UFC heavyweight Stipe Miocic received a golden opportunity for furthering his MMA career at UFC 161 Saturday night. Not only did he deliver, he rose above and beyond the occasion, seizing the moment in dominant fashion.
After picking apart the UFC’s No. 5 heavyweight Roy “Big Country” Nelson over three rounds during Saturday’s co-main event in Winnipeg, Miocic undoubtedly deserves top-10 status in the division.
Many pundits and experts picked “Big Country” to win. Perhaps they’d become overconfident in Nelson’s powerful right hand. Maybe it was his recent string of knockouts over sub-par competition. Whatever the reason, the unheralded and unranked Miocic was severely underestimated.
The opening seconds of the first round proved that it was Miocic—not Nelson—who was the better fighter on fight night. The former Golden Gloves boxer showed superior standup skills by landing crisp and accurate combinations while avoiding his counterpart’s fearsome haymakers.
Miocic also showcased excellent defensive timing with head movement and footwork, ducking under Nelson’s big punches and quickly countering during any openings.
The Ohio-born heavyweight also controlled the few grappling exchanges that took place, adding very effective knees and elbows to his steady diet of rights and lefts. “My coaches make the best game plan for me and I feel confident every time I come in,” Miocic told Ariel Helwani on FUEL TV after the fight.
Knowing Nelson has the best chin tolerance in all of MMA, Miocic’s game plan was always to go three rounds. It was a strategy executed almost flawlessly. It’s also worth noting that any time Nelson has faced a decision in his career, he’s lost.
“Three rounds,” Miocic said. “That’s all I was thinking the whole time. Three rounds, three rounds, three rounds. That’s what my coaches were telling me, that’s what I was telling me.”
The Strong Style team member’s confidence was apparent throughout the entire contest. So was his fight IQ—Miocic never forced the action when it wasn’t there. He remained calm and collected in every round, never appearing tired or showing signs of fatigue.
In the final round, Miocic knew Nelson’s only chance would be hunting for the knockout. He easily avoided Nelson’s ill-fated attempts at landing big punch, all while exposing his over-reliance on his best weapon.
Nelson gassed early on, at one point bending over in exhaustion between rounds. His condition worsened in each subsequent round. According to Fightmetric, “Big Country” also earned the embarrassing honor of setting the record for absorbing the most strikes in a single heavyweight bout without getting knocked out.
“I think I wobbled him in the beginning of one of the rounds,” Miocic said. “That’s when I was like ‘man, you know what? I belong here.’ I knew I belonged here and I just kept coming.”
The 30-year-old Croatian always had confidence in his own abilities, but now he has proved them. When the latest UFC heavyweight rankings come out later this week, Miocic will likely have a spot in the top-10, right where he belongs.
Michael Stets is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report