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Stipe Miocic can honestly say he’s not sure he’s the champion the UFC wants right now.
In an age where superstars sell the most pay-per-views, thus creating the most revenue for the promotion, the UFC — and every other organization across the globe — is looking to build those athletes who put butts in seats and make people willing to pay $60 every time they step inside the cage.
Conor McGregor is by far the greatest example of this superstar stalking that takes place in mixed martial arts these days, thanks to the 29-year-old Irishman becoming one of the most talked about athletes on the planet regardless of the sport that he competes in. McGregor reached his status as the biggest draw in combat sports by a combination of his quick wit, loud mouth, and ability to back up everything he says inside the cage.
UFC president Dana White has often called McGregor a ‘unicorn’ — a mythical creature that probably doesn’t exist outside of the one superstar currently driving around in $500,000 cars throughout Dublin, Ireland. But McGregor’s arrival hasn’t stopped a bevy of clones from emerging in his image by either trying to talk like him, act like him, or at the very least adding the words ‘money fight’ to their vocabularies and then vomiting them back up as often as possible whenever asked about what comes next.
But Miocic is a different kind of animal.
He doesn’t talk trash. He dresses nice, but he’s not touting custom made suits that will be transformed into a clothing line for men. He doesn’t drive luxury cars. He’s not hobnobbing with celebrities. And chances are, you’ll never see him wear a pair of sunglasses indoors.
Miocic is only about one thing and that’s winning.
“Like I said, as long as I’m here, nobody else is getting that belt,” Miocic said about his heavyweight title reign ahead of his next fight. “I worked way too hard to give it up. I sacrificed way too much to give it up. Unfortunately, as long as I’m here, no one’s getting that belt.”
On Saturday night at UFC 220, Miocic has a chance to break the all-time record for title defenses in the heavyweight division. Three title defenses may not sound like much when comparing that to the gaudy double digit number next to Demetrious Johnson’s name for the all-time UFC record, but when you dig a little deeper into the list of fighters who have been heavyweight champion, it becomes much more impressive.
UFC Hall of Famers Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, and Bas Rutten have all been heavyweight champions. Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez, and Junior Dos Santos have held that title as well, and none of them have been able to defend the belt more than two times before suffering a loss.
Considering that laundry list of legends who have been champion to never get that third title defense, it’s understandable why there’s so much attention on Miocic making his attempt at breaking that all-time record at UFC 220, right?
Except that’s not the narrative being painted ahead of this weekend’s card.
Instead, the bulk of the focus has been on 31-year-old Cameroonian knockout artist Francis Ngannou, who will actually enter his first UFC title fight as the betting favorite against the two-time defending champion.
It’s not Ngannou’s fault that he’s the talk of the town ahead of his showdown with Miocic on Saturday night. With an undefeated record in the UFC, including a string of jaw-dropping knockouts, Ngannou is a highlight reel waiting to happen and after nearly decapitating former champion Alistair Overeem in his last fight, the UFC was quick to move him into a position to challenge for the title this weekend.
Of course, Ngannou has embraced his role as the star of the card by saying things like Miocic is only the champion because he hadn’t arrived in the heavyweight division yet and promising that the main event won’t make it out of the second round. Meanwhile, Miocic says very little, sits back with a sly smile on his face, shakes his opponent’s hand whenever he sees him, and casually tosses the heavyweight title over his shoulder.
Perhaps there’s a hint of anger in Miocic’s voice when he addresses the UFC seeming uninterested in promoting him more, but he can’t tell them what to do. Miocic will never apologize for being himself and he’s not going to suddenly adopt a new personality where he’s shouting and cursing at opponents just because that’s what is deemed as marketable.
“I don’t care. I honestly don’t care. Whatever the UFC wants,” Miocic said. “I’m not going to sit there and beg them to get behind me. I’m used to it by now. I’m not going to worry about it. They don’t promote me, I don’t really care. Listen, I don’t talk s–t. That’s the way it is. I understand.
“There are people who can sell pay-per-views, apparently I can’t.”
It’s possible to put some of the onus back on Miocic for not engaging more during interviews or offering up spicier takes when asked questions about an opponent or even his current contract situation with the UFC (one that remains unresolved).
But it’s clear that there’s nothing fake about Miocic because even when he’s asked for his opinion about breaking that all-time record if he beats Ngannou on Saturday night, he refuses to look past what’s directly in front of him.
Deep down, Miocic might be bursting with excitement about the prospect of doing something that so many legends couldn’t achieve in the UFC heavyweight division, but like a great poker player, he’s never going to show his hand.
“Not worried about that. Worried about Francis,” Miocic said about his title defense record. “That’s all I care about. January 20, going in there and doing my job and coming out champ — and still — which I will. Nothing’s going to change. I’m going to walk out with the belt still wrapped around my waist.”
Maybe Miocic isn’t the most charismatic champion when it comes to how he approaches his interviews. Perhaps he’s just not interested in demeaning his opponent because they are about to square off in unarmed combat inside a cage, but there’s something special about a guy who only cares about one thing.
Winning. And that’s what he plans to do against Ngannou on Saturday at UFC 220 in Boston.
“I don’t care. As long as I get the ‘W’,” Miocic said. “That’s all I care about. Knockout, submission, decision, I don’t care. As long as I get the ‘W’. That’s the task at hand. That’s all I care about.”