Stipe Miocic’s potentially historic title reign needs dose of Velasquez

Stipe Miocic celebrates a win over Junior Dos Santos in a mixed martial arts bout at UFC 211 for the UFC heavyweight championship, Saturday, May 13, 2017, in Dallas. Miocic retained his heavyweight title via 1st round TKO. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

For the sixth straight time now, Stipe Miocic has stepped into the octagon and walked away the victor. He made it look easy Saturday, stopping former champion Junior dos Santos via TKO at UFC 211.

It was the second title defense of Miocic’s championship run, matching the UFC’s all-time record of consecutive title defenses by a heavyweight champion at two. It’s a streak that pales in comparison to the overall record — a tie between Demetrious Johnson and Anderson Silva at 10 — but it’s also a streak that highlights the everlasting volatility inside the heavyweight ranks.

With as much power as exists in the hands of the average 250-pound man, and what little protection exists in the 4 ounces of leather shielding said hands, the big men of the octagon have been known to take some of the heaviest falls around. Nobody is safe, especially the champion, who consistently welcomes the best contenders.

Saturday night was Miocic’s latest victory against a legend of the sport. A TKO win over dos Santos followed a knockout win over Alistair Overeem, a knockout win over Fabricio Werdum, a TKO win over Andrei Arlovski and a TKO win over Mark Hunt — a Rolodex of fighters featuring some of the best heavyweight talent the sport has ever seen.

As of May 14, 2017, Miocic has officially joined the short list of names often included in the argument for the sport’s greatest heavyweight fighter. Though some may prefer to make this a more contentious list by adding name after name, we’re confident that the discussion now only includes four fighters: Miocic, Werdum, Cain Velasquez and Fedor Emelianenko.

Miocic might never be able to satisfy the vocal crowd who treat Emelianenko as the untouchable Michael Jordan of MMA, especially considering the Russian heavyweight is well past his prime and doesn’t compete inside the UFC. He’ll either never fight him at all, or – by virtue of a business miracle — wind up being the man who defeated an aged legend of the sport.

What Miocic will be able to do, however, is effectively leapfrog the remaining two fighters on the list.

The 34-year-old heavyweight has already defeated Werdum, emphatically ending the Brazilian’s title run with a swift right hand to the chin at UFC 198 last May. “Vai Cavalo” had distanced himself from the pack as MMA’s greatest heavyweight, defeating both Emelianenko and Velasquez via submission in his illustrious career. Miocic beat him though, adding the most noteworthy notch to a stick that already featured 14 quality victories.

That leaves Velasquez.

Recognized by many as quite possibly the most talented heavyweight fighter to ever lace up a pair of UFC gloves, the Mexican-American has rightfully earned his post as one of the greatest big men of all time. An intense combination of endless cardio and wrestling that has stymied some of the best grapplers in the division, Velasquez has earned all but two of his 14 pro victories by knockout or TKO.

Fair or not, Miocic’s championship run likely won’t reach what heights it can without a victory over the former champion. Miocic needs Velasquez just as much as Velasquez desperately needs another chance to prove himself capable of hoisting UFC gold.

The latter is of great importance here. Despite losing to Werdum at UFC 188 in June 2015, Velasquez is still seen by many as the most talented fighter in the division. Yes, he was soundly defeated by Werdum – nobody will argue that. But what they can argue are the circumstances surrounding that sound defeat.

Velasquez was fighting for the first time in two years, and doing so under the less-than-ideal conditions of Mexico City’s high elevation. To some degree, the UFC recognized the state of affairs, granting Velasquez an immediate rematch to regain his former glory.

That, as it turned out, would never take place.

Velasquez has only fought once since June 2015, dealing with numerous injuries in an already injury-plagued career. A return to the cage is almost certain to happen at some point. It should be against Miocic.

Miocic has the opportunity to declare himself the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time, but it should only come as a result of, well, beating the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time.

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