CLEVELAND — From Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl players to Cleveland Cavaliers star Larry Nance Jr. and aspiring mixed martial artists, UFC champion Stipe Miocic is no stranger to visits from dignitaries to his training facility, Strong Style MMA in Independence.
But never before had Miocic hosted a head of state at Strong Style, at least not until this week.
A little more than a month after Miocic regained the UFC heavyweight championship with a technical knockout victory over Daniel Cormier in the main event of UFC 241 in Anaheim, California, the proud son of Croatian immigrants welcomed the president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, to Cleveland.
“Croatian President Kolinda came to Cleveland and stopped by to visit me,” Miocic tweeted. “What an honor. She throws a mean left hook! Thank you, Croatia, for always supporting me. Love you all.”
After showing President Grabar-Kitarovic around the facility, Miocic taped up her fists and did some light striking working with the hand mitts. Following the light workout, the two shared a photo outside of one of the two boxing rings at Strong Style.
When Miocic steps into the famed UFC Octagon, he fights for far more than a paycheck or title belt.
Miocic fights for his family and for his Croatian heritage, something that he is deeply proud of and grateful to have.
“Being Croatian’s amazing,” Miocic told WKYC.com prior to his UFC heavyweight championship victory over Fabricio Werdum in May of 2016. “We’re warriors. We’re just like Cleveland people, hard-nosed, hard-working.
“You can’t mess with Croatians. They’re tough people. I love it. My grandfather, he used to box back in the day. He was a tough guy. My grandma would tell me stories. I love it, man. I love every second of it, just fighting for my family. It’s amazing.”
Miocic proudly represents his heritage in a variety of ways.
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.
During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Croatia made a run all the way to the championship game, and Miocic tweeted messages of support to his countrymen along their journey.
“My mom and my dad, they love their heritage,” Miocic said.
“I want to back them up. They back me up, I’m going to back them up. I’m proud of who I am, and I’m proud of what nationality I am. All those people, they’re great people. It’s an amazing country and amazing people that live there.”
Nearly 14 months after dropping the title at UFC 226 in July of 2018, Miocic showed the kind of heart and heavy-handedness of his heritage is known for and regained the UFC heavyweight championship with a come-from-behind fourth-round knockout victory over Cormier at UFC 241 on August 17.
After struggling to find his range in the first three rounds, Miocic picked his spots during the fourth frame and was sticking and moving, engaging with punches, including several left hooks to Cormier’s ribs, and getting out of the pocket before the defending champion could respond.
Then, after a lead hook to the body, Miocic landed a straight right hand to Cormier’s chin. That wobbled Cormier and Miocic swarmed in for the finish. Miocic landed three right hands before connecting on three short lefts while putting Cormier against the cage.
As Cormier slumped to the canvas, Miocic alternated right and left-handed punches and forced the referee’s stoppage with 52 seconds remaining in the fourth round.