“I don’t care, it is what it is man,”
As I watched Stipe Miocic shrug off another question from an MMA Weekly reporter regarding his upcoming bout with number one heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou, I felt frustrated.
Surely the purpose of this interview was to give fans an insight into the fire fighter come UFC fighters frame of mind in the run up to arguably one of the most hyped heavyweight battles in MMA history?
“I was there so I won’t get fined,” Miocic later admitted when asked about his calm demeanour at the UFC’s 220 pre-fight press conference, cementing my suspicions that each UFC media appearance is fulfilled due only to its obligatory nature.
While aware that not every fighter has the innate ability to command the media with the ease of FOX MMA Analyst and current light heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, nor exude the wit and brashness of a Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor, a certain level of engagement that goes beyond the reiteration of robotic one-dimensional responses was expected.
After all the UFC is a business, a promotion from which athletes like Miocic earn an attractive living. As effectively employees of the organisation, I believed it was incumbent on the fighters to sell, either via trash or truthful talk, both themselves and their upcoming fight to the public.
In response to this viewpoint, fans of the pride of Cleveland may state that no athlete should feel pressured into acting in a manner which is not a true reflection of who they are. One could justify Stipe’s mere surface level engagement with the media by claiming that he is a reserved and shy character.
After all, speaking to a room full of camera’s that are beaming your every word across the globe is by no means an easy feat, and being understood is something which Miocic has struggled with throughout his UFC career (his most recent interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour was criticised heavily by fans for being impossible to decipher.)
Taking all of the above into consideration, you can imagine my surprise when UFC’S 220 Embedded series revealed the current heavyweight Champion to be an outgoing, humorous, open, personable prankster, who for fun, repeatedly hangs up on his wife while driving – that is, as long as fighting is not being discussed.
Once faced with questions regarding an upcoming opponent, namely Ngannou, his jawline sets and the Miocic that I’ve thoroughly warmed to vanishes.
While many fans have labelled the Champ as stubborn, speaking on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, the 35year old may have revealed a deeper reason behind his reluctance to discuss both his fights and his opponents.
“When I was fighting I was like 9-0 and I lost to Struve…I thought I was unstoppable…I almost didn’t want to fight anymore…,” He confessed to Rogan. “I came back fought Roy Nelson, I had a couple more fights and then I lost to JDS…when I walked into the back locker room I was like ‘I’m done, I don’t even care anymore, I don’t even care what happens… if I win or I lose I don’t really care… but I’m gonna go out there and give my damnedest to win’…I just don’t care. ”
Could the defeat referenced above, which at the time caused so much pain, be at the root of his now guarded approach? Could the deadpan responses merely be a reflection of a struggle within to refrain from becoming too emotionally invested, and not an act of defiance against the UFC brass?
Interestingly, Rogan, who has called many of Miocic’s fights, observed that this “switch” in mindset was transparent through the “dead-eyed” stare down that he began to cast on his opponents. “You might be waiting in line at the f*cking car wash,” He observed.
Yet tellingly, despite his poker face, Stipe’s reaction to his KO of the former heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 revealed the significance with which he held the victory, as from atop the cage he passionately repeated “I’m the World Champ, I’m the World Champ” to both his trainers and the stunned home crowd.
In fact, Stipe is often known for repeating the following in the run up to each of his title fights, giving us another glimpse into how much he values his status as Champ.
“As long as I’m here, no-one’s getting that belt, I’ve worked way too hard to give it up,”
In terms of refusing to engage in trash talk to hype either himself or a fight, Miocic has been outspoken in his belief that it is the UFC’s responsibility to promote, not the fighters.
“I’m not going to promote myself…” He told Rogan. “You guys (the UFC) are in a promoting company, that’s what you’re supposed to do…I think they’d rather be 50/50 with it but I don’t see it that way.”
It should be stated that Stipe is not the only fighter who has abided by this internal code of conduct, with two-time Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre also maintaining his distance from what Miocic has termed the fight games ‘soap opera.’
“For me I stay natural, I stay authentic to who I am” GSP said at a UFC 217 media scrum previous to his UFC 217 victory over Bisping. “I’m not good at trash talking…if I try to do it, I’d make a fool of myself.”
In an age where all parties involved in the fight game have become obsessed with what Dana White recently referred to as ‘money fight’s’ (essentially fights built on back and forth verbal jabs and dollars) are fighters like Miocic, who refrain from dissing their opponents, playing an important role in maintaining the purity of the sport?
Rose Namjunas, who is now set to defend her Championship belt at UFC 223 against the woman she snatched it from last November, is passionate about honouring the core values of mixed martial arts.
“There’s been a lot of trash talking…I’m sick of all the hate and anger…. martial arts is about honour and respect,” She told media following her first round victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. “I’ve said it before leading up to this fight… it’s time for a new era in this sport.”
Love him or hate him, at the time of writing, and with undoubtedly his toughest challenge to date on the horizon in the impressive specimen that is ‘The Predator’ Francis Ngannou, Stipe Miocic is the undisputed baddest man on the planet.
Most importantly, despite my opening misgivings, I’m rooting for him.
Perhaps this reveals more about the man than any sound -byte ever could.
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 1/20/2018.