CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Cleveland is home to more than one champion. Before the Cavs won the title, Stipe Miocic got the "title town" ball rolling.
Now, he is getting ready to defend his belt in front of his home town fans in a Sept. 10 fight at The Q.
Miocic, a reigning UFC Heavyweight champ, is deceptively strong and a force to be reckoned with. He is driven, relentless and fueled by a fierce competitive nature and a primal instinct. He says once he's in the octagon, he's focused on the knock out.
"I think it's just a switch. I got another man in front of me. I don't want him to knock my lights out," he said.
His coach, Marcus Marinelli, says it's the only sport where they lock you in a cage and the whole idea is to hurt the other person.
But leading up to the fight to defend his title, Miocic has more than a demanding training schedule on his plate. He's a newlywed, and still a working firefighter in Oakwood and Valley View.
"He might be the baddest man on the planet but when he walks in here he's usually the junior guy," said fellow firefighter, Jamie Mecklemburg. "So we'll make him clean the toilets if they need to be cleaned. That's the way it works."
Miocic's days are long and grueling, pushing him to his mental and physical limits. Mecklemburg feels like it's the department's job to support the champ and keep him grounded.
"Sometimes on calls people recognize him, know who he is-- we think it's funny. He thinks it's kind of cool but we just make fun of him the whole time," said Mecklemburg.
Mecklemburg knows what camp can do to the guy his kids call Uncle Stipe.
"Right now, he's in the middle of training camp and he's a miserable, miserable human being," Mecklemburg said.
The firehouse crew makes sacrifices for him while he endures camp. He makes up the time when he's out of the octagon.
"He doesn't eat enough, he doesn't sleep enough, he's getting beat up by his coaches on a daily basis-- it's tough on him. We all understand that," Mecklemburg said.
At home, Miocic's wife Ryan now helps him find balance between work, play, and the demands of being the champion.
"There's been a lot coming at him since May-- which are good things, but sometimes you have to make sure he's still able to rest and train and focus on the basics and what's important," she said.
She admits, while they try to take advantage of timely opportunities, they've had to put a few things on hold, like taking a honeymoon and moving out of their starter home.
Miocic is also supported by a team of coaches equally dedicated and willing to take a beating from him. Marinelli says Miocic is dangerous in a lot of ways, and his mental determination is a difference maker.
"He's like a large child. A very lovable large child. But when you close the door, a whole other part of his personality comes out. He's a stone cold killer in this cage," he said.
His coaches say he's in as good a shape and already a better fighter than he was in Brazil, which was an intimidating environment.
"There were 45,000 Brazilians chanting, 'You're going to die' as he walked out," said Mecklemburg.
Miocic knocked out defending champ Fabricio Werdum in less than three minutes, silencing the rowdy crowd.
"I didn't feel anything. It was perfect, right on the spot, right on the chin. Right on the button as they say. He went down like a sack of potatoes," said Miocic.
In the final weeks leading up to the fight in Cleveland, Team Miocic is analyzing every jab, punch, and kick in an attempt to improve his approach.
"Most people couldn't go through three minutes of what he goes through in one day. And what he does every single day is off the charts," said Marinelli.
Miocic says he's listening to his body more now, as things aren't healing as fast as they used to. But with experience has also come the realization that there's more to life.
"Fighting doesn't last forever. It's not the only thing on my mind. And when I stopped caring about that, is when I felt my confidence went up and when I became better," he said.
The champ says ticket holders or fans watching at home can expect an exciting fight at The Q.
"I'm going to walk out with the belt still wrapped around my waist. I'm going to be, 'and still.' I'm going to be the champion for a long time. We're going to rock that house," he said.
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