INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- When Stipe Miocic, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s top contender in the heavyweight division, steps into The 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.

“I love it,” Miocic said. “Being Croatian’s amazing. 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.”

READ: WHO IS STIPE MIOCIC? THE UFC'S NO. 1 HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDER

Miocic is a first-generation American son of two Croatian immigrants, and 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.

“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.”

PHOTO GALLERY: A LOOK AT STIPE MIOCIC'S CAREER

Until 2015, Miocic had never been to his parents’ homeland, but when an opportunity to train with UFC legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, he embraced the chance to take a trip of a lifetime with his brother and father and learn from a revered kickboxer.

“I finally, actually had the time to go because I had the money and everything,” Miocic said. “I went a couple of years ago with my brother and my dad out there, and it was a great time. We had an amazing time, spent two weeks there. It was a blur, went by too fast.

“I went to train there with Mirko Cro Cop for two weeks. That was amazing. I learned a lot about myself too, and loved going there. I couldn’t live there. It’s too laid back. I would never get anything done. They’re so laid back, it’s awesome.

“Training with Cro Cop is just an experience unto itself. He’s such a great person, such a great individual. He’s amazing, and we became great friends. He might be coming to my wedding. We hope he does. He said he was going to come. He’s just an amazing person. I learned a lot, and he’s just such a great person.”

Because Miocic has felt the support of the Croatian community in Cleveland on his rise through the ranks of the UFC, he is very much looking forward to rewarding them and proving doubters wrong when he steps into The Octagon to take on current champion Fabricio Werdum in the main event of UFC 198 at the Arena Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba, Brazil, Werdum’s home country.

“I’ve gone to certain things and they’ve all been there and been like, ‘Hey, we’re so excited,’” Miocic recalled. “They say, ‘We shouldn’t be talking about it where we’re at, but we support you and we’re so happy for you. We’re watching you fight and we love watching you win,’ so I’ve got to keep winning.

“I’m going to shock the world again, like I always do, which is fine with me. I like shutting people up.”

This story is the second in a five-part series leading up to Miocic's UFC Championship fight on Saturday night. Coming up tomorrow: How Miocic handles his fight training and his day job as a firefighter.