Two of the best heavyweight fighters on the planet will go toe-to-toe in Dallas on Saturday night, as Stipe Miocic puts his UFC Heavyweight title on the line in a hotly anticipated rematch against former champion Junior Dos Santos.
Standing 6ft 4in and weighing in at 17.5 stone, Ohio native Miocic was tipped for stardom as a budding baseball player. But rather than throwing pitches, he ended up throwing punches, firstly as a Golden Gloves boxing champion, then as the UFC’s undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
His one-punch knockout of former champion Fabricio Werdum in Brazil saw him capture the belt last year and sparked huge scenes of celebration in Cleveland.
Those celebrations reached a whole new level when the city’s NBA team, the Cavaliers, claimed the NBA Championship title and ‘Believeland’ became the sporting capital of the world. When the team paraded through the city in front of tens of thousands of cheering fans, Miocic was front and centre, parading his UFC championship belt.
But despite being known as the man who broke the city’s sporting curse, Miocic modestly plays down the hype.
“When they ask me about breaking the curse, I say to people I really don’t care,” he told BT Sport. “I’m just happy we have a team and a city to be proud of.”
Cleveland is certainly proud of Miocic, and not just because of his sporting credentials. Remarkably, the heavyweight champion of the world also manages to hold down a job as a firefighter and paramedic. It’s a profession has cares passionately about and says he has no intention of walking away from anytime soon.
“I love what I do – fighting, and being a firefighter and paramedic,” he explained. “I worked so hard to become that, so why would I want to give it up?
“I’m lucky. I work in two departments that are part-time. I can pick my shifts a month in advance and I can usually trade shifts when I need to. I have good chiefs, so things usually work out pretty well.”
Balancing two mentally challenging careers is no big deal to Miocic, who says he wouldn’t change a thing, despite the stick he gets both inside and outside the octagon.
“It’s great. They’re both intense, but they’re opposites, you know?” he said.
“I walk out there [to the octagon] and I’ve got this big-ass dude trying to beat my ass. Then back at the fire station, I’ve got four or five guys busting my b***s, trying to make me feel belittled!
“That’s what I love about it. It’s like a big playground for us. We all have a job and we know how to do it, but, in-between them, we have fun.
“They’re always making me clean the toilets and busting my b***s, but it’s all good fun.”
And for one of the UFC’s most happy-go-lucky champions, having fun and keeping hold of the belt is all that really matters.
“All I care about is winning,” he said. “I like winning. I like keeping the belt. I like being called champ. I don’t want that to change and it’s not going to change.
“It’s just like why I won’t quit firefighting. I’ve worked too hard to give it up.”
A victory on Saturday night, live on BT Sport 2, would give Miocic his second successful title defence, but to get to that point, he has to face the last man to beat him, former world heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos.
The pair met in one of the most thrilling heavyweight fights in UFC history back in 2014, when they traded leather for five breathless rounds in Phoenix, Arizona. Dos Santos got the nod on the judges’ scorecards back then, and he’s ready to give Miocic all he can handle once again in the rematch.
“This title means everything to me,” Dos Santos said. “It represents what I’ve worked for and evolved towards for the last five years. I know how good it felt to wear that belt, and I want that feeling again.
“I’m a father now, and that ups the odds for me. What the belt represents to me today is the ability to provide a better life for my son, so I’m coming for it hungrier than ever.
“Stipe faced me at about 50% of my capacity. I’m a new man now, and this time Stipe will have to face 100% of Junior Dos Santos.”
Stipe Miocic puts his UFC heavyweight title on the line against Junior Dos Santos in the main event of UFC 211 in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday night. Watch the prelims live on BT Sport 2 from 1am, with the main card live from 3am.