The Working Man's Champion: Why Stipe Miocic Continues to Fight

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2020

Stipe Miocic is interviewed by Joe Rogan during a weigh-in before UFC 211 on Friday, May 12, 2017, in Dallas before UFC 211. ( AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Stipe Miocic says all the same things.

He works for his family. He dotes on his child. He loves his wife.

So, if you closed your eyes—and simply let his rugged, confident Midwestern tone steer your impression—you might swear you were chatting with any regular guy about his job down at the auto plant, over at the construction site or across the globe at his most recent deployment.

When you opened them, though, you'd see something else.

Oh sure, the rugged thing would certainly be there. After all, he stands 6'4" and carries 240 or so pounds on a frame as thick and sturdy as it is imposing, which means he'd fit the manly bill no matter the gig—or look equally at home on set for a commercial pitching domestic beer or pick-up trucks.

But Cleveland's Miocic is the UFC heavyweight champion—a status that often carries a "baddest man on the planet" tag alongside—and he's cashed paychecks totaling well into seven figures since he reached the mixed martial arts big leagues for his seventh pro fight nine years ago.

John Locher/Associated Press

He first grabbed the gold-splashed title belt with an erasure of Fabricio Werdum in 2016, then he defended three times before a stunning first-round loss to rising light-heavy Daniel Cormier in 2018. The two met in a rematch 13 months later, and the belt returned to the Lake Erie shoreline with a KO in Round 4.

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A trilogy bout comes next week in Las Vegas, with the promise of another hefty bank deposit.

Needless to say, most affluent sports champions don't hold down day jobs.

Then again, the reasons Miocic still punches the clock have little to do with money.

When he's not training for a fight, regular guy Miocic is still hard at work as a firefighter/paramedic with the Valley View Fire Department—an endeavor which, he says, provides the kind of grounding not typically available to elite modern-day athletes and an atypical means of mentoring his young daughter.

He's been at it for better than a decade and has done everything from restarting hearts and splinting broken bones to inserting IV needles, administering drugs and comforting victims, while participating in many of the 800 or so calls the department—about 12 miles south of Cleveland—takes each year.

He has saved lives and lost them, too, many times over.

"I love what I do. It's really that simple," he said. "That matters to me. I work hard. And I want to show her that there's a value to that sort of work, regardless of what you've already accomplished."

Miocic, who'll turn 38 four days after Cormier III, became a father two years ago with the birth of little Meelah Claire, whose arrival came with social media voiceover by fiery cage announcer Bruce Buffer.

He's supplemented cardio training for the fight by chasing his now-toddler around the house, an activity he says provides a needed—not to mention, fun—diversion from 24/7 obsession about an imminent opponent.

"The fight's always on your mind. It can't help but be," he said. "But it doesn't consume me. I spend time with my family. I talk to my friends, my coaches. We play cards. We make it enjoyable. I love fighting, everything about it. And getting ready is just another part of the job that I look forward to."

He's looking forward, too, to a second straight win.

And though a few new wrinkles are surely on the agenda for Aug. 15, Miocic said success that night will be a product of being earnest enough and dedicated enough to overcome a dogged and versatile foe.

In other words, right in his no-nonsense, lunch-pail wheelhouse.

Cormier won the series opener at UFC 226 with a volley of first-round punches, then he controlled the early going of the rematch at UFC 241 on the mat. Unable to get another quick finish, however, he was noticeably tired by the third round, which enabled a lump-faced Miocic to rally for a fourth-round stop.

"(Cormier's) a tough guy," he said. "You can't take that away from him. He's shown it. He's going to show up. He's going to be there. You have to be tougher than him to get the win. And I will do that."

If so, legacy awaits.

Amid the fight hype is the suggestion the winner deserves recognition as the best heavyweight in UFC history. Miocic has already staked a claim thanks to a UFC-record three title defenses, and though he conceded any additional acclaim would be nice in the aftermath, every bit as important is the footprint it would leave for his little girl once she's old enough to understand it.

He'll keep going as long as it's still fun and be happy with the lessons it will provide.

"That's the reason the legacy matters. That's why it's important," he said. "If she can look back at something in 20 years and see what it's possible to accomplish with hard work and dealing with adversity, that'd be great. Then it'll mean something even bigger."

NOTE: Unless otherwise cited, all quotes were obtained firsthand.