Looking over the athletic resume of heavyweight prospect Stipe Miocic, it’s pretty clear that the die was cast when it came to him eventually becoming a professional athlete.
Earned eight varsity letters in high school (baseball, football, wrestling).
Division I, nationally-ranked wrestler for Cleveland State.
Third baseman for the Cleveland State baseball team.
2009 Cleveland Golden Gloves boxing champion and National quarterfinalist.
Yet when you ask him if this was something set in the stars, he laughs it off.
“I didn’t think about being a professional,” he said. “I just loved competing. It’s just something fun to do and I’m a competitive person. You gotta do something. It keeps me out of trouble.”
That type of modesty takes self-effacing to a new level, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But behind the humble exterior lurks a fighter, and with a 6-0 pro MMA record that includes five knockouts and one submission (due to a leg kick), the 29-year old has got plenty of buzz behind him in the lead-up to his UFC debut this Saturday against Joey Beltran.
“I think I’m ready,” he said. “I’ve trained with some great guys and I hope I can produce like I have been because that’s the name of the game – winning.”
One of those guys is UFC vet Forrest Petz, and he’s given Miocic some helpful hints about preparing for the bright lights of the Octagon.
“He told me it’s you and another guy in a cage and yeah, there’s people there, but they’re not gonna help you in a fight,” said Miocic. “And that’s how I look at it.”
A native of Euclid, Ohio, Miocic has been an athlete practically his entire life, excelling in high school and then college sports. Currently standing at 6-4, 240 pounds, he certainly looks the part of heavyweight prizefighter, but he doesn’t point to his physical gifts as being the reason for his success.
“I just worked hard and it went well for me,” he said. “The harder you work the better things come out for you and that’s what happened. I worked hard in everything I did and I got lucky. I also had good coaches along the way that pedigreed me real well and helped me out as well.”
Nationally ranked as a collegiate wrestler, Miocic (who roomed with UFC vet Gerald Harris) would move from the mat to the diamond once wrestling season was over, and it’s been reported that major league scouts also had interest in the 6-4 third baseman.
“It was wherever I could play, that’s the way I looked at it,” said Miocic of life on the hot corner. “They stuck me there and I was like ‘sure, why not? I could stop a ball.’ (Laughs) If I couldn’t stop it, I’ll use my chest, pick it up and throw it to first.”
But once he got a taste of mixed martial arts when he was asked to train with PRIDE and UFC vet Dan Bobish, that was it, and he traded one glove for two.
“I love baseball, it’s a great team sport, but in MMA, it’s just you and another guy in a cage and that’s it – that’s awesome and there’s nothing better than that,” he said.
In 2006, Miocic won the first of five amateur bouts, each of which ended in the first round (three in less than a minute). Ready to turn pro, Miocic instead got a little more experience in a different realm of combat sports, as he made his amateur boxing debut in the Cleveland Golden Gloves in 2009.
“Me and my coach talked, and he was like ‘hey, let’s do some amateur boxing and see how that goes,’” Miocic recalled. “So I started doing a couple fights here and did the Golden Gloves and did well, and it helped me with my striking a lot. And I like boxing, but I missed MMA too much. You get to kick, knee, punch, take it to the ground and all that good stuff. (Laughs) Going to nationals was a good time though. My first two fights went well and the third one didn’t go my way, but that’s life, and I learned from it.”
In the National Golden Gloves tournament, Miocic went 2-1, losing to current unbeaten pro prospect Bryant Jennings in the quarterfinals, and less than a year later, he was making his pro MMA debut with a 17 second finish of Corey Mullis.
After practically clearing out the local circuit, Miocic became a favorite of fans who liked heavyweights and knockouts. Add in the fact that the Croatian-American sports trunks similar to those worn by his fistic hero Mirko Cro Cop, and it’s no surprise that people started getting antsy to see him on the big stage in the same organization as the former PRIDE star.
“He’s a legend and watching him fight is awesome,” said Miocic of Cro Cop. “He’s tough and just devastating. He works hard and he’s a great guy.”
But what about the shorts?
“I like tights, I’ve always worn them,” he laughs. “They’re just more comfortable for me; I move better, plus I don’t want a guy to grab them if I’m in a fight.”
He shouldn’t expect that to be the case this Saturday night against Beltran, a fearless brawler with an iron chin that one of Miocic’s old Louisville Sluggers probably couldn’t dent. Luckily, Miocic knows what he’s in for in Houston.
“He’s a hard-nosed dude,” said Miocic of Beltran. “Heavy hands, good chin, he likes to keep coming forward, and he’s as tough as they come.”
So how do you prepare for a guy you may own on paper, but in reality will be the toughest test of your young career? For starters, you don’t expect him to go the way of your previous six opponents.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” said Miocic, who still works part-time as a Firefighter / Paramedic. “A W’s a W no matter how I get it. Every fight I go into, I expect it to go three rounds.”
This time he might be right. But a competitor like Miocic doesn’t mind such a prospect. When you live to compete, the longer you get to do what you love, the better.
“I’m a hard-nosed guy, I’m ready to fight, and I’m ready to have some fun and show some fireworks.”
Stipe Miocic - The Athlete
“I think I’m ready. I’ve trained with some great guys and I hope I can produce like I have been because that’s the name of the game – winning.” - Stipe Miocic