Cleveland loves a champion and after Stipe Miocic won the heavyweight title belt after beatin Fabricio Werdum, it kinda seem as though Miocic is the most beloved fighter on the UFC roster. As is the case with any affable champion, Miocic was highly visible with his title belt in the weeks after becoming the champ and now we get our first opportunity to see Miocic defend his belt ... in his hometown.
We've had a rotating cast of champions in the UFC of late, which makes following the UFC that much more fun as there's a nice balance between dominant champions like Demetrious Johnson and ever-changing champions. With that, brings the regular opportunity to see a new champ defend their belt and it's always fun to see whether a fighter like Miocic can string together a few wins and truly lay claim to being the champ over a period of time. This is especially the case with Miocic coming off a win over Werdum, which saw Werdum waltz forward into Miocic's range with a strange sense of recklessness.
That's not to say that Miocic doesn't deserve to be the champ, Miocic took his opportunity and proved to be superior over Werdum but the real test for Miocic now comes in defending his belt against Alistair Overeem. Overeem is coming off four straight wins, three of which came via KO/TKO and with both fighters relying on their high-calibre striking, this will be an interesting and entertaining contest.
Overeem has a funky range of strikes that could trouble Miocic, led by his ability with his knees and kicks while Miocic is a former Golden Gloves champion who is coming off three straight TKO/KO victories via punches. Overeem has a significant advantage in submission wins and while this fight will likely involve the two trading blows standing up, Overeem's jiu-jitsu vs Miocic's wrestling will also be crucial as neither will be keen to rely too much on their striking and open the door to be taking down, or taken advantage of on the mat.
Overeem's entertaining style and the fact that everyone seems to love Miocic, makes this a main-event worthy of your attention. However, with Werdum fighting Travis Browne before the main-event, there's some interesting context for the title fight with Werdum likely to get back in the frame for a title shot if he can dispatch Browne. Werdum was initially set to fight Ben Rothwell but Rothwell had to withdraw with a knee injury, gifting Browne the opportunity to fight two months after he was touched up by Cain Velasquez.
Browne doesn't have too much to lose in this fight and with an inconsistent record over the past two years (2-3 with losses to Werdum, Andrei Arlovski and Velasquez), Browne needs a win over a higher-ranked fighter to really establish himself in that upper echelon. Wins over Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione put Browne in the tier below, however he's yet to prove that he can compete in that upper echelon.
Velasquez is back on the scene as well, giving us a heavyweight division that looks to be nice and healthy again after enduring a bit of slump. Miocic has his first title defence against an in-form Overeem and the bloke that Miocic beat for the title belt is fighting in the same card, while Velasquez lurks in the shadows.
Also on this card we have CM Punk's debut, against Mickey Gall. Who knows what to expect here as Punk is making his first UFC appearance since leaving WWE and is coming up against a largely unknown quantity in Gall who is 2-0. All eyes will be on Punk as a win for Gall won't really mean too much; beating an 0-0 Punk won't fire Gall into any sort of top-10 conversations.
We'll all be watching to see if Punk is a legit UFC prospect, with an encouraging future in the sport. Punk is saying and doing all the right things, even going as far as getting more like-able as we learn more about him without the WWE-veil draped over him. In interviews and what not, Punk appears to be extremely humble and uncomfortable with all the attention which is refreshing and pretty damn cool if you ask me - even if it's a bit strange for a high-profile former WWE star to be kinda uncomfy with attention. The difference being that Punk is himself in the UFC and isn't playing the role of a character.
The beauty here lies in the unknown. None of us have any idea of what Punk will dish up and every time I see Punk look kinda awkward in sparring or his mat-work, I see Punk pull of a slick wrestling move or hear Punk talk about how he's going about his MMA debut which fills me with encouragement as he's simply doing it all the right way.
As always, there's a bunch of undercard fights that UFC nerds will pay close attention to. For the casual fan though, Punk's debut is a nice warm up in absorbing UFC storylines as well as actual in-octagon antics before the heavyweights take centre stage. It's been a while since the heavyweights have been front and centre, well the division's very best that is and with three (Browne's a late call up) of the best heavyweights in the UFC fighting on the same card, this should push the division back into some serious relevance.