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What Makes a Title Contender? Miocic vs. Gonzaga Preview

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Gabriel Gonzaga

by Matt Lo Cascio
One definition of contender is a person who has a good chance at winning. When it comes to heralding fighters as ‘title contenders,’ the word is thrown around a bit too lightly. Moving up the ladder, maintaining a winning streak and beating some of the division’s known quantities are but steps to qualification. Those steps constitute the vying process, the striving to become a contender. That path is arduous and steep; it never gets easier and at no time will the wind be at your back. But it doesn’t necessarily make you a contender.

That paragraph is either really profound or mere gibberish. Either way, Gabriel Gonzaga and Stipe Miocic find themselves at this junction. They’ve completed the initial steps toward earning the contender label, but now comes the truly hard part: getting to the top of the division and continually winning. Only then do you earn the right to be called a title contender. Saturday night in Chicago we’ll find out which fighter takes that next uphill step. The winner solidifies a top-10 ranking and moves on to fight the best in the division. The loser heads back to meet with the many that vie.

The conventional wisdom is that Miocic still has untapped potential. A win against “Napao” would give him more cred, and perhaps a date with Josh Barnett, Mark Hunt, Bigfoot Silva or even the loser of Werdum vs. Browne. However, I don’t know that a win over Gonzaga tells us anymore about his ability to win the title. It tells us he can beat solid, top-10 vets like Nelson and Gonzaga, but his true status as a contender won’t be revealed until he gets a matchup against a top-5 heavyweight. Can he hang with the length and speed of Browne? Dos Santos? Werdum? The bottom line is that Miocic badly needs a win here. A loss here obviously sets him back, especially in a heavyweight division filled with bigger names and bigger draws.

After a short-lived retirement, Gonzaga’s return to the UFC has been very entertaining. He scored quick first-round knockouts against Dave Herman and Shawn Jordan in his last two fights, and he scored submission wins in his first two fights back.

Gonzaga’s skills are world-class and he has consistently rumbled with the best heavyweights in the world for almost a decade. But he already has losses to Junior Dos Santos and Travis Browne, and he’s dropped two fights to Fabricio Werdum. Those three would stand in the way of any title shot, and I don’t see many scenarios in which he scores wins against any fighter in that trio.

Miocic has a better gas tank and is statistically one of the more accurate strikers in the division. Against Roy Nelson, he used his jab a lot, mixed up his strikes and employed great footwork. If he avoids an all-out slugfest with Gonzaga, and follows that same game plan, Miocic should score the win. Then we find out if he is a true contender, something I think we all want to see.

Here’s the video preview for UFC on FOX: Gonzaga vs. Miocic.


About Matt Lo Cascio

Matt Lo Cascio is a former TV producer who turned to new media in 2005, and he is the co-founder and editor of Chicago’s MMA. He is also the play-by-play announcer for the XFO. His work has been published by ESPN.com, DraftKings, The Comeback, FanSided and more.

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