The scene is the Champps restaurant in Valley View Ohio. I arrived this past Saturday night to watch Stipe Miočić face off against Roy “Big Country” Nelson at UFC 161 and the restaurant is absolutely packed with Stipe’s people. It isn’t an odd mix of people or even a mix that is at odds, but it’s pretty clear which people are the firefighters and which are members of Miočić’s StrongStyle fight gym in Independence. I’m looking for Stipe’s friend Jamie, a WFNY reader who originally introduced me to the idea of covering Stipe Miočić, but he’s difficult to find in the first pass. He’s one of about probably six or seven of the firefighters who go with the shaved bald look. I find him and he’s already nearly vibrating with nerves for his friend Stipe as the preliminary fights are dragging on on the giant TV in front of us.
This is very different than the last time I was in Champps. I invited the world to come see the Fast and Furious 6 with Brian Spaeth and me, including something of a pre-party. Jamie had mentioned that he was going to stop up for a beer, but not the movie. As he arrived I was already a few beers deep in pre-gaming because I thought some lubrication might help wash down the Vin Diesel I was about to ingest on the big screen.1 Jamie arrived and I said hello, and then he told me that Stipe was going to stop up too.
I’d talked to Stipe Miočić on the phone and I had become friends with his friend Jamie, but I hadn’t met the man himself. Before I knew it, my hand was buried in the meaty palm of a giant. You have no idea what a 6 foot 4 man weighing 240-some pounds is going to look like when that man is also lacking any discernible amount of body fat. You also don’t realize that a man can look like that and also house an appetizer plate full of nachos covered in chili and cheese.
That was May 24th only a few days after Stipe found out the both good and bad news. The good news was that he was fighting on a co-main event at UFC 161. The bad news – at least from an outside fight fan perspective – was that he had to take a relatively short-notice fight against a heavy-handed monster who is seemingly impossible to knock out. Stipe wasn’t sweating it that night, though.
We talked about the Cavs landing the number one pick in the draft. We talked about the Browns and the Indians and Magic Hat beer2 and family and friends and whatever else. We did so on a crowded Friday night in Valley View in the same exact spot where less than a month later the very same bar would be exploding into cheers and chants of Stipe’s name as his arm was raised in victory on every TV in the place. 3
This was a big victory too. It will likely vault Miočić up the ranks of heavyweights and possibly into the top ten. It will likely give him an even more meaningful fight next to test and see if he’s capable of truly contending for the UFC heavyweight title.
Stipe Miočić didn’t necessarily shock the world on Saturday night, but he definitely opened up a lot of eyes. Miočić took a very big match-up with a very dangerous fighter – Roy “Big Country” Nelson – on short notice and ended up looking like he had game-planned for Nelson for a long time. I believe Stipe had just about a month to prep for Big Country, which isn’t a ton. Yes, Stipe was already training for a fight with Soa Palelei, but make no mistake, planning for a specific opponent is important in the mixed martial arts world. On top of that, how do you gameplan for a fighter like Roy Nelson who has never been knocked out and is willing to take a punch to deliver a knockout?
The cliché is that “styles make fights” but that refers to fans and their entertainment mostly. Styles can also end up making fights nightmares for fighters at various points in their careers. Given the short amount of time to plan, the dominant performance that Stipe Miočić put up against Roy Nelson was extremely impressive. Miočić was unable to knock out Roy Nelson, but he beat him up and clearly won all three rounds without taking too much damage. But that’s just the headline of this story. In covering Stipe Miočić over the last couple years, I’ve gotten much closer.
It’s just so very amazing to watch up close. After being defeated for the first time against Stefan Struve and then taking a gamble by taking a big shot against Roy Nelson, Stipe Miočić not only erased the thought of a losing streak, he has likely made the world forget he ever even lost that one fight in the first place.
It’s well known that Dana White loves guys who show a willingness to step up and fight whenever called upon. In his business injuries are an obvious and big part of the struggles, so when Dana has guys that he can count on to make his life easier, he rewards them with some well-earned loyalty. The fighters still have to perform, but any little bit of extra goodwill in the bank helps. Miočić scored doubly on Saturday night by not only taking the fight, but putting on an entertaining performance and winning.
That just made this ride even more fun. In getting close to Stipe’s camp over the last year or so, I can attest that it’s a worthwhile venture for Cleveland sports fans to jump on board the bandwagon. This Cleveland guy, Stipe Miočić, stared down defeat, bought more chips and keeps pushing them into the middle of the table. The defeat he took at the hands of Stefan Struve could have ended his momentum. Miočić was 9-0 heading into that fight and you never quite know how a fighter will react to the first loss. Saturday we got a hint that Stipe Miočić isn’t discouraged just yet.
The future is murky for anyone who competes in MMA as every fighter is just one punch away from relevance in the sport. Just ask Big Country who became a free agent after being defeated by Miočić in the final fight of his contract. That being said, right now Miočić’s relevance is at an all-time high. Whether he can get all the way to the top of the heavyweight division and wear the belt or not remains to be seen, but he continues to evolve and get better as a fighter. It would be a shame if you let the opportunity to support him and show some Cleveland pride slip by.