Stipe Miocic isn't finished yet.
The most decorated heavyweight in UFC history has been a superman in the octagon. But he doesn't sneak off into a phone booth when it is time to fight. Miocic has been working full-time in Westlake, Ohio as a firefighter, while also training for a return to the octagon – seeking to join Randy Couture as the only other three-time UFC heavyweight champion.
Despite all of his success – Miocic possesses the record for most wins in heavyweight title fights and the longest heavyweight title defending streak – there is still more to prove. Driven by his single greatest motivating factor, the 39-year-old has already carved out space on his trophy shelf for a third UFC heavyweight title.
"I hate to lose," Miocic says. "That keeps me focused."
Miocic (20-4 MMA, 14-4 UFC) was last in the cage in March 2021 at UFC 260. That was when he lost the title to Francis Ngannou, taking the receiving end of a knockout blow less than a minute into the second round. After executing a flawless gameplan against Ngannou in their first fight in January 2018, when he exhausted Ngannou, the rematch saw Miocic deviate from the plan in the second round and swing with Ngannou, which sealed both of their fates that evening.
"He won," Miocic says. "That's all I'll say. He got a good punch. That's the game."
Post-fight coverage from UFC 260 instantly focused on a dream Ngannou-Jon Jones title bout, which, had it happened, likely would have shattered all kinds of ESPN+ pay-per-view records. Miocic faded from the spotlight, yet that moment is one he cannot– and will not – be able to put at peace until he reclaims the heavyweight title.
When asked how often he thinks about that loss, Miocic's answer personified his determination to be back on top.
"Every day," Miocic says. "I've been that way every time I lost. Now that I'm thinking about it, it's really irritating me."
While Miocic's next fight has yet to be announced, his immediate future is clear. He is a part of the joint project between UFC and Modelo to renovate Fight Capital Gym in Las Vegas, which includes new jiu-jitsu mats, speed bag mounts, boxing bags, and flooring.
"Vegas is definitely a second home to me, so I'm grateful to be part of this project," Miocic says. "Last year, we did it in Cleveland. I'm so happy we can give people a nice place to train. And Modelo is full of great people. They're big on family, they're big on first responders. They want to help, and they push boundaries to do it."
Miocic will be in Vegas over the coming days for the International Fight Week celebration, providing a special seminar at Fight Capital Gym. And with UFC 276 this Saturday, the possibility also exists that his next fight is announced, with opponents ranging from Jones, Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa in an interim title bout if Ngannou remains out due to injury.
While away from the cage, Miocic and his wife welcomed their second child to the family. Though his children are young, he hopes his accomplishments in the octagon stand out for his daughter and son as they grow older.
"This is a chance to show that when you get knocked down, you get back up and keep moving forward," says Miocic, who has followed the progression of Gane and Tuivasa over the past year. "I still train, I still watch. Gane lost his last fight to Francis, but he's a tough guy and worked his way up. And Tuivasa is definitely a tough guy, too. I couldn't drink beer out of my shoe. But he brings the heat."
Miocic's fighting spirit will be visible over the coming months. He refuses to end his career in that knockout loss to Ngannou. Powered by that empty, bitter taste of defeat, Miocic intends to return to the cage and win his third heavyweight title.
"My focus right now is on the partnership with Modelo," Miocic says. "But I'm planning on (winning) another one."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.