CLEVELAND -- When Stipe Miocic steps into The Octagon, he is focused on one goal, earning a victory over his opponent.
But along with the overall goal, the Cleveland-based mixed martial artist and UFC heavyweight champion has several other objectives he must accomplish in order to be successful on fight night, and one of those includes knowing when and how to use his punching power.
“We don’t want to waste any punches at all,” said Alex Cooper, Miocic’s striking coach at Strong Style MMA Gym in Independence. “We want to make sure that every, single punch he throws is going to end the fight, so not wasting punches, not being overaggressive.
“A lot of these guys know how to play possum. They know how to pretend to be hurt and take advantage of someone who comes rushing in. We’re not going to do that. He’ll know if he’s really hurt, and he’ll take care of him if he really is, but we’ll wait for that one shot, the one shot that will do it.”
Cooper has been Miocic’s striking coach for his last three fights, which followed up a unanimous decision loss to former heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos, on December 13, 2014. And in each one of the fights since, Miocic has won because of his punches.
Miocic won the UFC Championship after delivering a right hand to Fabricio Werdum’s jaw in the main event of UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil, on May 14.
The former champion was chasing Miocic around the outer rim of The Octagon, and left his chin exposed. Despite backing away from Werdum’s pursuit, Miocic threw a powerful right hand that floored the one-time titlist. Miocic added three shots to the downed Werdum before referee Dan Miragliotta jumped in-between the fighters to end the bout at 2:14 of the first round.
According to the UFC, Miocic landed 20 of his 31 total strikes (65 percent), and all of those were considered significant blows, compared to the 15-for-33 (45 percent) showing that Werdum had against the challenger.
“Our boxing coach, Joe Delguyd, he taught him everything,” Cooper said. “I’ve just continued to hone those skills, and that’s really what we’ve done, improve his timing, where before, there were a lot of strikes coming in sequence and aggression.
“What we’ve worked on a lot is timing, using the other person’s momentum against them, making sure we’re in the right spot, hitting the right spots on individuals so we don’t have to go through three or five-round wars. We can just get rid of him in the first few minutes, like he’s been the past couple fights.”
Now, Miocic will put his punching power to the test against top-ranked contender Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC 203 at Quicken Loans Arena tonight, the UFC’s debut show in Cleveland.
Although Overeem has a kickboxing background and won three of his last four bouts via a knockout or TKO, Cooper remains confident in Miocic’s abilities.
“Honestly, they say Alistair’s a kickboxer because he’s been in kickboxing,” Cooper said. “If Stipe would’ve gone into kickboxing instead of boxing beforehand, they’d call him a kickboxer. He’s not even as good. He’s better than Overeem is as a kickboxer, so the way the styles go, I’m not worried about it at all. He’ll do what he’s done to the last few opponents. He’ll systematically break him down and take care of business.”
This is Part Six of our series leading up to Miocic's UFC heavyweight championship bout against Overeem in Cleveland tonight.