UFC 252 Aftermath: To cement his claim as the Baddest Man in MMA history, Stipe Miocic needs to fight Jon Jones

On Saturday night, Stipe Miocic successfully defended his heavyweight title, taking a hard-fought unanimous decision over Daniel Cormier in their rubber match at UFC 252. In the build-up to the fight, the promotion largely centered around this being a battle to determine the greatest heavyweight of all time and now, having bested Cormier two out of three times, Miocic can confidently lay claim to that crown.

But though Miocic is now unequivocally the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, he remains a controversial figure in the MMA world. Not because he’s done anything wrong—by all accounts Miocic is a model human being, he’s a firefighter for God’s sake!—but because he just doesn’t seem like the greatest heavyweight to ever compete. He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of MMA — he gets no respect. And even Miocic himself admits it, saying after UFC 252 that “I always get sh*t on it seems like.”

But why is that? Miocic’s run through the heavyweight division is unimpeachable, having beaten four former UFC champions (including Cormier) and the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion (Alistair Overeem) along with a host of other top heavyweights. And those weren’t ugly wins. Miocic knocked out nearly all of them, and in while he did it, he also set the record for most UFC heavyweight title defenses. It’s a resume that any fighter would be thrilled with and under normal circumstance would remove any doubt to his claim. However, there is one glaring issue with Miocic’s campaign: Jon Jones.

Though Miocic has been the heavyweight champion for most of the last for years (except that year-long period where Cormier held it) his claim as “Baddest Man on the Planet” has always rung hollow. It’s not half fair to Miocic, but with Jones competing just a failed weight cut away, and in a historically much better division, there are a great number of people who believe—not without merit—that Miocic is the best heavyweight only so long as Jon Jones deems it so. And when discussing subjective concepts like ”greatness” something like that is a rather large black mark. Fortunately, there is a simple way to fix this issue: fight Jon Jones.

Jones has spent much of his career categorically disinterested in moving up to heavyweight. However, in recent times Jones has pivoted that stance and earlier this year even campaigned for a heavyweight fight with Francis Ngannou. On Saturday, Jones was rapt in his attention for the main event, live-Tweeting the entire thing and then saying “heavyweight world championships I will be seeing you real soon.” That’s a pretty clear indication that Jones wants to fight for the heavyweight title. Unfortunately for Stipe, Dana White does not appear to share Jones’ enthusiasm, saying at the post-fight press conference that Jones would not leapfrog Ngannou for the next heavyweight title shot. But books can be written about the things White has said won’t happen that eventually come to pass, and in this instance, Miocic has the leverage to make it happen and should do so immediately.

A fight with Jones is not just a big money superfight, it’s the most consequential fight Miocic can ever have. Aside from having the opportunity to give Jones his first true loss, a win would cement Miocic as the HW GOAT and give him a substantial boost in the pound-for-pound GOAT conversation. There would be no black marks on his legacy, no asterisks to argue. It would just be Stipe, alone at the top of the mountain for Baddest Man in History. How does he pass that opportunity up? To fight Francis Ngannou again? No disrespect to Ngannou, who is the scariest man alive and may well KO Miocic in the rematch, but a second win over Ngannou doesn’t do much for Miocic. Sure, it’s another top quality win to add to his resume but, to quote the old proverb, been there, done that. Coming off a legacy-defining win against Cormier, Miocic deserves something more spectacular.

Then again, Miocic has never been one for the spectacular. He’s a blue collar guy, from a blue collar town. He’s spent his entire career grabbing his helmet and lunchbox and clocking in for whoever the UFC wanted to put in front of him. And if that’s how he wants to continue with his career, well, then he’s earned the right to do that too.

UFC 252 Quotes
“Yes, 100 percent I would have finished him. He was stumbling. Just like the last fight, in the second fight, in the fourth round, I had him in the same spot. I rushed in too fast. If I would have stepped back just a little bit, one step back, I think I would have caught him.” – Stipe on if he was close to stopping Cormier at the end of round two.

“Fck, look at my eye. I couldn’t even fcking – I couldn’t see the rest of the fight. I can’t see anything out of my left eye. It’s black. It is what it is. It doesn’t matter.” – Cormier on the inadvertent eye poke he suffered in the third round.

