From Conor McGregor in Ireland to Georges St-Pierre in Montreal and Mark Hunt in Down Under, certain UFC fighters have a connection with their hometowns and home countries that transcend the typical bond between athletes and fans.
Add Cleveland’s Stipe Miocic to that list, as from driving to Chicago to watch a World Series game last fall or showing up just days after winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship to support the Cleveland Cavaliers on their run to the NBA Championship last summer, he proudly represents his hometown every chance he gets.
“2-1-6, O-H-I-O,” Miocic said after his successful title defense at UFC 211 Saturday. “Cleveland is like its own nation. People don’t understand it. You’ve got to go there, you’ve got to live there to understand it.
“It’s a different breed of people. It’s a different kind of people. That’s what I love about it. I’m never going to leave, no matter how bad the winters are, no matter how hot the summers are. I’m never going to leave.”
Prior to Miocic winning the UFC Championship last May, the city of Cleveland had a 52-year major sports title drought, but with just one punch to the jaw of Fabricio Werdum, the former Cleveland State wrestler/baseball player set in motion a summer and fall to remember for the city.
Despite fighting in a soccer stadium in front of 45,000 Brazilians chanting “You’re going to die,” in Portuguese, Miocic made good on the opportunity by knocking out Werdum in the first round. Miocic’s punch spark a championship run in Cleveland, as the Lake Erie Monsters swept their way to the Calder Cup and the Cavaliers erased a 3-1 deficit against the defending champion Golden State Warriors to win the NBA Finals for the very first time.
Then, the Indians ran through the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to clinch the American League pennant and came within one victory of their first World Series Championship since 1948.
“One-hundred percent, I do think we all feed off each other,” Miocic said. “The Indians are doing great. They usually don’t play great at the beginning of the year. They’re playing decent, right around first place, two games back. They’ll be fine. They’re going to start playing better. They’re going to take off, win the division and go to the World Series and take it all, just like the Cavs are going to do.”
In addition to his fellow athletes, Miocic feeds off the positive energy of another Northeast Ohio celebrity, hip-hop artist MGK (Machine Gun Kelly), and just as he has done several times before, he walked out to The Octagon to Kelly’s Cleveland anthem, “Till I Die.”
Then, Miocic went to work and avenged one of only two losses on his professional record with the knockout of Junior dos Santos at the 2:24 mark of the very first round in the main event of UFC 211. Miocic finished off the victory when he backed up dos Santos against the cage and floored him with a right hand to the head.
After dos Santos fell to the canvas, Miocic pounced on the opportunity to finish the fight and fired off more than a dozen left-handed punches through his opponent's defense that went unanswered, which forced referee Herb Dean to call a stop to the bout.
“I love that song, man,” Miocic said. “That song, oh God, I get nuts. I love it.
“It’s just something about it. There’s not many songs that do that to me, just get me going on the inside. You might not know it. I’m pumped just thinking about it. It’s an amazing song. He’s an amazing person, too. I’m glad we’ve got a man like that in our city, and I’m glad I can show him off.”
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