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UFC Champ Stipe Miocic garners respect from Cleveland's top athletes

UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic has garnered respect from Cleveland's top athletes through his recent run of five straight knockouts.

<p>UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic has garnered respect from Cleveland's top athletes through his recent run of five straight knockouts.</p>

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Before Stipe Miocic took on Fabricio Werdum for the UFC Heavyweight Championship in May of 2016, Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James was asked if he followed the career of the fellow Northeast Ohio native.

While James said no at that time, the same cannot be true now, as he met with Miocic during the Cleveland Indians’ run to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and the two have exchanged pleasantries at Cavaliers games since then.

“It’s great,” Miocic said of having the respect of fellow athletes. “They’ve all got my back. I’ve got their back. We all support each other, and we’re just a big family.”

Miocic won the UFC championship after delivering a right hand to Werdum’s jaw in the main event of UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil, last May. Miocic added three shots to the downed Werdum before referee Dan Miragliotta called an end the bout at 2:14 of the first round.

Then, four months later, Miocic successfully defended the heavyweight championship with a first-round knockout win against a veteran contender in Alistair Overeem in front of nearly 20,000 fans packed inside Quicken Loans Arena in his first home fight in six years.

After failing to lock in a submission and take advantage of an early knockdown, 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 was not to be denied, as he landed a pair of right-handed hammer fists before throwing a left-right combination to his opponent’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 with 33 seconds left in the first round.

And there to watch Miocic’s first title defense was Indians catcher Yan Gomes.

“He’s a good friend of mine,” Miocic said. “Yan’s an amazing man. I’m lucky to have him as a friend and him supporting me like that. In watching the Cavs, I got to hang out with them during the World Series and watching Yan play, it was amazing.”

It was Miocic who kicked off the summer of championships in 2016, as his win was followed up by the Lake Erie Monsters sweeping their way through the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup Finals, and then, the Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

And just as he led the way to the titles, Miocic was called upon to be at the front of the Cavaliers’ Championship Parade down East 9th Street. And by successfully defending his championship earlier this month, Miocic remains at the forefront of Cleveland’s championship efforts.

“I’m just happy that the city has something to be proud of,” Miocic said. “The Lake Erie Monsters came in and the Cavs did it. The Indians came so close, but did so well. They shut a lot of people up because people didn’t think they were that good. It was an amazing feeling, honestly.

“The city had been starving for something to hold onto, and we had multiple things, which is great. We’re a title town now.”