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Who is Cleveland's Stipe Miocic? The UFC's top contender

Cleveland native Stipe Miocic is the No. 1 contender for the UFC Heavyweight Championship.

<p>Stipe Miocic (red gloves) reacts after his fight against Fabio Maldonado (blue gloves) during the TUF Brazil 3 Finale at Ibirapuera Gymnasium.</p>

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland’s own Stipe Miocic is the No. 1 contender for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, and will fight titlist Fabricio Werdum in the main event of UFC 198 at Arena Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba, Brazil, this Saturday night.

But who is the man who is one punch away from eliminating the championship drought of his hometown?

Here are nine things you should know about Miocic, who is 14-2 as a professional mixed martial artist and 8-2 since first entering the UFC Octagon with a unanimous decision victory over Joey Beltran at UFC 136 on October 8, 2011.

FIREFIGHTER BY DAY, CAGEFIGHTER BY NIGHT

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Miocic is not a fan of the 9 to 5 workday.

When the Cleveland-based mixed martial artist, who is currently the No. 1 contender for the Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight title, is not training for an upcoming fight, he is a part-time firefighter/paramedic with the Oakwood Village and Valley View fire departments.

“I’m from Cleveland, baby; that’s how we do it here,” Miocic said with his trademark sense of humor. “We’re hard workers. We all like working. We’re hard-working, blue-collar people. I don’t know. I just like working, man, always busy. If I’m not busy, then I get antsy and I freak out.”

LIFE-LONG ATHLETE

Long before he first stepped into The Octagon, Miocic was a standout athlete in several sports.

At Eastlake North High School, Miocic won eight varsity letters in baseball, football and wrestling. Then, Miocic went on to become a two-sport athlete at Cleveland State. In addition to being a third baseman for the Vikings, Miocic was a nationally-ranked NCAA Division I wrestler.

Also, Miocic is a former Golden Gloves boxing champion.

FIGHTING TO HELP OTHERS

The former NAAFS (North American Allied Fight Series) Heavyweight Champion and Golden Gloves boxing titlist, Miocic is 8-2 in 10 fights in the UFC, but even while training for his bouts, he remains committed to helping protect the lives of people in his community.

“My whole life, I always wanted to help people and be there for people,” Miocic said. “I always thought about being a police officer, thought about being in the Coast Guard. I have a bunch of friends that became firefighters.

“I always wanted to help people and being a fireman, a police officer or Coast Guard, just something, even a nurse. They told me what the hours were and how it worked, and I’m like, ‘Man, count me in.’ I can still work out, can still help people. The hours suck sometimes, but it’s worth it to me helping that person.”

FRIENDS IN HIS CORNER

UFC President Dana White stood by his word and gave Miocic the title shot at the top of the card of UFC 198, Werdum’s home country.

Although Miocic is fighting on foreign soil for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, he counts his fellow firefighters and paramedics among his supporters.

“I actually have a bunch of them from Oakwood that are flying to Vegas just to watch the fight in Vegas to feel like they’re there, which is amazing,” Miocic said. “I’ve got my guys from Valley View. I’ve actually got one of my good buddies, he does a lot for me and I promised I’d take him to a fight. He wanted to go to the first title fight I ever fought in, and he’s like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I can go to Brazil.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got you.’ I’m going to take care of him.”

PROUD OF HERITAGE

When Miocic steps into The Octagon, he fights for far more than a paycheck or championship 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.

“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.”

TRAINING WITH A LEGEND

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.”

NOT AFRAID TO FINISH FIGHTS

Of Miocic’s 14 professional MMA victories, 11 have come before the fight could go to the judges’ cards.

Miocic has finished all 11 of those fights via a knockout, and six of his opponents have been able to make it to the second round.

PATIENCE PAYS OFF

The Cleveland-based mixed martial artist has battled several of the UFC’s best heavyweight fighters in recent years, including former champion Junior dos Santos, in order to receive this title bout, and earned the opportunity by dispatching of former titleholder Andrei Arlovski in just 54 seconds at UFC 195 in January.

Originally, after dispatching of Arlovski with a right hook and several punches to the staggered fighter in less than a minute, Miocic ran around the cage and screamed in the direction of UFC executives asking what more needed to be done to receive a title shot.

Following his performance against Arlovski, Miocic was scheduled to face the winner of a bout between Werdum and Cain Velasquez, who were set to square off for the UFC Heavyweight Championship at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on February 6th.

However, when the oft-injured Velasquez, a former champion in his own right, pulled out of the fight because of another health issue, Miocic was elevated to the main-event bout as an emergency replacement.

CONFIDENCE HEADING INTO OCTAGON

In Werdum, Miocic is taking on a fighter that is 20-5-1, and has six straight fights, all of which have come under the UFC banner. After his fourth straight win, Werdum battled Mark Hunt for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship, and following a victory, he defeated Cain Velasquez to unify the interim and undisputed titles.

And although Werdum has won multiple International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation and Submission Wrestling World Championship competitions to go along with the UFC Heavyweight Championship, Miocic is not letting the impressive resume of his opponent affect his ultimate goal of becoming the top fighter in the world.

“Werdum is a super-tough fighter,” Miocic said. “He’s the champ for a reason. He’s fought the best guys, beaten the best guys in the world. He’s phenomenal on the ground, but he’s going to come out and do his thing.

“That’s how he wins fights, but he hasn’t seen someone like me yet. I’m a fast heavyweight. I push the pace. I hit hard. I’m good on the ground, and I’m not going to give him any opportunity. I’m going to do what I want in that fight and I’m going to bring the belt back home to Cleveland.”