For a top-ranked heavyweight who’s looking to enter the title picture, getting a shot at former champion Junior dos Santos is like finding the Holy Grail. So when Stipe Miocic had that opportunity taken from him and had it replaced by a bout against a light heavyweight possessing a 4-3 UFC record who is known more for his toughness in losing efforts than his wins, it had to hurt as badly as any blow the Ohio native has taken inside the cage.

Miocic had earned a shot at a top-tier heavyweight, and when dos Santos decided to call out the former Cleveland State wrestler, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Dos Santos is one of the most talented boxers in all of MMA, and he has dominated every man put in front of him in the Octagon that isn’t named Cain Velasquez. On the other side was Miocic, a former NCAA Division I wrestler with a Golden Gloves boxing background to make sure he could test the former champion in all areas. On paper, most fighters don’t match up well with dos Santos because his striking is seemingly on another level than the rest of the division. Miocic had the all-around game to possibly test dos Santos in a way that no one else has been able to outside of Velasquez.

Less than a month before the fight was set to take place, though, dos Santos suffered a hand injury that forced him out of the TUF Brazil Finale against Miocic. It was a tough break for the UFC, which had to find a quality fighter to try to save the night’s main event. But it was far worse for Miocic, who saw a possible shortcut to a title fight evaporate. With all of the top heavyweights either booked or stuck on the sidelines for some reason or another, the UFC ended up dipping into its pool of light heavyweights and selecting slugger Fabio Maldonado to be the man to welcome Miocic to Brazil.

Miocic has fought in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom throughout his career, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever have had a negative reaction like the one he can expect from the Brazilian crowd this weekend. No fans support their own quite like the Brazilian MMA fans, and the constant noise and chanting can be a bit overwhelming for some fighters. To his credit, Miocic doesn’t seem worried in the slightest.

“It’s awesome. They’re passionate fans, they’re loyal,” Miocic told The MMA Corner. “You know, back home we have the Cleveland Browns and stuff, and our fans are just the same way, so no big deal.”

While the fans may not seem like a major problem for Miocic, it’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t say the same thing about Maldonado. The Brazilian slugger might be the toughest man to finish on the UFC roster. Maldonado brings plenty of skills to the table, with solid boxing technique and a penchant for landing vicious body shots, but his ability to get hit over and over again and continue to come forward may be his most remarkable skill. Whereas dos Santos is the type to wait for his shot and stay out of damage before exploding to try to finish, Maldonado is going to be throwing caution to the wind far more often.

That recklessness may end up giving Miocic a few more chances to finish the fight, but don’t count on the Croatian fighter to be banking on scoring a stoppage. Once they get into the cage, winning is the only thing of which Miocic is certain.

“I don’t know—I’m going to do what I do. I’ll have my game plan ready, and I’ll do it and I’m going to win,” said Miocic. “Whether it’s by submission, knockout, decision, I don’t care. I’m going to win.”

With only a handful of fighters anywhere near a heavyweight title shot at the moment, it would be foolish for Miocic to not be thinking about at least earning a title shot with another victory or two. However, the Ohio native is far from ready to demand a title shot and seems content to earn his way to the top.

“There’s a lot of good guys, you know? I’ve got to keep working my way up and keep winning, and hopefully get a shot at the title,” Miocic said.

A win over Maldonado isn’t going to skyrocket Miocic up the heavyweight rankings, but it will at least allow him to maintain his spot in the heavyweight title picture and likely lead to a fight on the level of the dos Santos bout he was initially offered.

Miocic may have missed out on the Holy Grail, but all it takes is a victory this weekend for that opportunity to fall into his lap once again. It may not be the fight Miocic wanted, or even the one he initially was given, but this is the fight that is going to catapult Miocic to where he wants to be.

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.