Stipe Miocic (7-0) was a ranked NCAA D1 wrestler at Cleveland State University and also a former Golden Gloves boxing champion. He typically handles things with his stand up, having finished all six of his pre-UFC opponents by strikes -- three in the first round and one by forced submission due to an endless stream of leg kicks. In the past, Miocic employed his wrestling in reverse to repel takedown attempts and stay upright but sputtered out in the third and reverted back to his roots in his UFC debut against Joey Beltran at UFC 136.
He came out sharp and took the first round convincingly with smooth single-legs and crisp handiwork. There was a slightly noticeable lull in Miocic's output in the second; then he was flat-out drained in the final frame and had no zip on his punches nor spring in his step. Despite the power outage, the Croatian won two rounds on two of the judges' score cards and all three on the third to take a unanimous decision and remain unbeaten.
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Philip De Fries (8-0) is a twenty-five year old fighter from Sunderland, England, and a longtime Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. He won a few smaller tournaments overseas as a purple belt and, excluding one No Contest due to illegal punches, steamrolled his first eight MMA opponents by submission. De Fries ended seven of those contests in the first frame and five by rear-naked choke.
His first foray in the Octagon was at UFC 138 versus Rob Broughton, where the pair engaged in a three-round grapple-fest that was rife with constant momentum swings, mutual reversals and alternating submission attempts. While it was a fairly technical, back and forth grappling match, there was literally a quarter-ton of beef rolling around in the cage and the action transpired at a labored rate. De Fries was given two of three rounds and earned a hard-fought unanimous decision to start his UFC tenure on the right foot.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
At 6'4" and a well-muscled 240-pounds, Miocic is a mid-sized heavyweight with an exceptional level of agility and athleticism. His wrestling pedigree makes up for what he may lack in sheer brawn, so Miocic generally has a quickness advantage but is still a beast in tie-ups. In fact, he's assumed the role of the bully in every contest save the later rounds against Beltran when he gassed. Like De Fries, Miocic experienced the third round for the first time in his career during his UFC debut.
His D1-level wrestling is evident in the ease with which he snares the low single on Beltran (right).
Since De Fries is basically a pure submissionist, he'll be out-matched on the feet and likely finding himself in desperate need of grounding the fight. I imagine the outcome will hinge upon the sole aspect of De Fries' takedown abilities, which will need to be ultra-sharp against a wrestler of Miocic's caliber. De Fries isn't the most nimble cat on the block so, historically, he's mashed foes into the cage to work clinch takedowns.
In the sequence above, De Fries was getting stuffed on a double-leg against the cage wall, but wisely capitalizes on having a left-side underhook and switches to a high single. By doing so, he can jam his head deep into his opponent's waist, explode upward with the leverage from his grasp, peel his adversary off the cage and run the pipe to complete the takedown. You can see his instincts kick in as he immediately traps the right knee and passes to side control.
Miocic will be well aware of De Fries' intentions and won't be easy to corner and clinch, so the way De Fries sets up his incoming advances will be crucial.
We see his tactics to close distance above: De Fries gets the collar-and-elbow clinch and shrinks the space between them, cracks a few punches when his opponent disengages and then drops for a double leg against the fence.
This is where Miocic's physical attributes of being extremely agile but still strong as a bull will serve him well. He should wreak havoc on many a heavyweight with his combination of stellar wrestling and sound striking. He'll be hard to catch and even harder to contain.
I expect Miocic to replicate the pre-UFC strategy he executed with perfection, which is to needle straight punches and cleave with low kicks on the fringe while staying active with evasive footwork. His lead-leg, inside low kick is a quick release strike that doesn't compromise his defense, but he torques his hips over to load up power on his rear-leg, outside low kick when he has more room to operate.
Miocic is no slouch on the ground and has shown good scrambling skills, yet there is no reason to engage De Fries in his comfort zone unless forced. De Fries is a crafty submission grappler, but as long as Miocic respects his skill he should be able to shuck off takedowns and exploit his glaring advantage on the feet. I expect Miocic's endurance to improve, resulting in many crushing low kicks and a very long night for De Fries.
My Prediction: Stipe Miocic by TKO.
Miocic gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
De Fries gifs via "Caposa"