes, two) successful heavyweight title defences, and, by virtue of the fact he secured his fourth consecutive first-round knockout, he cemented his position as the best heavyweight on the planet.
All in all, it was a damn productive night for the Ohio-native.
The fight, scheduled for the championship distance of five rounds, was supposed to be competitive. Not only that, based on their prior meeting, another five-rounder in which both men enjoyed periods of success, the consensus view was that it would again go long and again be tough to separate them when the time came to pick a winner.
Both fighters, though, disputed this. They read from the same script the same tale of improving and progressing and not leaving it in the hands of the three judges this time. Miocic pointed to the fact he had since ascended to UFC heavyweight champion as a definitive mark of his improvement, while dos Santos, buoyed by beating Miocic first time around, had fallen victim to patchier form in the intervening years yet still looked as good as ever in defeating Ben Rothwell last April.
Old habits die hard, however, and one habit dos Santos has carried throughout his career, in wins just as in defeats, is a propensity to stand tall and somehow find his back against the fence and his chin in the firing line of his opponent. He has hurt opponents this way. He has also been hurt by opponents this way. Whether deliberate or by sheer coincidence, it happens a lot and it’s ill-advised.
It’s the last thing you want to do with a heavyweight as confident and powerful as Stipe Miocic. For all intents and purposes an open invitation, Miocic isn’t the type to ask twice, much less question his opposite number’s thought process. He sees an opening, he takes it. Ask Andrei Arolvski. Ask Fabricio Werdum. Ask Alistair Overeem. Miocic is by now accustomed to starting fast and finishing fast. He’s got the knack for it. Give him an opportunity when he’s fresh and you’ll only live to regret it.
Dos Santos, unfortunately, didn’t get the memo. He started proceedings in a positive manner, circling, setting traps and, crucially, kicking the hell out of Miocic’s left leg to such a degree it blew up and demobilised him almost immediately, but he also retreated the way he has always retreated. He retreated under pressure. He retreated of his own accord. He retreated to the fence. Once there, of course, Miocic pounced. He quickened his feet, he edged close, he sensed his chance. The throbbing left leg, he thought, isn’t going to hold up much longer; not with dos Santos treating it like a football; not with more hurtful exchanges around the corner. With dos Santos backed up, then, Miocic let it go. The right hand, that is. He let it go over and over again. He caught dos Santos early in the round with it and then, later, with dos Santos again backed up, he fell short with a first right hand only to connect sweetly with the second.
If the first was a range-finder, the follow-up was a fight-ender. It caught dos Santos, nowhere to run, around the ear and folded him to the deck immediately. From there, Miocic wrapped himself around the fallen Brazilian and proceeded to rain punches down on his unprotected head, forcing a stoppage just two minutes and twenty-two seconds into the round.
“I know he likes to walk forward and I like to walk backwards,” said dos Santos, 18-5, afterwards. “The last kick I threw, he felt a lot, and I felt I did well. (I thought) Now, I have to move. Then, I don’t remember anymore.”
Miocic, the victor, limped back to his corner following the stoppage. The pain had set in. The adrenalin would start to wear off. “We’ve been working on that for ten weeks,” Miocic, 17-2, said of the finishing right hand. “My coaches are the best in the world. If it wasn’t for my coaches, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
One guy knocked out, the other unable to walk properly; the extent of the damage caused in less than three minutes. Hardly any wonder fans love the heavyweights.
In 34-year-old Stipe Miocic, they not only have a heavyweight champion to love, they seemingly have one good enough to stick around.