There's a first time for everything.
UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic has always enjoyed helping his fellow fighters get better. But actually being a coach? For someone who likes to keep to his own circle and keep things pretty casual, coaching up eight strangers in front of the unblinking cameras of The Ultimate Fighter—the 27th season debuts Wednesday, with Miocic coaching opposite light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier—represented a decidedly formal introduction to the practice.
"I had never coached before," Miocic said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report. "It was a little awkward at first, and it was a little overwhelming. I honestly didn't even want to do it. But I got the hang of it."
He didn't do it alone. Marcus Marinelli, Miocic's head coach from the Strong Style gym near Cleveland, helped run the practices. In a canny move, Chris Camozzi and James Krause—both veterans of The Ultimate Fighter as well as the UFC—were also members of Team Miocic.
Even with all that experience in his corner, Miocic acknowledged that the constant spotlight, combined with unfamiliar charges and surroundings, were not exactly in his comfort zone.
"You've got 16 random guys," he said of the TUF cast. "The cameras were weird. I don't think I said anything dumb. I don't know. I let [Marinelli] do his thing. So I didn't just go out there and make it all about me."
Behind the scenes, Miocic is known for his sense of humor and penchant for pranks. As he became accustomed to coaching, Miocic said he learned how to help the fighters in the cast stay loose in the midst of a situation that was equally as alien—if not more so—than it was for Miocic.
Famously, the TUF house where the fighters stay does not allow any electronic devices and contains no television sets. It intentionally creates a pressure cooker designed to foment drama (it's been a pretty successful formula over the years in that regard) but it isn't exactly a walk in the park for the contestants.
Miocic said he did his best to relieve that pressure.
"You had to have fun or else you were going to drive yourself nuts," Miocic said. "I just bust a lot of b---s. It can be a little stressful, with no TV or anything like that. I know I'd go crazy. So I tried to have fun with the guys, but you have to be serious, too."
Miocic's coaching may be under a microscope during the show given his coaching opponent. Cormier is well-versed in coaching, particularly with wrestling. In fact, on Tuesday Cormier was named head wrestling coach at a high school in Northern California. Miocic and Cormier have a friendly relationship—something they'll have to put aside on July 7 when they face each other for Miocic's heavyweight title.
"He's definitely a good coach," Miocic said. "He just knows what he's doing. He has amazing wrestling, and he's just able to explain things."
Ultimately, after an initial learning curve, Miocic said he came to know more about coaching, and, like Cormier, is interested in coaching more as his fight career winds down.
"I coached all these random guys, but it worked," he said. "I definitely see myself as a coach after I'm done."