The wisdom among keen Octagon-watchers is that UFC 211 is sporting the best fight card of the year. And the main dish is a truly mouth-watering clash of old foes going into battle for the heavyweight belt.
Stipe ‘Stone Cold’ Miocic, is the kingpin of the 240lb division, looking to defend his title, carve a piece of UFC history, AND drop a skip-load of revenge on the last man to beat him, former heavyweight champ Junior ‘Cigano’ Dos Santos. Mark Sylvester gives us the lowdown…
A toe-to-toe epic
There’s a new sheriff in UFC’s blue ribbon heavyweight ranks, and he’s looking to clean up a division that’s traditionally turbulent, and stamp his authority on a title that’s been the graveyard of so many big reputations.
Stipe Miocic faces Junior Dos Santos, knowing a victory would propel him into the exalted echelon of heavyweight champs who’ve made two successful title defences. It’s a feat achieved by just four of the previous 17 incumbents.
That’s the first monkey on Miocic’s back.
The second is the unavoidable fact that his impressive run of five wins by stoppage is blighted by dropping a close, but unanimous, decision to Dos Santos, late in 2014.
It might be more than two years ago, but there’s little doubt the shadow of that clash hangs over the cage this time around. It’s one of only two defeats blotting Miocic’s 18-fight MMA career, and Dos Santos earned it by simply being more aggressive.
Miocic likes to pile on the pressure, but was outgunned by Dos Santos in a toe-to-toe epic, scoring 89 significant strikes to Dos Santos’ 123-punch blitzkrieg.
Miocic has only ever gone the distance four times. Dos Santos wore him down, leaving the American increasingly unable to throw the big bombs. I feel the longer it goes on, the more it favours a points’ decision for Dos Santos. You’ll get that at 11/2 with Grosvenor Sports.
A big question hanging over the Brazilian is how much ring rust he has. He’s climbed into the cage just twice since beating ‘Stone Cold’ – having been stopped by Alistair Overeem, only to bounce back with a master class in MMA skills to outpoint Ben Rothwell last April.
Stamina shouldn’t be an issue for Dos Santos, since a cancelled fight against Stefan Struve in February means he’s been in an extended training camp. But that lack of ‘live’ cage time could prompt him to look for an early finish. He hits like a jackhammer and Miocic’s front-foot approach means he’s not difficult to find. If the Cleveland native leaves his chin hanging, it could be lights out. You’ll get a KO for Dos Santos at 9/5.
And remember, this really is the big league. If UFC fighters were bombs, these guys would be the bunker-busters. Both stand 6ft 4ins and weigh around the 240lb mark. One punch can end it. A KO, one way or the other, does seem likely, at 11/25.
There’s no doubt Miocic has learned a lot since their first clash, including starching two of the scariest men in the heavyweight bull pit. He won the crown from Fabricio Werdum with a wrecking ball right hook, and then defended it with a first round KO of Dutch Skyscraper Alistair Overeem.
Big night nerves are unlikely, with Miocic the reigning champ who’s mixed it with the best in the UFC heavyweight stable, across from Dos Santos who’s been in a championship cage fight four times.
So, where does that leave us?
Well, despite a slightly patchy 22-4 record, Dos Santos has the skillset and psychological edge to topple a fighter who few others can touch. He’s hungrier than ever, and that counts in the cage.
Miocic can rumble with the best, possesses WMDs disguised as fists, and can wrestle a bit too. He has some serious cage experience under his belt; he’s on a four-fight winning streak, and he’s eyeing destiny.
It’s tough to call. But I will. Dos Santos gets let down by his footwork. Miocic presses, Dos Santos back peddles and that’s a way to get caught. Miocic to win by KO. My prediction at 5/4.
There, I said it.
For more UFC odds, take a look at Grosvenor Sport’s UFC betting.