Croation Devastation

UFC heavyweight Stipe Miocic is making a big impact in MMA’s biggest division.

It doesn’t take great powers of observation to see that Stipe Miocic is nervous. At a local restaurant just outside of his hometown in Cleveland, Ohio, his huge bear paws bounce and fidget on the table top. It comes across as endearing for a man who is capable of crushing the table with one hammer fist.

“This is all still new to me,” Miocic says, as he forces himself to drop the menu that he’s latched onto. “I’m normally really easygoing, but things like this still seem kind of weird. I guess I’m a little shy.”

The “weirdness” he is referring to is the sudden attention that he has grabbed since breaking onto MMA’s biggest stage. After compiling a 6-0 record in less than 15 months on the regional circuit, the part-time fireman and former standout collegiate wrestler won his UFC debut against Joey Beltran at UFC 136 in October 2011. Next up was a knockout of Phil de Fires at UFC on Fuel TV 1 in February. Miocic was set to make a gradual rise through the heavyweight rankings until he stepped up on short notice for a slot on the heavyweight showcase card at UFC 146 in May. He derailed the Shane del Rosario hype train with a second-round TKO, but rather than boost his own ego with talk of an impressive performance, he takes the sort of self-depreciating turn of a man who is well grounded.

In fact, his performance at UFC 146 is somewhat parallel to who Miocic is in real life. After a tense first round, Miocic loosened up and did his thing. Less than five minutes into lunch, the fidgeting has ceased, and the kid from Cleveland has settled in.

As it turns out, Stipe (pronounced Steepeh) is about as laid back as they come in the fight game. He loves his video games, admits he sings along to Ke$sha, and it doesn’t bother him when people mispronounce his name, because with a name like his, he’s had plenty of time to get used to it.

ROOTED IN COMPETITION

Miocic was born and raised in the Cleveland area, but his Croatian heritage is what he relishes. Both of his parents left their home country at a young age to find a better life in America. As fate would have it, they met in the States, fell in love, and, in his words, “had a beautiful baby.”

Miocic credits his familial roots for helping guide and steer him through life. He proudly wears the flag on his fight shorts, much like Croatian MMA legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. While Miocic holds the former Pride Champion in the highest regard, that is where the comparisons cease.

“Cro Cop is a legend and has done his thing,” says Miocic. “I have the utmost respect for him, but we are two different fighters with different styles. You can look at the sport and see what he’s done. Now, I’m trying to make a name for myself. It’s definitely a compliment to be put in the same category as a legend. It means you are doing something right.”

It didn’t take long for Miocic’s athletic prowess to surface in high school, and the multisport athlete eventually received a scholarship to Cleveland State University. During college, he split time between the wrestling mats and covering third base for the CSU Vikings. While his wrestling skills would go on to play a role in his development as a mixed martial artist, it was his abilities on the diamond that nearly made a fighting career non-existent.

“I don’t know about having a chance to play professional baseball, but I definitely was looked at,” Miocic says. “There was some interest from big league teams, but nothing really came of it. There are guys who are 6’5”, 240 pounds who can hit the ball farther and throw harder than I could. I was happy I gave it a chance, but things worked out well for me. I wouldn’t have a fighting career if the baseball would’ve materialized.”

Grounded Attack

Following his $50,000 bonus for Knockout of the Night against Phil de Fries, Miocic garnered the praise of Dana White by saying he would use his bonus money to pay off student loans—not the typical response from a young athlete on the rise.

When he is not in the gym preparing for a fight, Miocic is punching the clock as a part-time fireman. It is certainly a risky profession, but with the grind of the fighting life and a rising profile in a rapidly growing sport, the tight crew at the firehouse helps to keep things in balance.

“I love being a fireman because it keeps me sane,” says Miocic. “It’s a great job, and it allows me to train full-time. When I have a fight coming up, I can leave for three weeks, come home, and get right back to where I was—in a firehouse with six or seven guys busting on me all the time. For example, in my last fight, I threw an uppercut and slipped. I knew immediately how bad it must have looked and could already hear my guys back at the firehouse giving me grief about it. How weird is it that I’m thinking about that during the fight? I could have a flawless performance, and they would still find a way to give me a hard time, but it’s all in good fun.”

As his profile in MMA rises, Miocic’s support system will be put to the test. Things will change, the attention will increase when the bigger fights arrive, and he will rely on his family and colleagues to see him in the same light they always have. Stepping up on short notice to defeat del Rosario at UFC 146 was a big challenge, and his next opponent is an even bigger obstacle. Miocic is scheduled to face Dutch skyscraper Stefan Struve in the main event at UFC on Fuel TV 5 on September 29 in Nottingham, England. Struve, who is 8-3 in the UFC, is on a three-fight win streak, including stoppages of Pat Barry, Dave Herman, and Lavar Johnson.

“I love the match-up,” Miocic says. “We both show up to fight, and we are going to bring it. If you look at our fights, we both get in there and throw down. Every fight at this level is a big fight, and I have to go out there and get the win any way I can. My coaches have come up with a great gameplan, and when it’s time to get in there and fight, I’ll be ready for Struve. It’s going to be awesome. I love fighting, and it’s an honor to do it for a living.”

VITALS

Name: STIPE MIOCIC

Record: 9 – 0

Class: Heavyweight (206-265 lbs.)

Age: 29

Residence: Euclid, OH, USA

Association: Strong Style MMA

Styles: Wrestling / Boxing

Cleveland Connection

During his time at Cleveland State University, Stipe Miocic became friends with fellow future mixed martial artists Johnny Bedford and Gerald “Hurricane” Harris. He swears their respective futures were never discussed during their times bunking for national wrestling tournaments, but Miocic had plenty of stories to tell about Harris’s sense of humor and his ability to put him on the spot at the drop of a hat.

“Wrestling at CSU was a lot of fun, and there was never a dull moment with those guys,” Miocic says of Harris, who is both a stand-up comic and fighter. “It’s hard for me to get embarrassed, but Gerald\ always found a way to get the job done. We would be sitting in an airport, and he would shout, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s Stipe Miocic!’ He would go absolutely crazy and people would be staring at me. He was always up to something.”

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