CLEVELAND -- Sometimes, a little home cooking can be a good thing.
Cleveland-based UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic headlined the promotion’s first-ever card at Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night and continued the city’s run of sports success with a first-round knockout of challenger Alistair Overeem in front of a crowd of nearly 19,000 passionate Northeast Ohioans.
“Cleveland people are crazy,” Miocic said in his post-fight press conference. “That’s why I live here. That’s how we do it. We don’t mess around.
“Wait till next weekend when I go tailgate at the Browns game. You’re going to see a lot more fights. I’m not going to be in one of them, but I’ll be watching. That’s how we do it, man. I’d rather fight in Brazil. I got emotional there for a split second. It was bad ass. Mentally, I was trying to just keep them out. I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
Following the win against Overeem, Miocic jumped on top of the cage and led the fans in a chant of “O-H-I-O.” Then, after his post-fight interview, he walked out of the cage, threw his arms up in the air victoriously and celebrated with fans at cageside.
“That one, I did think about. I did think about that one,” Miocic said.
“That’s what I was thinking about. The minute they announced the fight, I was like, ‘What’s something cool? After I knock this dude out, what’s something fun to do?’ And that was it. I thought it would be fun, and look at it, they had 19,000 people going, ‘I-O.’ They didn’t do it at the end because they were screaming, but it was fun.”
Although Miocic loved fighting in front of the home fans for the first time in nearly six years, he acknowledged that it tested his focus in the lead-up to the title defense, something that has proven difficult for UFC champions as of late.
Miocic is the just the second champion across any division in the UFC to successfully defend a title in 2016. Of the previous six times a champion entered The Octagon prior to Miocic’s defense, only bantamweight titlist Dominick Cruz has walked out with the belt.
The other five champions, Holly Holm (women’s bantamweight), Fabricio Werdum (heavyweight), Luke Rockhold (middleweight), Miesha Tate (women’s bantamweight) and Robbie Lawler (welterweight), were all unsuccessful in defending their titles in 2016.
“It was tough, people trying to figure out where I was staying, this and that, wanting appearances and stuff like that,” Miocic said. “It is what it is, but I would love to fight here again. Now, it won’t be as bad anymore. I was definitely nervous. I think every fight, you should be nervous. I was just living life, man. I’m loving it. Like I said, I’m keeping this belt for a long time.”
While Miocic had to handle several more distractions by fighting at home, he will welcome any and all opportunities to ply his craft in front of the Cleveland fans.
“That’s how we do it in Cleveland,” Miocic said. “Look, I’m not going to pick and choose who I fight and where I’m going to fight. I really don’t care. Wherever they want me to fight, I’m going to fight.
“I’m the heavyweight champ of the world, and that’s for a good reason. I’ll fight anyone anywhere. I fought in front of 45,000 Brazilian people, and I fought in front of 18,000, almost 19,000 people all for me. I’ll do whatever they want me to do.”