CLEVELAND -- UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is from Cleveland, and he is extremely proud of that fact.
That is why those who know Miocic best were filled with an intense amount of pride when he won the world title with a first-round knockout of former champion, Fabricio Werdum, in the main event of UFC 198 at the Arena Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba, Brazil, on May 14.
“When I watched Stipe win the world title, I cried like a little girl because I was just so happy for him after all these years,” said Jessica Eye, Miocic’s Strong Style Gym teammate and UFC women’s bantamweight fighter.
“We both started Strong Style 11 years ago, and you know, here we both are in the UFC. I can only hope that I can be as good as him and be able to win a world title like him. I’m definitely going to follow in the footsteps of Stipe Miocic.”
Miocic won the UFC Championship after delivering a right hand to Werdum’s jaw. The former champion was chasing Miocic around the outer rim of The Octagon, and left his chin exposed. Despite backing away from Werdum’s pursuit, Miocic threw a powerful right hand that floored the former titlist.
Miocic added three shots to the downed Werdum before referee Dan Miragliotta jumped in-between the fighters to end the bout at 2:14 of the first round.
“Honestly, I can’t even describe it,” said Alex Cooper, Miocic and Eye’s striking coach at Strong Style Gym in Independence. “Short of my wedding day and my kids being born, it’s one of the greatest moments I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just a moment of pure elation when you see the head hit the canvas and they wave off the fighter. It’s just absolutely unbelievable.”
Performance coach Bob Kaleal added, “It was amazing. Just the entire time that we’ve been working together, Stipe has had this mindset of constantly wanting to achieve better results or become better, whether it’s mentally, physically, nutritionally, psychologically sometimes in some respects.”
In many ways, Kaleal feels Miocic’s journey to the top of the heavyweight division in the UFC is much like the resurgence of the city of Cleveland itself.
“Imagine when everybody counts you out,” Kaleal said. “You’re always the underdog. You’re going to different countries to fight whoever they throw in front of you because they just think you’re going to be a punching bag, but then, to rattle off and put on the performances he’s has, and then, to achieve really what only his team, the people around who love him and his friends know he can accomplish based on his athletic ability and his skills, it’s a dream come true at every level.”
After traveling to another hemisphere to challenge for and win the UFC heavyweight championship, Miocic will not have to go very far for his first title defense.
Miocic will square off against top contender Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC 203 at Quicken Loans Arena this Saturday, marking not only his first title defense, but the UFC’s debut event in Cleveland.
And those who train with Miocic on a daily basis believe he will once again represent the city of Cleveland in a championship-like manner.
“Stipe Miocic, he’s an amazing champion,” Eye said. “He’ll be champion of the UFC for a long time, and I’m so thankful that he did what he did because it shows that Cleveland is made of some really hard-working people.”
This is Part Three of our six-story series leading up to Miocic's UFC heavyweight championship bout against Overeem in Cleveland Saturday night.