Best of 2016, General, UFC

Cleveland, We’ve Got a Champion: WFNY Top Stories of 2016

Stipe Miocic UFC Cleveland WFNY

As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. OurBest of 2016” rolls on with not only an homage to one of Cleveland’s champions, but words directly from the man himself. Here is Stipe Miocic describing his last 12 months of training, title fights, and life as a heavyweight champion.

I’ll never try to take anything away from LeBron James coming home, and the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from 3-1 down to win the NBA title. I was as big a fan as anyone else for that run. Hell, I was even in the parade on that June afternoon. But it will always be in my head that I got that belt first, starting a windfall of success for Cleveland sports, and I’m incredibly proud of that fact.1

After I beat Andrei Arlovski at UFC 195, I knew I had to get right back into the gym and stay ready in case something happened with the heavyweight championship fight set for UFC 196. Sure enough, Cain Velasquez got hurt, and I got the call from UFC president Dana White.

I called my head coach, Marcus Marinelli, to see what he thought. We agreed that I was ready. I called White back and told him I was in. I was super-pumped and called my family and close friends to let them know. They are great about not saying anything until it’s officially announced, but it was a crazy couple of days. When Fabricio Werdum pulled out with an injury, I was pretty upset. I didn’t know if I was still going to get a title shot. The relief came when it was official that the match would take place at UFC 198 in Curitiba Brazil.

My home gym is Strong Style MMA and Fitness in Independence, Ohio. That’s where I started by helping Dan Bobish train for a fight. I basically never left. Marinelli is the owner. When I finished college at Cleveland State, I had to focus on striking and jiu jitsu. I entered the Golden Gloves tournament in 2009 and did well advancing into the national tournament. My jiu jitsu is not at the black-belt level yet but it has come a long way. I always tell people that I have the best coaches and team in the world and I truly believe it.

When we know that I have an opponent and the fight is set, my coaches go to work. They develop a plan for my training camp that starts around eight weeks out from the day of the fight. Every day is set up through camp including rest days. We train two or three times a day, Monday through Saturday. Mornings are with my strength and conditioning coach and afternoons and evenings are more focused on specific skills. Sundays are off days. As camp is going along I may need an extra day off here and there, depending on my body. As I’m getting older (I’m 34 now) I’m learning to listen to my body more and not push myself too far and end up injured.

I watch what I eat during camp. I’ve got a nutritionist and some of my teammates are smart when it comes to eating. I burn a ton of calories each day, so I need to make sure I fuel myself the right way, which means cutting out the fast food cheat foods I love. Luckily, where we just moved doesn’t have Chipotle and McDonalds right next door. My wife is also an awesome cook, so she takes good care of me.

Cleveland, we’ve got a champion, baby!

We definitely focus on my opponents and watch tape, but we also spend a significant amount of time working on my skills. Everything from striking, wrestling, jiu jitsu, muay thai, conditioning, and others. Training camp is brutal, but I’m lucky I don’t have to cut weight.

I’ve fought in Brazil a few times, and it’s been incredible every time. The entire country is full of UFC fans who are passionate for their hometown fighters. I love being the underdog, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like an underdog than going into Werdum’s home and facing him in front of 45,000 of his fans. They were screaming “You’re gonna die” to me everywhere I went throughout the entire week-and-a-half I was there.

Werdum is well known for his black belt jiu-jitsu, but he had forged his path to become champion with much improved striking. So, we were prepared for the fight to go either way. I trained more than normal with my jiu-jitsu coach, Pablo Castro, but I also spent just as much time with my boxing coach, Alex Cooper.

The entire preparation led to what became the knockout punch to defeat Werdum being delivered as he lunged forward during an aggressive striking sequence. We actually work on countering while moving backwards all the time, so I was ready to use that opportunity to my advantage.

I visualized winning and what I would say after the fight. I have always been incredibly proud to be from Cleveland and I’ve never been quiet about it. I had done a ton of interviews the week of the fight and all everyone really talked about was whether I felt any pressure trying to win a championship for Cleveland. To be honest, I really didn’t feel any extra pressure. I kind of felt like it was meant to be. So when it happened and they put a microphone in my face, it just kind of happened.

“Cleveland, we’ve got a champion, baby!”

I have so many memories from that fight but jumping over the cage into my coaches and losing my mind is probably the most vivid. Some people think I was trying to climb the cage and fell, but I was 100 percent trying to get to the people who have sacrificed so much in their lives for me. That win was as much about that group of people as it was about me. Marcus Marinelli, Alex Cooper, Steve Kinus, Pablo Castro, Bobby Kaleal… I’m not who I am today without those guys.

Another memory from that night was the “After Party”. It was my coaches, wife, brother, cousins, a friend from the fire department, and a couple of guys from the UFC—maybe 13 people total in a deserted banquet room lobby of our hotel. We were drinking wine and laughing like idiots, and it was the coolest party of my life. The next day, someone sent me the picture of Werdum hitting the mat with 2:16 on the clock. I couldn’t believe it, but looking back on it, it seems like destiny.

After I got home from Brazil I got the call from White that they had everything in place to have my first title defense in Cleveland at The Q. I was shocked. They had talked about having an event there in the past but it had never happened, so the fact that it came together quickly was amazing. The entire run up to the title defense is still a blur. Training camp was pretty normal except I had more media obligations than normal.

The night of the fight came and I made my walk out and… I still don’t have the proper words to describe it. My wife and I watched the fight at home the next day and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little dust in my eye. It was so surreal. I won’t ever be able to thank this city enough. To see where all the hard work, the sweat, the blood, the broken bones, has gotten me… I’m still in awe when I think about it.

I think if you ask the people who I’m closest with they will tell you I haven’t really changed. I still don’t like traveling and would much rather stay home with my wife and dogs. I still work my shifts at the fire station. I get recognized more, but I love signing things and taking pictures and making people’s day. It’s pretty cool unless it happens while I’m working at the fire station. When that happens, the guys are absolutely relentless on the ball busting. I guess some things have changed, but I’m surrounded by people who keep me grounded.

Most importantly, I got married a month after winning the title. There is absolutely no way I am where I am today without this girl. She is absolutely the stabilizing force that I needed. 2016 was an incredible year but the best accomplishment was getting her to say “I do.”

WFNY 2016 Stipe Miocic Coverage Highlights

  1. Editor’s Note:
    After Stipe Miocic defeated Fabricio Werdum to claim the UFC heavyweight belt on May 15, Cleveland sports started an epic run.

    • The Lake Erie Monsters won the AHL Calder Cup on June 12.
    • The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship on June 19.
    • The Akron Rubberducks won the Double-A Eastern League championship on September 16.
    • The Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant on October 19.