“I think my saying he won’t retire is me kind of hoping he doesn’t retire. Whatever he wants to do, I’m happy for him. If he wants to fight, I’m happy for him. If he wants to retire, I’m really happy for him too.” – Dana White on Daniel Cormier.

“Conor, Cody, Petr, Henry, you’re welcome.” – Marlon Vera after upsetting Sean O’Malley.

“Humbled.” – Sean O’Malley after the loss.

Stock report
Stock up
Stipe Miocic: The man cemented himself as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. What more is there to say?

Marlon Vera: “Chito” was a huge underdog heading into this fight with the UFC’s chosen prospect and he kicked over the apple cart. Sure, the fight was strange with the leg injury to O’Malley but it seems like Vera did in fact cause that injury and regardless, a win is a win and this one came in the biggest spot possible.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik: After a somewhat tepid first round, Jairzinho came out and barnstormed Junior dos Santos in the second, adding another KO to his resume, and this one to a former heavyweight champion. This was an excellent bounce back from the loss to Ngannou.

Daniel Pineda: It was a poor night for prospects at UFC 252, with Pineda manhandling the other Burns brother. Considering the long road it took for him to get back to the UFC, this was a big win.

Virna Jandiroba: Jandiroba became the first person to ever stop Felice Herrig, who has fought a who’s who of strawweight contenders.

Neutral
Daniel Cormier: This is one of those instances where there were no losers. The main event was a close fight despite the serious eye poke. Cormier didn’t gain what he could have with a win, but he lost nothing in defeat.

Junior dos Santos: Though he was knocked out decisively, JDS actually looked pretty good before that. His chin will never be what it once was but there’s no shame in getting knocked out by “Bigi Boy.”

Stock down
Sean O’Malley: In by far the biggest showcase he’s ever had, O’Malley came up lame. He’s young and talented and will bounce back but his chance to explode into superstardom is now gone.

John Dodson: Dodson was plagued by all the weaknesses of his game that are well-known by known. As talented as fighter as has ever stepped in the cage, Dodson just got outworked over three rounds and now is well and truly out of title contention — unless he wants to drop back down to 125.

Jim Miller: After a good first round, Miller just sort of collapsed against Vinc Pichel and was summarily beaten over the next two.

Official matters
All in all, it was a good night for the judges and officials at UFC 252, with the one glaring issue being the eye poke in the main event that may (or may not) have affected the outcome. Marc Goddard is an excellent referee and after the bout he owned up to missing the eye poke, and the reality is, that’s just part of MMA. Refs aren’t going to see everything and sometimes, (especially to Cormier it seems) life isn’t fair. We’ll all be left to wonder what would have happened had Goddard seen the poke though, if “DC” admitted to the doctor he couldn’t see, the bout likely would’ve been a no contest. I guess we were all spared that.

Also, because he’s been the topic of much criticism lately, it should be noted that Herb Dean’s stoppage in the co-main event was perfect. Vera landed an elbow on the fallen O’Malley that clearly rolled his eyes back and Dean stepped in, even though O’Malley woke back up. That wasn’t an early stoppage, that was spot on.

Fights to make
Stipe Miocic vs. Jon Jones: For all the reasons mentioned above.

Marlon Vera vs. Jimmie Rivera: Vera deserves a crack at the top-10 and Rivera needs a few good wins before he can get back into contention. This aligns perfectly for both men.

Sean O’Malley vs. John Dodson: A little on the nose but at this point Dodson is exactly the kind of stylistic matchup that O’Malley can grow from and should win.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Derrick Lewis: LET THEM SWING.

Junior dos Santos vs. Aleksei Oleinik: At this point, there aren’t a ton of people JDS hasn’t already fought but Oleinik is one of them.

Merab Dvalishvili vs. Raphael Assuncao: A big step up for Dvalishvili in both name and ranking. If he can get past Assuncao, then Merab can make a real run at the belt.

Virna Jandiroba vs. Tecia Torres: Old guard vs. new and an appropriate step up in competition for Jandiroba.