CLEVELAND — When Stipe Miocic is not preparing for a UFC championship fight or spending time with family and friends, he can be found proudly supporting his hometown teams, the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Whether it was traveling to Chicago for Game 5 of the 2016 World Series, helping pump up the crowd at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse or FirstEnergy Stadium or tailgating with fans, Miocic always is willing to show his support to Cleveland’s teams and he is predicting the Browns will have a 2019 season to remember.
“They’re making the playoffs, divisional championship,” Miocic said in a one-on-one interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto earlier this month.
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Although confident the Browns will have a good season, Miocic stopped short of predicting Cleveland’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
“I can’t do that,” Miocic said.
“I can’t do that. Listen, we win over eight games, and I’m happy if we’re over .500, but I think they can make the playoffs, make the divisional championship game. If they make it to the Super Bowl, that’s awesome. I want them to, of course, go to the Super Bowl and win it, but listen, baby steps.”
Unlike past years, Miocic and his fellow Browns fans have reason to be optimistic.
At 2-5-1 following a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28 and in the middle of an unprecedented midseason coaching staff upheaval following the dismissals of Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the 2018 Browns looked to be anything but a team capable of the greatest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history.
But a 5-3 record over the second half of the season and three-game winning streak in December secured the Browns’ greatest year-to-year turnaround in team history, as they finished plus-7.5 in victories over 2017’s winless campaign.
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Also, there is the matter of having the starting quarterback figured out after 20 years of searching for the next “franchise” signal-caller.
After taking over the first-team offense in the second quarter of a Week 3 win over the New York Jets, Baker Mayfield completed 310 of his 486 attempts (63.8 percent) for 3,725 yards and an NFL rookie record 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Under the direction of new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, the interim offensive coordinator for the second half of the 2018 season, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
Mayfield will look to build on those numbers this year when he is passing to the likes of multi-time Pro Bowlers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., the latter of whom the Browns acquired in a trade with the New York Giants in March.
“We were almost .500 last year, and that came out of nowhere,” Miocic said. “Honestly, we’ve just got such an amazing team now. Their swagger, their attitude, it’s a good cockiness. It’s not bad like they’re arrogant. It’s just more like, ‘Listen, man, we’re sick of everyone pushing us around.’
“We’ve got Mr. Landry, OBJ, Baker, and our defensive line is all Pro Bowlers. We’ve got some studs, which is crazy…We’re going to show a lot of people up this year.”
When the Browns open the 2019 regular season against the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium, Miocic promises to be there to represent for his hometown.
“I’m actually wearing a Cleveland Browns blazer,” Miocic said of his game-day attire. “I’m very professional about it now, a little bowtie, a cut-off button-up shirt, orange Chuck Taylors and khakis. I’m going to look good. It’s all professional now. Listen, we’re here for a reason, business.”