Single sentence summary:
Phil: The heavyweight talent who's never quite made it over gets a chance to in the fan-favourite's backyard
David: Nostalgia and heart warming pugilism meets the cold machinations of efficiency.
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: You know, it's weird. I feel like we've written more previews for Mark Hunt than we have for pretty much any other fighter (maybe Cerrone?). Anyone who doesn't know him yet should know him by now. Big Samoan kickboxer. Had a bad ground game. Almost left MMA on an awful losing streak, came back for a resurgent run, has now levelled out again. The strangest thing is how few fights he's actually done it in. I mean... twenty pro MMA fights? Do we just forget how much of his memorable career was in kickboxing?
David: His kickboxing informs the allure of his mixed martial arts career, and vice versa. He's always been a darling of the combat community. And why shouldn't he? Anyone that's seen Mark Hunt vs. Ray Sefo knows that even some dude putting together his next performance art show with a condom and a box of macaroni shells can appreciate the violent poetry of Hunt. Having said that, nothing else needs to be said. Mark Hunt is why we watch MMA. Period.
Phil: Stipe Miocic has constantly been skirting the line which separates him from resonance with the public. The American-Croat lost to Stefan Struve, beat Roy Nelson, lost to Junior Dos Santos in a respectable showing. Nothing quite big enough to catapult him into an upper tier, nothing damning enough to put paid to any hopes of him being a top level competitor.
David: For as long as we've heralded Hunt, even in the worst of times, I feel like Miocic has been ignored; spiritually and physically. He was always a fighter who seemed to embody HW malaise - good, but not exciting, exciting, but not good. Or something. Now that he's blossomed into something legit, I don't know if it's only a matter of time before he turns into Justin Eilers, the Skynet version.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Where are we in the weirdness of the heavyweight division at the moment, anyway? I always forget who is technically on the shelf and who isn't. The sheer fact that I'm struggling to come up with any kind of meaningful ordering to the division probably means that, like usual, heavyweight is open to anyone who can make a big impression. The winner of this fight is very unlikely to go straight into a title shot, but they can reasonably be expected to fight someone like a Travis Browne.
David: Who is the HW champ in the division anyway? Kharitonov? Harold Howard? I don't even care. It's amazing what a little injury proneness and Joe Grasso can do to a division. I can't even remember the last HW fight, to be perfectly honest. Sure, after a little reflection, Overeem springs to mind, but it took my brain six whole seconds to figure that out. The stakes are completely random here; each fighter is a butterfly in a jar of chaos theory. That's heavyweight for you. Lost in space.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Like the co-main, this one is a stand-up fight. Stipe is a far more mobile boxer. He can certainly crack (like almost all of the heavyweight division) but he's closer to the attritional Bisping archetype. In and out movement, a crisp jab, and a snapping one-two. He shares some of Bisping's flaws when he circles out with his head up, but he doesn't have those ingrained faults of the British fighter which come with years of making the same errors over and over, and fundamentally he's still fairly defensively responsible.
David: Speaking of Bisping, I'm happy for the guy. His eye is still obviously in bad shape, but the dude keeps chugging and punching. Miocic was so bland early on in his career, but really developed speed and power right before our eyes. He's also a good example of how HW sometimes rewards steady and stability over fluidity and dynamism.
Phil: Hunt is simultaneously more subtle and risky in his approach. He's more about using small pivots and backsteps to evade strikes, and he's perfectly happy to take a glancing blow if it means he lands a harder one in return. In his most recent fights, it might look a little as though the sudden, shocking speed which he'd use to explode through the distance and catch taller foes (e.g. everyone he fights) might be fading, but he's still a cunning and diverse striker. His main punch remains the left hook, which he uses leaping forward or pivoting backwards as a counter.
David: Hunt used to seem like a stereotype of the wild brawler because of the bouts he found himself in, but he's anything but. I've always been impressed most with his ability to counterpunch. In another life he might actually be a counterpuncher, but he doesn't have the instincts to commit all the way to being one. Of course, the biggest addition is his ability to not get destroyed on the ground. Some would say it's always been there, what with his "near americana" on Fedor. Getting straight armbarred by Sean McCorkle extinguishes that notion. Luckily for Hunt, it did develop eventually. I don't think it can be understated enough just how important this part of his game is as Rothwell, Struve, and Silva have all had him on the ground for extended bouts.
Phil: Hell, he's even done work from top position. If you told me that Hunt would be beating up guys like Bigfoot, or neutralizing Fabricio Werdum from guard, I would have been... I don't think "surprised" is the right word here. Shocked?
Insight from past fights?
Phil: A good few common opponents here. They've both fought Junior Dos Santos (both lost), Roy Nelson (both won), and Stefan Struve (Hunt won, Miocic lost). Stipe looks very different than he did when he blew his wad against Struve, so I think that fight can be mostly discounted. What the other fights tell us is that this will likely be close: Miocic did better against JDS, but JDS didn't look like himself. He also probably got hit a little less than Hunt did against Nelson, but failed to put Big Country away. I think who you expect to win probably depends on whether you like attritional process or dynamic offense.
David: Dynamic offense, all day, everyday. I think for Miocic, watching his last bout is the best place to look. He's matured, and seems to be ready to either stake his claim as proper gatekeeper, or get lucky with a Tim Sylvia like entrance into the MMA elite.
Phil: I don't think Mark Hunt's chin has shown definite signs of deterioration. The shots that he's taken which have put him out of late (a JDS spinning kick and a flying knee from Werdum) have been ones which might well have finished almost anyone... but they're certainly cause for some concern.
David: Werdum hits like a truck. He's always had underrated power. Especially in close. So I'm not as quick to call it a real x factor, but durability catches up with the best of them. It's a concern nonetheless. It would be one thing if Hunt was deteriorating in theory, but his last four fights have been brutal. He's been in the cage for over 54 minutes during that stretch. That would take its toll on a fighter who wasn't old, and worn.
Phil: I'm worried that Hunt's footspeed is failing him, and that Miocic is one of the few heavies who can actually actively exploit that. Hunt is always a single left hook away from ending the fight, and Miocic can be gotten to, but I think I like Stipe to keep him on the end of his jab and Stipe Miocic by unanimous decision.
David: Unfortunately, I agree. I also think the x-factor will be a predictable influence. Stipe hits hard anyway, so this isn't Pulver vs. Kelly territory. I can hope otherwise, but hope won't prepare me for the reality. Stipe Miocic by Decision.