CLEVELAND -- Homecomings are typically reserved for conquering heroes, and that is exactly the kind of reception Cleveland’s own Stipe Miocic received on his way into and out of The Octagon at UFC 203 in Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night.
Headlining the UFC’s first-ever card in Cleveland and fighting in his hometown for the first time in nearly six years, Miocic successfully defended his heavyweight championship with a first-round knockout of Alistair Overeem in front of nearly 19,000 raucous fans.
“It’s amazing,” Miocic told WKYC.com on Tuesday morning. “Words can’t describe it, but it was amazing defending it here in Cleveland. Words can’t describe how amazing the fans in the arena were. It was so loud, it was unbelievable.”
Early in the first round, Miocic was pursuing Overeem when he got caught with a left-handed punch to the jaw and fell backwards. Overeem immediately jumped at the opportunity to put Miocic into a guillotine choke, but the champion kept his feet on the mat and circled his way out of the submission.
Later in the bout, Overeem attempted to throw a right leg kick when Miocic checked it and sent the challenger to the mat. After the takedown, Overeem pulled guard, but Miocic landed a pair of right-handed hammer fists before throwing a left-right combination to Overeem’s face.
Following another left hand, Miocic landed four straight rights to Overeem’s jaw, knocking out the challenger and forcing the referee’s stoppage.
And Miocic credits Cleveland with his victory.
“This summer, I think it was the hottest summer I’ve ever been a part of in Cleveland,” Miocic said. “It’s never been so hot, just constant, 100 percent humidity, 90 degrees. There were days when I was training that I thought I was going to pass out. It was just so hot. I never sweated so much in my life, but I think it actually helped me for the camp. I wouldn’t change it.”
When Miocic steps into The Octagon, he fights for far more than a paycheck or championship belt. Miocic fights for his family, as well as his Croatian heritage, something he is deeply proud of and grateful to have.
Whether it be incorporating the checkerboard pattern of the Croatian coat of arms into his fight gear or the tattoo of that same coat on his right foot, Miocic embraces his heritage as a nod of appreciation to his parents, Bojan and Kathy.
“All the people from Cleveland, Croatians, everyone, they’re loyal here in Cleveland,” Miocic said. “They’re hard-working people that are blue-collar. That’s how we do it here. We stay loyal. No matter how bad it gets or how good it gets, we’re all going to stay loyal.”
After both winning and successfully defending the UFC heavyweight title in 2016, Miocic plans on returning that loyalty by representing Cleveland and its Croatian community in a championship manner for a long time.
“It’s been a whirlwind, a good whirlwind, but listen, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Miocic said. “The city deserves it. We have such a great city, and I’m just proud that they have something to be proud of, take pride in the fact that we have these championships to celebrate.
“We’re the City of Champions now, and it still isn’t done yet. Listen, it’s not going to stop. It’s going to roll right into 2017. We’re going to keep it going.”