Stipe Miocic is the kind of guy those who run professional boxing have been looking for forever. He’s a heavyweight with punching power, extraordinary athletic ability and a lust for competition.
He was a solid boxer as an amateur, and made it to the third round of the Golden Gloves national finals in 2009 before losing to Bryant Jennings, a successful pro who once fought Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight title. He probably would have been a star had he chosen boxing, but ultimately he pursued a mixed martial arts career.
“I did [consider turning pro as a boxer] because I got to the point where I did the Golden Gloves and was doing well and had some amateur fights, but I just loved MMA too much,” he said. “Where you can take somebody down and there are kicks and elbows and stuff like that, it’s just a lot more to worry about and I just loved MMA. I loved the challenge of it, so I went that way. But boxing did cross my mind for a while.”
He made the right call, of course, because he’s the reigning UFC heavyweight champion and already has tied the record for most successful title defenses. Boxing, though, hasn’t totally left his mind and he told Yahoo Sports he’d love a crack at either IBF-WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua or WBC champ Deontay Wilder.
He’s also one of those best positioned to give an opinion on UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor’s bid to defeat the legendary Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match.
Mayweather and McGregor will box on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in what is expected to become the highest-grossing fight in combat sports history.
Mayweather opened as an overwhelming favorite, but most of the bets have been on McGregor as the odds have dropped. Miocic, who said “I think I’d do well with [Wilder],” didn’t discount McGregor’s chances of shocking the world, either.
“It’s a fight, so anything he can happen,” Miocic said. “Definitely on paper, Mayweather looks like a shoo-in, no doubt about that. He’s the best boxer of all-time. He’s the G.O.A.T. But McGregor, he moves well, he hits hard and all it takes is one punch.”
Miocic said McGregor’s self-belief is also an intangible that can’t be dismissed out of hand.
“He’s a confident guy and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks,” he said. “He believes in himself and what he can do. He doesn’t care who it is. It could be five guys, and he thinks he could beat them all. That kind of confidence makes a difference and like I said, with one punch, you never know.”
McGregor predicted he’d knock out Mayweather, who has only been down once in his career, inside of four rounds. Mayweather is 49-0, won a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics and is regarded as one of the best boxers in history.
McGregor, who has had no boxing matches, told Yahoo Sports that contrary to popular opinion, he believes he’ll have the advantage in footwork in the bout because he understands the footwork of a number of styles of martial arts.
MMA fighters have to defend more types of attacks than boxers, who only have to defend against punches. MMA fighters have to worry about punches, elbows, kicks, knees, being taken down, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu and more.
But Miocic said that the biggest edge most boxers have is that they tend to throw straight punches while MMA fighters tend to loop them.
“I was taught to throw straight punches, because the best punch is the straightest punch,” Miocic said.
McGregor is, pound-for-pound, one of the most powerful strikers in MMA. One of his major weapons, his arsenal of deadly kicks, will be taken away from him, and he’s set up many of his punches with kicks.
Miocic didn’t want to really pick a winner, but seemed like he was leaning toward Mayweather.
“If Mayweather does what he does, look, he’s the G.O.A.T.,” Miocic said. “If he plays his regular game, he’ll be fine. With McGregor, he’s strong, he’s fast and he hits hard. It’s a tough fight.
“Mayweather can box for days and he doesn’t get tired. It’s a little bit different with MMA. If Conor hits him with something good early, it’s going to help him out a lot, but the farther it goes, the tougher it’s going to get. Mayweather seems to keep getting better. His eyes are so big when he fights because he sees so many angles and he’s phenomenal at what he does. McGregor has great movement and moves well, too. So we’ll see. It’s a fight.”
Miocic said “100 percent” he would like to box and feels he’s the proverbial “baddest man on the planet.”
He campaigned briefly to fight on the undercard, but UFC president Dana White hasn’t seemed too eager to allow any of his other fighters to box.
“I think this fight is great because it’s what people want to see and that’s what you have to do to get people interested, give them the fights they want,” Miocic said. “I would love to get my feet in there, too, and get my chance and fight Joshua or Wilder. I’ve knocked out what, my last three, four opponents in the first round? I would love it and it would be a good opportunity for me.
“This is what people want to see in combat sports. Dana was on Jimmy Kimmel and he said, ‘Mayweather-McGregor, the baddest man on the planet.’ And I’m like, ‘No, there’s only one and that’s me.’ But these kinds of fights, if you have the qualified guys on each side, it’s great because the fans want to see that and it’s very intriguing. I’m definitely in, for sure.”
UFC 214 video on Yahoo Sports: