Stipe Miocic as a high school wrestler at Eastlake North High School (left) and UFC champion (right)
In the main event of UFC 252, Daniel Cormier will look to regain the UFC heavyweight title when he challenges champion Stipe Miocic in what will be the final bout of their trilogy. During the lead-up to this fight, the Olympian has alluded to using his wrestling more as he told ESPN, "I hope Stipe has his wrestling shoes because with the small cage -- single leg, single leg, single leg, single leg, wrestling. It is what it is. Sorry."
In terms of pure wrestling credentials, Cormier has a pretty large advantage over Miocic. However, that does not necessarily guarantee success in the cage. Plus, even though Cormier has the better resume, Miocic always wrestled at a high level before leaving the sport in 2003. The following looks in an in-depth review of Miocic's wrestling career.
Miocic was a three-sport athlete for Eastlake North High School, which sits about 20 minutes east of Cleveland. His best season came during his senior year. He made the finals of the 2000 OHSAA Division I tournament at 215 pounds before coming up short against Brent Miller of Wapakoneta to finish second. Miller would go on to become an NCAA qualifier for West Virginia.
Following the regular season, Miocic entered the NHSCA Senior Nationals and finished seventh. He then moved to the collegiate level to wrestle for coach Jack Effner at Cleveland State.
Freshman season (2000-2001)
In his first season for the Vikings, Miocic did not start as he found himself behind Dom Abato on the depth chart. He did compete in a variety of open tournaments including the Cleveland State Open in February. Miocic finished third in the tournament with his only defeat coming against two-time NAIA All-American Brian Scislo of Findlay. Miocic also competed at the annual Midlands tournament where he failed to place. In the same weight class was fellow future UFC contender Chael Sonnen
Sophomore season (2001-2002)
In his second season at Cleveland State, Miocic secured a spot in the starting lineup with a 5-3 victory over Bert Dobies in the 197-pound wrestle-off. The match was tied late, but Miocic scored a reversal to pull out the decision. After earning the starting spot, he was part of a formidable backend to the lineup for the Vikings. Heavyweight Russ Davie would go on to be a multiple-time NCAA qualifier. At 184 pounds, Gerald Harris would leave Cleveland State as a three-time NCAA qualifier and the winningest wrestler in program history.
Harris would also launch an extensive MMA career. He currently holds a 26-8-1 record and has fought for a variety of promotions including Bellator and UFC. In 2018, he spoke with MMAFighting about his lasting relationship with Miocic.
"He's exactly the type of person you think he is: Loyal, goofy, you never see him mad, a true friend," Harris said. "I'm sure if I called up Stipe and told him I was in town, he'd let me crash at his place."
Miocic got off to a hot start in November, winning the title at the Oklahoma Gold Classic with a 12-3 win over Josh Ferguson and a 9-7 victory over Tom Grossman, both of Oklahoma. He followed that up by making the finals of the Cornell Invitational before falling to Chris Jones of Drexel in the finals via a 7-5 score. By the end of the month, the sophomore was ranked 16th in the nation at 197 pounds.
Early in December, Cleveland State faced off against Edinboro in an EWL dual. Miocic dropped a decision (8-4) against No. 7 David Shunamon. In addition to Miocic and Harris, the match also featured future MMA competitors Josh Koscheck and Shawn Bunch.
Miocic returned to the Midlands for the second time and had a bit more success. After losing in the first round against Nick Preston (Ohio State), he went on a bit of a run in the consolation bracket. He defeated Sean Barnes (Chicago) and July Vicens (Illinois) before eventually falling to Pat DeGain (Indiana).
Following the New Year's Eve holiday, Cleveland State faced off against Big Ten foe Michigan. The match also brought a top-10 ranked opponent in No. 9 Kyle Smith. Miocic fought diligently but ultimately dropped a 7-5 decision.
Three days later Miocic faced off against Zeb Miller of Kent State and brought home a 10-2 major decision. Cleveland State also took the dual 22-12 over the Golden Flashes. Miller would go on to become a prominent member of the wrestling community online (https://twitter.com/zzsmiller) and recently reflected on the match.
"Stipe is a freak. When I got to his legs I couldn't take him down. When he hit single legs on me, he would disappear and be behind me. For being a massive guy he moved like a 125-pounder. I truly believe Stipe had the ability to play multiple professional sports and excel at most. Also, imagine him at 197 pounds with the frame he has now. He was able to keep all his agility and athleticism with his weight cut to 197."
Miocic scored another victory over a ranked opponent when the Vikings faced off against Pittsburgh. He reportedly entered his match against No. 18 David Sandberg with the flu and still took a 3-2 decision.
Despite picking up several EWL victories during the season, Miocic surprisingly went 0-2 at the conference tournament. On the front side, he dropped a 6-3 decision against Avery Zerkle (Lock Haven), who had pinned him earlier in the year. Miocic was then eliminated by Canaan Prater of Virginia Tech, who he had defeated one month prior. After coming up short, Miocic failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament and his season came to an end.
Junior season (2002-2003)
Despite missing out on the NCAA tournament, Miocic found himself ranked by multiple polls heading into his junior season. He easily locked down the starting spot at 197 pounds with an 18-6 decision over teammate Nathan Hunter in the wrestle-offs. Early in the year, he scored an upset over No. 15 David Shunamon of Edinboro. The match was tied 3-3 in the third period until Miocic scored a takedown and held on for the victory. Miocic's upset win was one of the vital elements of Cleveland State's 19-12 victory over No. 23 Edinboro.
Fourteen days later, Miocic picked up another ranked victory and avenged a defeat from the previous season. He jumped on No. 8 Kyle Smith (Michigan) early with three first-period takedowns. Smith fought back into the match, but Miocic walked off the mat with an 8-5 decision.
For the third straight season Miocic returned to the Midlands. After getting off to a quick start with a pigtail victory over Venroy July (North Carolina), the hardship of his draw quickly became evident. Miocic lost via fall to Emmett Wilson of Montana State Northern. The following season, Wilson would go on to become the only NAIA wrestler to win the Hodge Trophy.
In mid-January, Miocic scored another ranked win when he knocked off No. 12 Jon Bush of Purdue. The back-and-forth match turned into a high-scoring affair, but Miocic came away with a 12-10 decision victory. Later in the month, he notched perhaps his biggest win of the year. Not only did Cleveland State dominate EWL rival Lock Haven to a 30-6 dual victory, but also Miocic upset No. 10 Morgan Horner.
One month later, the future UFC champion took part in an extremely wild match that possibly portended his wide-open fighting style. On Feb. 23, Miocic defeated West Virginia's Adrian Thompson in a 41-point match. CSUVikings.com recapped the bout.
"In one of the wildest matches of the night, Viking Stipe Miocic (Willowick, Ohio/Eastlake North) raced out to an early 12-4 lead in the first period at 197 before WVU's Adrian Thompson scored a takedown and had Miocic on his back nearly recording the fall. Thompson was working on the pin as time expired in the first. Miocic proved to be too much for Thompson the rest of the way, though, notching five takedowns in the second and third periods to register the 27-14 major decision."
Miocic entered the EWL tournament in early March match as one of the favorites. However, things went off the rails in the semifinals when he was pinned by rival Horner, who he had previously defeated during the regular season. He fought back in the consolation bracket before ultimately dropping a decision against Eric Mausser of Clarion in the third-place match. With a fourth-place finish, Miocic missed out on an automatic qualifier spot for the NCAA tournament.
Despite the EWL tournament finish, Miocic earned a berth for the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately he failed to register a victory. He dropped his first match against the No. 8 seed Anthony Reynolds of Sacred Heart. Miocic then fell to the consolation bracket where he was eliminated by Kevin Kessner of Wyoming. The match would effectively end his collegiate wrestling career.
Miocic played baseball at Cleveland State in addition to his wrestling commitments. After his junior year, he chose to focus on baseball. He transferred to Coker College for a season before ending up at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville for his final year of college athletics. At Trevecca, he hit .344 with seven home runs, which helped the NAIA squad win their conference tournament.
Miocic made his professional MMA debut on Feb. 20, 2010, nearly seven years after his last collegiate wrestling match. He signed with the UFC in 2011 and won the heavyweight title from Fabricio Werdum in 2016. Miocic does his fair share of striking in the Octagon, but he has not strayed too far from his wrestling base. In the UFC, he has landed 2.20 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time, which is the third highest rate among ranked heavyweights.