Stipe Miocic has conquered the MMA mountain, and he’s defended the UFC heavyweight hill more times than anyone else.
Really, there’s just not a whole lot left for the former collegiate baseball player to do in combat sports.
Well, there is one name that gets the competitive juices flowing.
“What’s bigger than Jon Jones?” replied Miocic when asked recently by The Post why Nov. 11, after more than 2 ½ years away from the octagon, was the right time to fight again. “It’s what he wanted as well. I think it doesn’t get any bigger than that, especially at Madison Square Garden [on] Veteran’s Day. It’s awesome.”
The massive clash of champion — Jones won the championship vacated by lineal champion Francis Ngannou’s free-agent exit from the UFC — and former champion — Miocic lost his title for a second time to Ngannou in March 2021 and has not competed since — headlines what is shaping up to another stacked pay-per-view event in Manhattan at UFC 295.
A victory for Miocic (20-4, 15 finishes) would make him the second three-time heavyweight champ in the promotion’s history, matching Randy Couture, and would give the Ohio native more wins in UFC heavyweight championship fights than anyone else.
In truth, there was another name that Miocic had in mind: Ngannou.
But a rubber match — Miocic won a lopsided decision in 2018 before a second-round TKO in the rematch — no longer is in the cards after Ngannou waited out his contract to compete in a boxing match with Tyson Fury, in a matchup of lineal heavyweight champions from their respective sports, and sign with PFL.
Admitting “it definitely sucks” not to have that fight, Miocic seems to have made peace with the situation and has his eyes on the new challenge in front of him.
“I really wanted to have a rematch with Francis,” Miocic said. “Unfortunately, he left to [do] bigger and better things. Good for him. But after that, I wanted Jon Jones.”
Jones (27-1, 17 finishes) may be both the most accomplished and the most talented fighter in the modern history of mixed martial arts, having gone unbeaten in 16 championship fights the past 12 years spent almost entirely as a light heavyweight before defeating Ciryl Gane in his March heavyweight debut for the vacant title.
It’s easy to see why a date with Jones is just what Miocic, a 41-year-old, full-time firefighter and paramedic, was looking for to get back into action.
Miocic, who owns (T)KO victories over past UFC champions Daniel Cormier, Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski, figures to be tasked with keeping the fight standing, where he’s done his best work throughout his career.
Although possessing a well-rounded skill set, Jones leaned on his original wrestling base to snuff out Gane in just over 2 minutes to become the UFC’s eighth two-division champion.
While Miocic “can’t really say much because it didn’t go that long” with regard to Jones’ performance as a heavyweight, he believes in his own takedown defense.
“I think I do well,” Miocic said of his defensive wrestling, noting he’s adept at getting back up as well. “The one time DC [Cormier] got me down, unfortunately, I didn’t get up. But after that, it never happened again.”
With Jones ahead and no Ngannou trilogy likely, it’s fair to wonder if the 41-year-old Miocic — who says retirement has been in the back of his mind after every fight since his victorious UFC debut 12 years ago — has anything left to pursue after his next fight, win or lose.
Miocic said he isn’t concerning himself about what’s next “after it goes my way” against Jones, but he did note that he missed seeing fans and taking in the atmosphere of competing in the octagon, that he still loves what he does and feels “great.”
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” says Miocic of competing on the big stage, “and I love every second of it.”