Stipe Miocic (10-1) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (16-7) Heavyweight
When we last left our heroes...There's just something different about a HW fight. I think it's because for all the fancy discourse bloggers and journalists attempt to muster over the sport's grace, we're still all here for a plain ole' fashioned honest to goodness fight. HW fights know how to deliver the bar room brawl goods.
Of course, that's all beside the point as this bout won't deliver the Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva excellence.
Miocic is an interesting case study in unusual MMA backgrounds: the MLB was actually interested in him for his baseball skills while he went to Cleveland State University. Somewhere along the way he became an NCAA Division I wrestler, and ultimately here we are.
He's come a long way, not looking like much of a standout early in his career when he took Joey Beltran to a decision, but with a win over Roy Nelson, he's more than made his case with respect to progress.
As for Gonzaga, I'm happy for the big post-fight strange face making lug. The tragic story of losing a twin during his wife's pregnancy still tugs at those heartstrings, and I maintain that his bout with Randy Couture at UFC 74 doesn't get enough credit for being just plain awesome. I feel like lost in the blood, and whether Gonzaga deserved the shot in the first place or who he would become in the division was one of Randy's best HW performance in his career.
Since returning to the UFC in 2012 Gonzaga is 4-1, quietly becoming the threat he used to be.
What both men can do: It's amusing to consider that Gonzaga is basically the same guy he's always been, even going back to his debut in 2005.
His accomplishments in grappling are well documented, and he has a powerful right hand, and a brutal right leg that he's probably nicknamed "hospital". I don't need to say much more other than that I think his wrestling doesn't get the credit it deserves. But at this point, you know Gonzaga's story.
For Stipe, it's a little more complicated. When he entered the UFC, Rogan and Goldberg did their best to sell us on a blue chip prospect in front of us despite the fact that he could barely pull away comfortably to earn a decision over Joey Beltran. His striking looked slow and lethargic, and his wrestling wasn't distinguished in any discernible way.
Slowly but surely he's improved on all the things that didn't make him bad so much as they failed to make him stand out. His striking is crisp, and his movement is fluid. If you watch him from his Beltran fight to his Roy Nelson bout, he looks completely different. I'm not one to explain away losses, but I feel like the loss to Struve had a lot to do with Miocic failing to deal with Struve's height.
We haven't seen much in terms of ground game, but that's what makes this fight so interesting...
What both men can't do: Stipe, despite his movement, needs to work on his defense on the feet. When his hands aren't down, they're spread too far apart, which is perfect for Gonzaga's straight right that he loves to throw down the middle. Then there's what he's able to do if Gonzaga wrestles him down.
The problem with that scenario for Gonzaga is that he doesn't do a good job of masking his desperation in a fight. If he's striking, he's striking, if he's grappling he's grappling. As odd as that sounds, my point is that he just never learned to set up his offense.
And then there's Gonzaga propensity for wilting quickly. That will be the story if Stipe gets going on the feet. A couple of shots strung together will be all it takes, and not just because Gonzaga doesn't take pressure well but because Miocic hits hard, and hits fast. Expect this to be the narrative in a short but sweet fight.
X-Factor: Not much to report. Gonzaga has the ability to land a straight right, or score a submission so despite my official prediction, I don't think it's an easy fight for Stipe.
In-Fight Soundtrack: Blue Oyster Cult because it's a HW fight and my imagination is weak.
Prediction: Stipe Miocic by TKO, round 1.