Stipe Miocic shocks the world, and rewrites UFC heavyweight plans

Few people saw Stipe Miocic’s victory over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 coming, least of all Werdum, but the result works out well for the UFC…

It wasn’t meant to go down like that.

The fight started, and our champ Fabricio Werdum impatiently took centre stage. He looked physically imposing compared to Stipe Miocic- taller and much thicker. Werdum touched gloves at Miocic’s request, but you could see that Werdum didn’t want there to be time for any mutual respect. Usually relaxed and often smiling in the octagon, on Saturday night Werdum looked serious, like a man on a mission. He put Miocic on the back foot and looked to be the aggressor in the stand-up exchanges.

Miocic accepted his role in this situation as the defensive striker. Little did he know that this defensive game would win him the World Championship, and in very little time too. He stayed busy enough, jabbing and leg kicking to keep Werdum at bay. He kept moving away to keep one another in boxing range. Miocic will have been acutely aware that ex-champ Cain Velasquez clinched with Werdum, and Werdum’s knees in the clinch quickly demolished Velasquez’s cardio.

And so, for two-and-a-half minutes, things looked pretty typical for a five-round fight. Miocic looked like he was conserving plenty of energy for the later rounds, being patient, and keeping his defense on point. Round one would go to the judges scorecards, surely? Werdum continued to come forward. Then, he appeared to make a quite mad decision. It was almost as if Werdum thought to himself “Well, if he’s going let me dictate the pace, and to even give up the round, why don’t I make him pay for it?” He charged forward with over-extended punches as Miocic circled away from the cage. Werdum, instead of cutting off Miocic’s space, chased straight after him- hands flying and chin forward. Big mistake. Miocic obliged Fabricio, and cracked him square on the chin with a killer short right hook. Miocic was almost running backward at the time, and the strike was entirely an arm-punch, with no real shoulder or core rotation. But such is Miocic’s power, Werdum absolutely crumpled to the ground, and the fight was over almost instantly.

I couldn’t quite believe what I’d witnessed. To see such a BJJ master as Werdum throw away the title in 150 seconds because of his new-found stand-up enjoyment was a real shock. I thought he was smarter than that. Miocic himself seemed the most surprised afterward- commentator Brian Stann couldn’t help but laugh at his rather amateurish reaction: “I’m a World champion? I’m a World champion!”

But the man deserves it. He’s a very well-rounded fighter. He knows his great strength lies in his stand-up, and he has solid defensive wrestling. It’s a great pity we didn’t see his grappling tested in this fight, but I have no doubt he would not have given up takedowns to Werdum easily.

Previously it had seemed so likely that Werdum would succeed in defending his belt, that a rematch with Velasquez would be the angle that the UFC would work. They could play up their rivalry and their opposing fight style and skill-sets. Instead, that plan is out of the window. And given how injury-prone Velasquez is, Dana White probably isn’t too sad about that. Instead, the UFC have a new angle. And that is without question pitting our new champ Stipe Miocic in a stand-up war with monster striker Alistair Overeem.

The UFC had obviously already planned this new fight in case Miocic won- after the fight Brian Stann did basically everything but officially announce it. He clearly had been prepped on what to say. Overeem, with a big win last weekend is on a four-fight win streak, and is healthy. He’ll be relishing a fight against the smaller (though, faster) man.

If I were forced to predict Miocic vs Overeem I would put my money on Overeem. His career resurgence has been impressive, and he’s got a big experience edge. He also uses kicks more effectively, particularly the body kick, meaning that he essentially has the reach advantage, even though they share the same arm reach (80 inches). However, as Miocic has just proven, anything can happen in the heavyweight division- and quickly too. Barring injury, Miocic/Overeem is a fight I’ll be relishing. Just don’t expect to see much jiu-jitsu on show when these kickboxers come after one another.

Laurie Williams

Watch Stipe Miocic’s victory over Fabricio Werdum right here.