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Stipe Miocic deserves your respect, even before bout with Daniel Cormier

Historically, the heavyweight division in most combat sports aren’t filled with the most talent, but they are some of the most-loved by fans for an easily observable fact: they’re huge people hitting other huge people harder than smaller people, generally, can hit.

In the UFC, the division has seen its share of talent, but fans have lamented for years that it lacks stability and a breadth of talent. Stipe Miocic is the current champion, and has the record for most consecutive defenses of the belt with just three. But despite the fact that Miocic is actually the answer to many of those fan complaints, people still bag on the division.

If Miocic, 35, successfully defends his title against Daniel Cormier, the UFC light heavyweight champion who himself is undefeated at heavyweight, that really should change. Miocic should already have the respect of fight fans (he certainly has the respect of oddsmakers, who have had him a heavy favorite since the fight was made).

“I wasn’t really getting the respect, but I’m used to it by now,” Miocic said leading up to the bout. “It’s another day in the office.”

Miocic is 18-2 as a professional, with his only losses being to Stefan Struve in 2012 and Junior dos Santos in 2014. Miocic never rematched Struve, but would certainly be favored heavily if it ever happened. He did knock out dos Santos in a rematch at UFC 211, just 2:22 into the first round.

He’s finished eight of his 12 wins in the UFC, including five consecutive knockouts following the 2014 loss. Those knockouts were over Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, and dos Santos. All of those fighters are flawed, sure, but all are also incredibly dangerous and all have challenged for or held the heavyweight belt at some point.

Miocic isn’t a perfect fighter. There remain questions about his ground game and what happens when someone actually gets him down and keeps him there, but he owns wins over some of the top Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the sport. Heck, he knocked out Werdum in the first round of their bout in May 2016, which won him the title in the first place.

“I’ve trained too hard. I want to keep this belt a long time,” Miocic said after winning the belt. “I’m going to keep this belt for awhile, I promise you that. It’s up to the UFC, honestly. It’s up to the UFC. Whoever they put in front of me, I’ll fight. I’m all about getting home, I’m getting married in a couple weeks, that’s all I care about right now.”

He’s a gifted striker with hands that are way quicker than you’d expect from someone who hits so dang hard. He’s earned Performance of the Night and Fight of the Night honors eight times combined in 14 UFC bouts. He’s coming off a phenomenal win over Francis Ngannou, a five-round decision where there was little doubt who won once it was all said and done.

I’m honestly unsure why Miocic isn’t as loved and appreciated by fans as any other successful heavyweight would be. He’s taken a stagnant division and made it fun, and he’s not backing down from a fight against another champion when only his own title is on the line. Fans expect their heavyweight champs to talk a lot of trash and make a big spectacle of things, and maybe that’s the problem — Miocic is very understated.

But again, if Miocic wins on Saturday, the fans owe it to him and themselves to celebrate him for his accomplishments. And maybe a champion who doesn’t talk as much isn’t so bad, given the state of guys like Conor McGregor and Jon Jones, and the definitely-talks-too-damn-much McGregor-lite, Colby Covington.

Miocic speaks his mind plenty, but is humble and confident at the same time. He’s worthy of your respect and admiration already. Beating Cormier would be icing on the cake.

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