On the way to the top, there are many pitfalls and challenges to overcome. It’s a hard lesson that UFC heavyweight Stipe Miocic learned in his last outing—the first loss of his professional career.

The sting of the second-round TKO suffered at the hands of towering, 6-foot-11 Dutchman Stefan Struve last September at UFC on Fuel TV 5 is still fresh in the mind of the 30-year-old.

“It sucks,” Miocic said candidly in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “No one likes losing; it was terrible.”

What made the loss such a tough pill to swallow for the Ohio fighter was the fact that he nearly finished Struve in the opening frame of the back-and-forth affair. Ultimately, it led to an extra, $40,000 paycheck in the form of “Fight of the Night” honors. Unfortunately, Miocic fails to see that as solace.

Miocic (top) batters his opponent (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“It helped a little bit,” he admitted. “But I’d much rather have the win.”

From the outside looking in, it appeared as though Miocic may have exhumed all of his energy trying to finish Struve in the wild first stanza. Yet, the Strong Style MMA product isn’t willing to take anything away from his opponent’s performance that night.

“I don’t know, it’s a good question [about tiring], but he was just better than me that night, the better fighter,” Miocic declared.

In the nine months since the loss to Struve, Miocic has continued to work as firefighter, all the while doing whatever he can to evolve his fight game.

“I’ve been working on everything, every day trying to get better,” he explained.

A lot of fighters say that they learn more from their losses than their wins. Although the experience is new to Miocic, the former nationally-ranked wrestler at Cleveland State and Golden Gloves champion has changed his approach to stepping into the cage.

“I have to make sure I do what I do, know what situation I’m in and fight my game,” he proclaimed. “[More than anything] I have to do what I want, not what other people want.”

That newfound outlook has the chance to pay dividends on Saturday, June 15 when Miocic takes on The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner Roy Nelson at UFC 161 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Miocic was originally slated to face off with Australia’s Soa Palelei at the event, but a number of injuries shuffled the card and the fight with Nelson is now the co-main event.

“I think I’ll be alright,” said Miocic of his last-minute change of opponent. “We’re all competitors. It’s still a fight, just a different opponent.”

Miocic (R) looks for a right hand (James Law/Heavy MMA)

Even though Miocic isn’t panicking at the shift in foe, he acknowledges that Nelson is a step up in competition from Palelei. But after the loss to Struve, the 30-year-old has redemption on his mind when the cage door shuts.

“It’s a perfect opportunity,” expressed the 10-fight veteran. “I have to stick with my game plan and do whatever I can to win, not do what he wants.”

Without question, Nelson will be searching for his devastating right hand that has led to three straight knockout wins and 12 finished by strikes in his 26-fight career. However, Miocic has eight stoppages of his own on his resume. And unlike his fight with Struve, where he was at a massive height and reach disadvantage, Miocic will have four inches in height and seven inches in reach on the compact Nelson.

Stating the obvious, Miocic tipped his hand at his strategy, “I’m going to keep my distance and avoid his big right hand. I have to keep him at bay and when I want to clinch, I clinch. He’s tough, well-rounded.”

While many consider Miocic the underdog on Saturday night, the chance to derail Nelson’s winning streak and get back in the win column is the exact type of challenge Miocic needs to prove he belongs among the heavyweight division’s elite.

Stipe would like to thank his team at Strong Style, his coaches and Bad Boy. Follow him on Twitter: @smiocic

Top Photo: Stipe Miocic (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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